Eleanda, sailing among the islands of Northern Croatia August – September 2013
By Nigel and Heleen Lindsay-Fynn
Eleanda had spent last winter out of the water at Gouvia Marina, Corfu. For 2013 we planned to spend the summer months in Croatia, only returning to Corfu in October. Passing Korcula on our first cruise in early May, we spotted an Irish Ensign and the burgee of the Irish Cruising Club, of which we are both members. It was a friend and we rapidly agreed to meet for a drink. Later, as the wine flowed, he told us he was based in a small friendly marina at Preko, on the long thin Island of Ugljan, opposite Zadar, and he strongly recommended it, far better than Marina Dalmatia or Biograd a few miles south. We did not forget. We based Eleanda there for more than four months.
This diary describes our second cruise from Ugljan of 10 days and 356 miles, in August – September. Joining us was Urs Biasi, a Swiss sailing and skiing friend and, of course, James Scott, our young crew, by then in his third year with us. ICC member Des Cummins, whose HR48, Alpaire, is based in Biograd, also joined us for the first four days. On 28th August we flew Ryanair from Gatwick to Zadar and discovered that as Croatia is now in the EU we no longer need new crew lists stamped by the harbour master every time we arrive. The transit Log allowing multiple exits and entrances lasts the whole year for a fee of £xxx for a 19m sailing boat. The marina manager whips us across the 3.5 mile Zardarski Kanal in a high speed rib, to drop us right next to Eleanda. Preko is a friendly village with shopping, ATMs, local restaurants and a beach for swimming. The temperature was perfect, cool not the typical stifling August.
We are self sufficient on Eleanda with our generator and water maker, while the dinghy on its davits is quick to drop in the water. We tend to avoid town quays and marinas and usually anchor, sometimes with a line ashore, for which we have a 40m warp and a loop of chain to drop over any protruding rock. Anchoring is quieter, you can swim and, usually, it’s free. Unfortunately, to increase the capacity of an anchorage and as an income opportunity, there is a growing trend to lay moorings for which there is an official charge unless the mooring belongs to a restaurant. Furthermore I believe that the EU has passed a safety regulation making it an offence to anchor within 200-300m of a laid mooring. In a typical mooring and anchoring depth of 10-15m this is totally absurd. We always anchor Eleanda on the outside, well clear of the moorings, but have still had arguments. In the Islands the imposition of this rule is at present haphazard. Many harbour masters/boatmen think it is as absurd as we do.
On Thursday we are ready to depart at 9.25, heading some 96 miles north over two days to the beautiful old peninsula town of Rovinj, a Croatian jewel. There was no wind all day. We anchored for lunch in the south facing Uvala Siroka, Otok Ist, a good mile from the little town, swam in water at about 240C and continued on to Artaturi, a south facing bay on the West side of Otok Losinj, where we had anchored in 2011, arriving at 18.17, a day’s distance of 47.8 miles. It is a pleasant wide bay, the shores dotted with holiday homes and a couple of very basic restaurants. Urs, Des and Nigel repaired for wine and cheese to one with a fine view of Eleanda below. Later we could enjoy Heleen’s special dinner on board in the gathering dusk, followed by an entirely peaceful night.
We departed northwards at 9.35 on Friday for Rovinj. At first we motor sailed, but by 11.00 we cut the engine in 10-15 knots wind on a reach making around 8 knots. The lunch stop was no more than the shallow water off the southern point of Istria, east of the off-lying rock, Otok Fenoliga, well sheltered from winds with any northern component, but not good holding. We left at 14.45 for Rovinj, but the wind had died. We motored past the seaward side of the Brioni Islands, where Tito had his summer palace, and on to Uvala Lon, the bay south of Otok Sveti Katerina, now a luxury hotel, arriving at 17.45. In 2011 it was a free anchorage. Today it is full of mooring buoys, but we can still anchor south of the marina wall. We hadn’t even set the anchor, before a boatman had charged us K270, £36!
We took the dinghy the half mile to the quay side of Rovinj and wandered through the maze of narrow streets and arches of Venetian-era pastel coloured houses up to the Church of Sveti Eufemia on the summit. The warm evening had encouraged a crowd of all ages to mill around, sit on the stone balustrades and just soak up the historic atmosphere. We urge all cruisers to make the pilgrimage north and visit this ancient town. We were heading for the famed Restaurant Monte, booked by Heleen weeks ago, for our most outstanding dinner of the season. Ordering the surprise menu we enjoyed 2½ hours of original dishes of taste and texture, a must do experience, expensive but value.
