A Croatia Sailing Adventure
Islands explored: Vis, Solta, Hvar, Brac, St Klement, Bisevo
45.1000° N, 15.2000°
The idea of setting sail along the coast of an exotic location has been a dream of mine since I was first introduced to the sea while in the U.S. Navy some 25+ years ago. When my wife revealed to me that she had made plans for us to take a 7 day sailing vacation along the coast of Croatia, I was excited to say the least. I also couldn’t help but wonder if the actual experience would live up to the fantasy that I had created in my dreams. This log chronicles my experience on that adventure.
Ships: Lina II & Grace of Sweden
Ross Beane – Captain, Lina II
Larry & Nancy Narici – Long Island, NY
Tamara Murer- Switzerland/ United Nations
Carol Hollis – New Hampshire
Dayyan Armstrong – Captain, Grace of Sweden
George Pingeon – NYC
Tom Robbinson – NYC
Daniel Vizzini – Brooklyn
Hans Maharawal – Brooklyn
Avery Hancock – San Francisco/ United Nations
Pilar Bruce – Peru/London
Stefan – Los Angeles
After a crew briefing by our Captain, Ross Beane, we made ready our boat for departure. All around us crews made ready their own boats to set sail as well. The business of the activity and the combination of multiple languages being spoken aloud as commands were issued and jokes were made gave me an energized feeling as I did my best to help out and get ready.
We departed our port in Split unceremoniously around 11:00 AM. With the diesel engine running at 2000rpm, we made our way out of the marina. The marina looked deserted relative to the hundreds of boats that had cluttered the marina the day before. Most of the crews had already set sail, and as we pulled out, only a few boats remained at their moors. I couldn’t help but feeling like we were somehow losing as others had beaten us to the sea. I reminded myself, “this isn’t a race”. Competition is what I deal with every day at the office. This trip, this location, these crew mates, and this boat, is about enjoying the experience and appreciating the moment…
We cleared the harbor within minutes and made our way into the Adriatic Sea. Ahead of us sail boats, yachts and water ferries dotted the sea scape. Our plan was to motor out until we reached a point where the winds would be reliable and we could set the sails. Our captain asked me to take over the helm while he made preparations to raise the sails. I stood at the helm, comfortable in my abilities to steer this 54′ boat while under power. My confidence would soon be tested…
Our captain and other crew members, Kim included, worked to get the sail unfurled. One of the lines had become tangled up on the mast and prevented them from being able to raise the sail. As our sister ship moved away from us, with her sails full, we struggled with lines and a solution to our inability to raise our sails. It was decided that someone needed to ascend the mast and clear the tangled line. I had seen the rigging harness used in movies or on TV but, it’s use always involved a major dramatic scene involving a life or death situation. I never envisioned we would be experiencing a situation of such magnitude on this trip. Ross asked for a volunteer to go up in the harness; I could not resist the opportunity…
The captain tied me into a rigging harness and secured my hoisting line around the wench. Using the hand crank, Ross began pulling me up the mast towards our problem line. As I left the footing of the deck, I could feel the sway of the boat in a new way. Now the sensation was that of feeling like a toy on the end of rope being swung back and forth. I could feel the forces pushing me out away from the mast, pushing me out to swing at the end of a large stick. As the wind and centrifugal forces pushed me away, I held tightly to the mast. I fought back me fears and tried to stay focused on my objective. As I hung there 25′ foot above the deck, those dramatic movie scenes flooded my head. Perhaps it is truly life or death every time someone goes up the mast in the rigging harness? I reminded myself that I was doing something that few people will ever experience. I relaxed my grip on the mast and took a deep breath. I looked around and surveyed the sea all around us. INCREDIBLE!! I untangled the affected rigging lines and now, with sails up and a strong wind, we quickly caught up with our sister ship.
At around 4:00 pm we lowered our sails and motored into a small cove off the island of Brac. Our two captains knew of a small family owned restaurant located in a secluded cove. As we pulled into the cove and made our way to one of the mooring lines, the restaurant owner met us in a small wooden boat. With the owner’s assistance, we tied up and made sure our boat was clear of any neighboring boats. It was time to take our first plunge into the clear waters of the Adriatic.
