Greetings from Aremiti at the end of our first month of cruising this year.
Our plan for the summer is to move on from Aremiti's wintering spot - Sibari, in the Gulf of Taranto in the far south of Italy, first to meet friends in Croatia. Then to head southwards down the coasts of Montenegro and Albania to Greece, finally leaving Aremiti in Crete at the end of the summer. We prepared the boat for her summer of cruising anti-fouling, all the usual scrubbing, polishing, minor modifications and planning in early April, so that she would be ready to leave straight away at the beginning of June.
However, despite all our preparations, the summer got off to a somewhat stressful start when, a few days before leaving the UK we heard from Sibari that the channel from the marina to the sea had not been dredged to a sufficient depth for us to be able to leave. This was devastating news given plans to rendezvous with mates in Korcula a distance of nearly 300 miles in 10 days time, not to mention the rest of our summer plans. We then heard that dredging (which is normally completed by the end of April) would be recommencing on the day of our arrival in Sibari. However, nothing had started by the time we arrived and we found ourselves trapped in the marina along with a couple of other yachts. The situation seemed to involve convoluted politics between the marina, the local mayor and the port authorities all quite impenetrable to us. There were dark muttering of Mafia involvement and many times we heard the phrase 'this is Calabria .' and we were given no idea as to when or how the situation would be resolved. However, miraculously it all came good unexpectedly quickly. The dredging operation got under way an unpromising looking 'Heath Robinson' affair involving an ordinary digger which had to move the sand and mud it had dug out of the channel several times to get it to the shore before moving on, plus a guy in a pedalo with a long pole measuring depths.
We were 'released' as soon as it was possible to leave, before the dredging operation was fully completed. The timing of our departure, most unusually in the 'tideless' Med, was determined by the tide high water springs luckily - giving us a crucial additional 30 cm! We made a final reconnaissance before departure in the marina work boat, measuring depths along the route, and then finally Aremiti was free!
Our jubilation on release was mitigated by the complete absence of any wind whatsoever. We made the passage to Korcula in two legs. The first of 110 miles, across the Gulf of Taranto to Otranto just around the heel of Italy, was a fairly boring motoring passage much of it out of sight of land but at least it got us into the Adriatic. We spent a day in Otranto - a pleasant medieval town - getting back into cruising mode, for example fixing the outboard engine, cleaning a badly fouled propeller and drinks on another boat! We abandoned the mini-cruise we had planned up the coast of Puglia having had the chance to visit the area by car while the dredging operations were under way and pressed on to our rendezvous in Korcula.
We completed the second leg of 184 miles in 36 hours in mixed conditions. Periods of calm were interspersed with some quite serious lightening storms together with winds and currents sometimes against and sometimes with us. For the final few hours we enjoyed a delightful sail past the southern Croatian islands of Lastovo and Mljet and then into Korcula only two days late.
Here we experienced our first taste of Croatian border formalities. Arriving at the marina office with our papers, we were told that not only were we in breach of the law, but had also caused the marina to be in breach of the law! We should have gone first to the designated clearing in quay on the other side of the town. However, first thing next day when we made the rounds of three different offices to complete the quite officious formalities for clearing in, it was accepted that we'd arrived 'late at night and not seen any marina staff' so criminality was avoided on all sides.
Our arrival in Korcula unfortunately coincided with a period of unusually bad weather wet and stormy for several days. However, summer finally re-appeared and we were able to take our seven mates and ourselves for a day trip around the islands off Korcula scenic and delightful. Then the following day we set off with three mates for a mini-cruise to Dubrovnik. This was accomplished in hot sunshine and rather little wind but we found some idyllic anchorages and everyone was happy. Mljet was particularly beautiful - claimed as the island where Calypso held Odysseus captive for 7 years - much of it is a National Park - completely unspoiled with islets off the coast and stunning forested scenery. After a rare sail, we spent the final night off Lopud, one of the Elaphite Islands. Croatia is the perfect cruising area bays and islands to suit all conditions in beautiful blue sparkling water, forested landscapes, pretty red roofed villages and towns and monastery covered islets.
We arrived in Dubrovnik just as another pulse of stormy and drizzly weather arrived. We had hoped to anchor right off the tiny harbour of the scenic old town which would have given us magnificent views of the city, but unseasonal winds from the south created an untenable swell, so we had to retreat to the marina up a river estuary - and wildly expensive. Dubrovnik, battered in the siege of the 1990s has now been rebuilt to its former glory massive city walls, marbled paved streets, Venetian architecture and hordes of tourists from the huge cruise ships arriving every day. Very impressive and, given its recent history, unsettling.
We experienced our first 'seiche' in the marina at Dubrovnik. This is a strange phenomenon, apparently not untypical in the Adriatic, whereby the water in a relatively confined area starts to slosh around causing dramatic changes in the water level. We experienced a range of 1.7 metres in about ten minutes as the water rose and then dropped. This would happen several times over half an hour or so, before starting again a couple of hours later. The whole episode lasted over 24 hours. It is thought to be caused by strong southerly winds pushing extra water into the Adriatic.
We made a 3 day trip inland from Dubrovnik into Bosnia Herzegovina interested to see for ourselves and to try to understand something of the conflicts of the early 1990s. We arrived in Sarajevo, by chance on the exact date of the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand setting off the First World War. The city is a real mix of east and west fascinating for both its Ottoman Turkish and its Austrian heritage and horrifying for its recent history all too evident from its buildings, bullet scarred during the siege of the city. Then to Mostar with its iconic bridge now rebuilt separating or joining the Muslim and Croat areas of the city again a monument to the furious divisions between the peoples of former Yugoslavia.
Finally back to Aremiti, and having pampered ourselves and the boat in the incredibly expensive marina, we left for Cavtat, at the southern end of Croatia with two friends on board. Here we almost fell foul of the border authorities again the police officer manifesting utter horror at the sight of all four of us arriving in her office. We were told in no uncertain terms that only the skipper is allowed to leave the boat when clearing out. Having then cleared out of Croatia, we were not even allowed to stay long enough to buy bread for lunch that day! Croatia is now in the EU and is evidently taking its duties to keep the hoi polloi out of the EU very seriously indeed. More of this sort of officialdom to come, no doubt, in Montenegro and Albania next month.