Early on Saturday morning we returned to visit the fruit, vegetable, fish and meat markets on the North side, where there is a further somewhat exposed quay, largely for tourist boats. Reluctantly we returned to Eleanda and departed south at 11.20. We motored with the main, once passed all the rocks and islets, with an 11 knot wind almost dead astern. Having once more passed the Brioni Islands, feeling like a lunch stop and on a whim, we turned into an anchorage just south of Otok Verdura, anchoring in 6m at 14.00 after 18.7 miles.
After lunch and a swim and prior to raising the anchor, we spent 15 minutes rigging and hoisting the furling code 0 cruising chute, hoping to unfurl it for the long run back to Otok Losinj, 35 miles or over 4 hours away. Departing at 15.15 we once again motored with the main on a near run to the southern tip of Istria. Soon after passing through the shallow gap, at 16.15 we unfurled the cruising chute goose winged on its pole opposite the main. It was a dead run with 10 – 15 knots wind, just enough to cut the engine at 17.45, but only for 30 minutes or so, and at 18.20 as the wind dropped further we furled the cruising chute. We had to keep up our speed to get to Uvala Balvanida before dark. It is a well protected banana shaped inlet on the south west coast of Losinj. In the season it is a popular and crowded anchorage, yet on 31st August we were the only boat there. We arrived at 19.20 and within 15 minutes had completed a text book anchoring with a line ashore. Balvanida is one of Heleen’s favourite anchorages. Later we went ashore to walk in the dark 500m along a track to a very simple but friendly restaurant. The daughter recognised us from our visit in July. But this time we had it to ourselves. She fired up the charcoal grill, fresh fish was produced and a happy and relaxed evening was had by all.
On Sunday we were to say farewell to Des, who had discovered he could take a direct ferry from Mali Losinj back to Zadar and so to Biograd and Alpaire. We relaxed for the morning, and left at 11.15 to motor the 8.2 miles to the pretty bay of Sveti Martin in the South East, from where Des could take a 5 minute taxi ride over the hill to the ferry terminal. We anchored with a line ashore and took the dinghy to the tiny harbour for lunch at Restaurant Porto. Only the most expensive red wine was left on the list and the sea bass was an arm and a leg! Despite the rip off, we really enjoyed the lunch, a fitting send off for Des.
At 16.40 we departed to motor the 17.4 miles east to Rab, passing the northern tip of the very barren Otok Pag. This time we anchored south east of the wooded islet of Tunera. You are no longer allowed to anchor in the bay east of the town. In July we were threatened with a fine if we stayed there. This is just a money raising exercise to drive you onto the town quay or into the marina! Before dark a small chartered yacht and a super-gin palace had joined us, copying our unusual anchorage. We enjoyed a perfect sunset through the trees of the little island and settled down to a quiet evening on board.
We spent Tuesday morning ashore. Rab is even finer than Rovinj, with a 15th Century Monastery, four campaniles and several churches, all sympathetically restored, including the ancient paved streets joined by many steep steps. We also walked through the fine Komrčar botanical park to the north, home to Aleppo pines and native holm oaks. Residents let rooms to visitors, merchants’ houses and small palaces are now hotels, fashionable shops and the inevitable restaurants and bars. Together history, culture and tourism are well merged for all tastes. We strolled, sipped white wine with ice and re-stocked Eleanda from the small supermarket. With reluctance we returned to Eleanda for a quick lunch before departing south at 13.35.
We motored down the Barbatski Kanal with Otok Dolin to our west. By 15.45 we cut the engine to enjoy a gusty reach in a 15 – 18 knot north easterly, sailing along the east coast of Pag. The island is completely barren due to the winter Bora. But sheep still survive, their milk producing the much copied and famous Pag cheese.