Our combined group of 16 swam back and forth between our two boats. The salinity of the water made it easy to float, and virtually impossible to dive down to the bottom. I could see the bottom, but getting near it would prove impossible. We rinsed the saltwater off and made plans to take the dingy to shore and take a mile long walk into the sea side fishing village of Milne.
Walking the dirt roads into to town gave the impression of walking the dirt roads back in Oklahoma. The one differentiator being the rock walls that lined the roads on each side. Not only did these walls line the roads, they crisscrossed the fields, and lined the olive orchards as well. There is no shortage of limestone rock on this island! What is amazing to fathom is the sheer amount of time and labor that has been dedicated to stacking rocks into these walls. It is beautiful to see and must be therapeutic in its simplicity.
Milne is a fishing village straight out of a story book. We topped a hill on our way into town and the village revealed itself below us. My mind’s eye pictured Earnest Hemmingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. The port hinted of a history that at one time hosted numerous fishing boats. Today it played host to a few sailboats that had come in for an evening meal in town. It turns out that the town was once home to a large cannery for sardines. Now the cannery is gone and all that remains is the 16th century church and village. The only industry that exists these days is tourism. The tranquility of the town is charming, and was further enhanced when we purchased a fresh gelato and went for a stroll along the narrow streets between buildings. As with all the towns we have visited on this trip, the limestone paved streets have been polished smooth by the millions of feet walking them over hundreds of years.
Our evening on the island of Milne was capped off with dinner back at the private cove. Our group of 16 sat at a long table looking out towards the water, and gazing at the stars. The restaurant owners were overwhelmed with the few guests that had come in this evening for dinner. They had recently sent their children off to school, as the busy season was over. Tonight it would be just the owner and his wife taking care of everyone. We have learned that when it comes to dining in Croatia, one should not expect to be served quickly. This night’s service was no different but, with the wine and the conversation flowing, the delay in our food was easily overlooked. Our meal was a simple one consisting of cheese, smoke cured ham, fresh catch from the sea and some grilled vegetables. The delay in service to our table somehow made the meal better. All-in-all, it made for a perfect end to our first day.
Island of St. Clements/ Palmizana Marina/ Hvar
There’s something about sleeping on the water that relaxes the body and makes sleep much, much easier. We woke this morning around 9:30 but, getting out of bed was an entirely different story. I lay in bed for another 30 minutes, just feeling the waves rock the boat and listening to the waves lap against the side of the boat. Every so often the sound of snoring from one of my crew mates in the adjoining state room could be heard through the walls. For some reason, in this situation, it wasn’t particularly annoying.
I crawled up onto the deck, into the morning air, which was still very cool with dew. I quickly realized I was the only one awake. It was a great opportunity to sit and take in the sights of the harbor and the beauty of the shoreline. The sun illuminated the water and I could see fish in the clearness below. I eased myself into the cool water and took my first morning swim.
As I climbed out of the water, others were beginning to rise from their rooms as well. It was clear from our morning conversation that everyone found sleep easier to enjoy on the water. Our captain cooked up a quick omelet concocted breakfast, and by 11:00 we were underway and headed to our next destination.
The winds this morning were fairly mild. We unfurled our sails and managed to reach a leisurely speed of approximately 4 nautical miles per hour. No, it wasn’t very fast. While normally I might find myself growing impatient with the slowness of our progress, this morning, our speed seemed just fine…
It took us roughly four hours to cover the roughly 10 miles to our next port of call, the island of St. Clements. Our plan was to tie up the boat in Palmizana marina, and then take a water taxi over to the island and town of Hvar later in the evening.
St. Clements itself proved to be a great island in its own right. After the boat was secured we quickly decided that a swim was in order. Our captain guided us across a narrow isthmus to a beach bar called ‘Langustina’ located on the other side. The 10 minute walk took us through pine trees and the ruins of an old house and court-yard. The home’s outdoor brick oven and limestone walls still looked to be in good shape. I found myself wondering why someone had abandoned such a charming home in this amazing location.
We made our way down a hill by way of a worn rocky path, to this charming little sea side bar. Some in our group made themselves comfortable in one of the many large feather pillow like chairs and ordered drinks. Kim and I made our way down to the shore where limestone rock formations jutted out into the clear waters. The formations were flat on top and created a natural shelf that provided us the ability to lie out comfortably across the rocks and when ready, easily slide down into the water. The water was briskly cold at first but my body quickly became comfortable with the temperature as the warmth of the sun poured down on us. Then again, perhaps I just became so distracted by the attractive topless women sunbathing that I forgot about the coldness of the water… Boobs, they are man’s true Kryptonite!
After a well prepared meal by our captain, back on the boat, we dressed to make the trip by water taxi over to the nearby island of Hvar. Approaching the island via our taxi, we saw the illuminated riggings of a vintage inspired, five mast sailing vessel. The decorative lighting was quite impressive to see as the lights illuminated the ship and the water below. Our captain informed us that they do not use their masts to actually raise sail but, you could imagine what a sight one of these ships must have been when they were underway with all their sales raised.
Looming over the city of Hvar high on top of a hill is the old fortress. The fortifications constructed by the Venetian empire during the 13th century, was illuminated by lights that accentuated its large intimidating walls. It must have sent a powerful message to would be marauders eyeing the village of Hvar below as a possible target of opportunity. The town of Hvar has an upscale vibe to it that communicates clearly to visitors; “we are where people with good taste come to play”. The shops have a higher quality and finish to them. The restaurants seem to have a higher caliber of class than others we have visited during our trip. One very noticeable difference was the intentional focus on customer service and hospitality conveyed by the merchants we interacted with in town. It was clear that they intend to stand out in the mind of visitors.
We were thankful that we had arrived at the end of the busy season. The streets were only moderately busy with lovers strolling and young people on their way to the discos. The busy season could likely have been over-whelming.
We ended our time in Hvar at 10:00, gathered our crew and made our way back to our boats by water taxi. The bunk felt really good to lie down in, and within minutes were sound asleep.
Last night our sleep was a little less comfortable. Perhaps it was the location of our cove in relation to the breeze. More accurately would be to say the absence of any breeze. Our cabin was a bit stuffy and humid which made sleeping less conducive for me. I may have been the only one on our crew whose sleep was cut short by this. I rose at 7:20 anticipating that we would be departing from out mooring at 8:00 am. Our captain conveyed the evening before that our plan would be to depart at 8:00 and make our way to a new cove nearby, where we would anchor once again, have breakfast and spend a few hours swimming and relaxing. So much for well laid plans… Most of our crew, captain included, did not get out of their bunks until 9:00. I used the time to freshen up at an on-shore shower, and stretch my legs with a walk. Needless to say, there was little disappointment with the departure from our original plan.
We finally departed from our moorings at around 10:00. We’ve inherited a new crew member from our sister boat, Avery from NYC has joined us to get some additional sailing instruction from our captain. Kim seems to think she just wanted a break from all the young male testosterone onboard the other boat. The winds are light this morning but in spite of this, we raise the sails and make our way slowly through a narrow channel on the way to our next destination.
I took over the helm about half way to our destination. Our heading was confirmed as being an old fort located at the entrance to the cove we would ultimately be entering. As I neared the island of Vis the winds began to pick up. We watched the instrument panel with enthusiasm as our speed steadily increased. We reached 6.4 knots, then 6.7… The boat healed to the port as the sails strained against the wind. The crew of our sister boat fell in behind us and the race was on to pick up speed and close the gap between our two boats. My eyes darted from watching my sight line in the distance, to the wind direction indicator on my mast, to the tell-tale wind indicators in my jib sail. I wanted to make sure that my sails were capturing every bit of the available wind. Off our stern the Grace of Sweden continued its pursuit of us. I smiled to myself as I realized that I had widened the gap between us. Over the next hour several crew members took turns at the helm, experiencing the excitement of our impromptu race with the Grace of Sweden.