The town of Pag is at the southern end of Paski Zaljev an 8 mile long inland sea, protected enough to encourage some grazing and scrub. This area was the largest producer of salt in the 19th Century. We anchored off the town at 18.00 after 25.2 miles and took a wet and bumpy dinghy ride ashore in a 15 knot northerly. Most visitors are German. But the town feels off the tourist route. It has a fine well restored central square with an 18th church and two well recommended restaurants, one of which, Konoba Bodula, we tracked down in a back street. We got the last table and enjoyed a starter of Pag cheese, Dalmation ham and a bottle of Istrian wine, before attempting to return to Eleanda. It was blowing over 20 knots, fortunately on the beam, and we were relieved to climb back on board somewhat wet and bedraggled. But by 21.00 the wind had died. So yet again we could relax over Heleen’s gourmet cooking.
Pag is over 30 miles long. At the southern end it is joined to the mainland by a road bridge with 30m air draft. The top of Eleanda’s mast is 27m above her waterline and the aerials add say 1.5m. Heleen was reluctant to try. Nevertheless we headed south for the inland water of Novigradsko More. We left at 10.25, motoring north to the entrance of Paski Zaljev and turned south. To the east, the mountains on the mainland soared to almost 1,000 meters, not unlike the awe inspiring gulf of Kotor. At 13.47 after 25.7 miles we anchored off the pretty village of Vinjerac and took the dinghy ashore. We had hoped for lunch, but only a drink was on offer. Everything else was asleep, so back to Eleanda for lunch and a swim.
We depart at 16.25 continuing south to the spectacular 1 mile gorge into the Novigradsko More passing under two road bridges, but with air drafts of roughly 70m. Only one was marked on our modern chart! Now we are totally off the charter boat routes. We haven’t seen another yacht since we left Rab. We cross the sea to Novigrad, which turned out to be a tired fishing port once again all asleep. We took a line ashore at the entrance having felt there was too much swell on any of the quays. Nigel and Urs went ashore to the one bar for a drink, not a restaurant in sight. Yet the village had its own charm even if rather closed to outsiders in yachts!
On Wednesday 4th we left at 10.25 to motor back through the gorge, under the 2 bridges and then under the 30m Pag bridge heading 21.3 miles to Uvala Lubjac, on the mainland south of Pag. We had a plan to ease Heleen’s worries. She and Urs would take the dinghy to the Pag shore under the bridge with a radio and watch Eleanda approach. In the event there was a good 2m to spare. Whatever tide there is was pretty low. Much cheered, and with more than a day saved compared to rounding the northern end of Pag, at 13.20 we anchored in glorious turquoise water over sand at Lubjac for lunch and a swim. We departed at 15.45 hoping to anchor in the Ninski Zaljev to take the dinghy to the ancient town of Nin. We reached off the anchorage but furled as we turned south into the next bay. We were more than a mile off the coast to our south and just crossing the 5m contour on our chart, when the depth dropped below 3m! A burst of engine in reverse just stopped us from running aground. But we were far too far from the shore. So we turned round and motored the 7.5 miles north to the wide bay of Provljana on the southwest coast of Pag, for a day’s distance of 37.6 miles. Its bay faced west, the wind direction forecast for the night. Nevertheless we anchored at 18.05 without swell. There were a couple of other boats near.
We went ashore to discover that the little village had been overwhelmed by a new unfinished characterless development of flats, houses, bars and a supermarket. Now, at the end of the season, it was dead. Who would want a holiday here, when you could choose so many other attractive Croatian towns and villages? Eventually we found a restaurant and hotel, Villa Kastel, on the sea front boulevard with a friendly waiter and a not unreasonable menu, where we passed a pleasant enough evening.
Scattered like pebbles to the west of Otok Murter lie the ninety or so islands of the Kornati archipelago, grouped around the 35km-long island of Kornat. A national park since 1980 with strictly managed and controlled anchorages, the Kornati archipelago comprises a distinctively harsh and bare environment, almost devoid of life. They were once covered in forests of holm oak but over the centuries they were burnt down, sometimes intentionally, to make pasture for sheep, which proceeded to eat everything in sight. The dry-stone walls used to pen them in are still visible, although the sheep themselves are long gone.
The islands were originally owned by the nobles of Zadar, who allowed the peasants of Murter to raise flocks and grow olives on them in return for a share of the cheese and oil thus produced. When the Zadar nobility fell on hard times in the nineteenth century, the islands were sold to the Murterians – and their descendants, the Kurnatari, remain owners of most of the Kornati to this day.