At around 3:00 we began making our way into the harbor of Vis. The island was occupied by Britain in the 1800’s the old fort, Fort George, was named in honor of Britain’s reigning king at the time. The town’s buildings we noticeably different from the other villages we have visited while on this journey. The architecture was more in the style of buildings constructed during the years of Britain’s colonialist expansion period. If the buildings had been painted neon colors, you might think you were in the British Virgin Islands or the Bahamas.
Our crew is becoming more proficient with the docking procedure. As our captain maneuvered our stern to the pier, I made ready with the line gaff, while Kim, Carol and Tamara tied off our bumpers in place. Within minutes we were successfully moored and the gang plank was lowered onto the shore.
We spent much of our afternoon napping. I suppose the excitement of our race and the exposure to the wind and sun had taken its toll on me. Once Kim and I had rested enough to regain our strength, we took a stroll along the water over to the swimming area which was next to an old church and cemetery. The beaches are rocky and sea urchins are everywhere. It makes getting into the water a bit precarious at times. Once in though, the water feels very refreshing.
After our swim, we grabbed our toiletries and made our way to the communal shower to get ready for the evening meal that had been organized. Most of the ports have some type of shower facility, called ‘water closets’ here. They aren’t fancy by any means but, they tend to feel luxurious after the confined shower space of the boat. The desire to remain under the spray of the hot shower water must be cut short, as you are reminded by the chatter of voices just outside your shower that others are waiting for their turn to shower as well.
Our captains had planned a group dinner for us this evening. We were picked up at 7:00 pm by two vans. They drove us up a road that switched back and forth as it climbed steadily up the steep hillside that over looked the harbor and town where our boat was moored below decks. Our destination was a family owned vineyard and restaurant that Captain Dayyan had discovered on a previous trip. The restaurant owner’s specialty was a traditional style of Croatian cooking known as ‘Peka’. Once we arrived the cook allowed us to tour his kitchen, which was nothing more than an open outdoor area with a large brick surface where hot coals glowed and the ashes of burnt wood remained. Peka style cooking involves a large cast iron domed cooking pot, in which your meats, vegetables and water based sauces are placed inside. The pots are then covered with wood and cooked for many hours. Tonight’s meals would be a smorgasbord of lamb, beef, and food from the sea. Our cook gave us a glimpse under one of the pots to reveal a beautiful, large red octopus surrounded by small squid and fish. I couldn’t wait to try it.
We were seated at a long table located in an outdoor courtyard surrounded by various old building structures. The buildings were used for making and storing wine, as well as the farmer’s home. Above us towered an old tree which occasionally released its leaves down on us throughout the evening. A few additional tables were scattered around the courtyard, located beneath trellis works covered with grape vines. A few other visitors to the island had been fortunate enough to find this uniquely charming location as well. These patrons sat at a few small tables scattered around the courtyard. Hopefully, their dining experience would not be ruined by the arrival of our large party of 17.
Tonight our group was being joined by a young woman from California named Xiang (Shaun), whom had been invited by others in our group earlier in the day while walking around town. She was traveling alone and had been in Croatia for two weeks. I find myself jealous when I meet people with the courage and sense of adventure that Xiang seemed to have. She turned out to be very interesting and was quickly embraced by everyone as a member of our group.
Soon after sitting, several bottles of wine were brought to the table and within minutes the wine and conversations were flowing. The laughter and voices of our group quickly dominated the small courtyard. In rapid succession multiple Peka cooking kettles arrived and the lids were removed to reveal the various dishes we would be eating. The consistency of the dishes was reminiscent of a stew type meal. Plates were passed around and servings were issued. Some in our group were hesitant to try the strange new dishes but, I jumped at the opportunity to introduce some potentially new flavor to my pallet. My pallet was not disappointed. Oh my gosh, the flavors were incredible! I made my way around the table trying everything. Each taste was unique and delicious. I filled my plate three times. I commanded my crew mates to raise their classes in a salute and toast to our captains for putting together such a fantastic evening. My only disappointment was that I was unable to eat more of the delicious food that had been served.