The following morning, with three days left and little wind in prospect, it was to these islands that we decide to head. After a shopping trip to the supermarket with near empty shelves, we departed at 11.00 and motored the 15.6 miles south to the northern end of Ugljan, where we anchored at 12.57 off Muline, a tiny village with a restaurant and several holiday homes and sheltered from the northwest by Otok Rivanj. An hour later we were again underway, motor sailing south down the Srednji Kanal to Sali, a major fishing port on Dugi Otok, where we dropped off Heleen and Urs at 16.00 to buy our entrance pass for the Park, £110 for 3 nights, while James and Nigel anchored off. 30 minutes later they were back on board and we motored further south to the narrow channel of Prolaz Proversa Mala, between Dugi Otok and Otok Katina. We crawled west through the 4m deep channel, so narrow that a German waiting to go east shouted obscenities complaining we had kept him waiting!
From there we turned south to follow the west coast of Otok Kornat to the bay of Kravljacica, where we anchored in the north at 18.03 after a day’s run of 40 miles. There were just two or three houses and a very basic restaurant. But the peace and quiet was overwhelming. Urs and Nigel went ashore and walked to the otherwise deserted restaurant for a drink. The Kornati was growing on us by the minute. Another glorious sunset and we sat down in the cockpit to yet another of Heleen’s dinners followed by a most peaceful night.
We are doing the Kornatis in just 2 days! So for Friday 6th September we will make 3 stops. Urs and James went ashore at 6.45 to clamber over scrub to the top of a nearby hill, so breakfast at 9.00. They came back with plenty of photos. At 10.10 we left to motor all of 1.6 miles to the bay and little hamlet of Vrulje. We watched the supplies and rubbish boat collecting and delivering food for self catering houses and wandered round the village. Later we took the dinghy to a restaurant on the shore close to where Eleanda was anchored and indulged in a mid morning glass of wine. The owner, from Murter, told us the water was delivered by tanker with all the food and she generated her own electricity. We said good bye and at 12.30 motored the next 5.3 miles to a deep bay on Otok Lavsa. A friendly park attendant stamped our pass and left us to swim and have lunch.
It was a further 6.3 miles through numerous little islands to Uvala Lojena on Otok Smokvica, chosen as the pilot referred to an award winning restaurant. But on going ashore we found it full of noisy beer swilling continentals, who were already pretty far gone at 19.00! Across the inlet was a second restaurant, Konoba Mare, where a very demanding proprietress chose our menu and even the time we should arrive – too early, we begged for 30 minutes extra! It was later to be our private dining room where she served fresh Turbot grilled to perfection over her charcoal fire, with Eleanda’s anchor light twinkling in the distance as dusk fell. We fell in love with Mare, Smokvica and the Kornati National Park. So now we recommend not only Rovinj and Rab, but also these exceptional islands.
Friday 7th is our last day and we are to head back to Marina Preko, just 29.9 miles to the north. We depart at 11.25 in flat calm and motor to the southern tip of Otok Passman to the tiny bay of Uvala Gnai arriving at 12.48 when we had to anchor twice in poor holding. After the final lunch and swim we left at 16.10 to motor north up the Zardarski Kanal into a 14 knot headwind. There were numerous boats tacking and reaching all round us. But we just banged into the wind to much waste of diesel. We arrived off Preko around 18.00, dropped the dinghy and easily reversed into our Marina space.
We had covered 355.9 miles in 10 sailing days, but mostly under engine. Our highlights were Rovinj and Rab, followed by our lone cruise to Pag and the Novigradsko More, without another yacht to be seen. The Kornati Islands are deservedly popular. One day we will return for longer. But for now our next cruise will be to head south for Corfu and Eleanda’s winter berth.
But it was not to be. Not long after this Log was written, on 15th September Eleanda suffered from a major electrical storm and discharge, almost a direct lightning strike. The entire electrical and electronic equipment was toast! Raymarine, radios, TVs and the hifi, the navigation computers, battery chargers and inverters, even the alternator regulators were destroyed. Now, after a major insurance settlement, she is once again seaworthy but not fully restored. We finally got her to Corfu in late October and have since taken the decision to sail her the 3,000 odd miles from Corfu back to Hamble Point during April, where hopefully the electronic gurus will put our humpty together again, ready by June for the next sailing challenge!