The evening’s activities were capped off with several glasses of Scotch from a bottle of Johnny Walker Red that I had picked up in Split. My fondness for Scotch was apparently shared by several of our crew. We quickly finished off the bottle as we drank, dance and laughed on the deck or our boat. We occasionally remembered to quiet ourselves in an effort to be respectful of those sleeping in the boats surrounding us. Then some German men from a neighboring boat began chanting out loudly to each other, took off their shirts, began doing push-ups on the pier, and then went running through the streets. Suddenly our dance party didn’t seem like such a nuisance to our neighbors anymore. Thank goodness for crazy Germans!
Vis / Kamiza
As with most times when a late evening of drinking and eating is involved, the next morning came way too quickly. No one stirred from their various bunks until 10:00 am or later. The sounds of other boat crews up and around and cars, scooters and people moving along the pier finally made it apparent that we needed to wake our lazy asses up. Kim and I got up and walked down to a restaurant where we got our first morning cup of coffee. Ross prepared another of his scrambled egg breakfasts which was waiting on us when we returned to the boat. What remained of the morning was spent cleaning up below and hosing off the top side deck with fresh water.
At noon straight up, we let loose our mooring lines and made our way out of the harbor for a short sail around the island. Our destination today is a small bay on the other side of the island, home to the town of Kamiza.
The cruise over to Kamiza took us along a large cliff face shoreline. At various points along the shore we could see military pill boxes or bunkers. As it turns out, the island of Vis was not opened to tourists until the mid-1990’s. It existed as a military outpost for the various controlling governments, and as the original home of the company that would become Star-Kist Tuna. The company relocated its headquarters to California many years ago. According to our captain; today more Kamizians live in San Pedro, California than on the island of Kamiza. Apparently, once the tuna kings moved Star-Kist to the U.S. the majority of the island followed them.
Kamiza is an absolutely beautiful seaside village. It sits beneath a large cliff with the village that climbs its way up the hillside. Rock walls line the land scape of the hillside, defining the gardens that are maintained by the locals. You can see the remnants of many older walls that outline fields which have been abandoned for many years. They harken to a much busier time for this historic village long ago. Kim and I made our way through the village streets, winding our way up the hill to the old church which sits halfway up the hill above the village. The church was locked but, the advantage point offered us gorgeous views out over the harbor making the difficult walk up worthwhile.
After a brief walk back through the village and a quick swim, Kim and I made the decision to rent a sobe/ room, rather than wait for the communal shower.
With a new bottle of wine in hand and a few belongings from the boat, we climbed up to our third floor apartment. I’ll be taking a break from climbing after this trip. I’ve done enough of it to last me for a year! The apartment’s offerings were sparse to say the least. It offered us what we wanted most at this point, a hot shower in which we could take our sweet time! How pleasant it was to receive the added bonus of a great view out of our window, which looked out over the pier and harbor, to our boat. We spent nearly two hours lounging in our room, enjoying the quiet time together and feeling very lucky to be here at this time, in this moment.
Dinner this evening was on the boat. Each boat crew prepared its own meal. Tonight Ross prepared a nice chicken and pesto pasta. I may have been a bit hungry, as I ate two bowls. We sat below deck together swapping stories and discussing world politics. Tamara, who is Swiss, worked for the United Nations for many years. Her perspective on global issues is very interesting. I find myself in the minority on this cruise, as I am the sole conservative. Virtually all of our crew members are from the east coast, and specifically the NYC area. They find my willingness to be so brutally harsh disturbing and I find their willingness to be so giving with my money equally disturbing… In truth, after several days of discussing social issues, we are in agreement on far more issues than one might think. This is a very intelligent group and I greatly enjoy the opportunity indulge in these stimulating conversations.
Kamiza / Tito’s Cave
Kim and I made use of the apartment we had rented by staying in the room overnight. We weren’t thrilled by the thought of sleeping on the two small twin beds in our room but, the prospect of clean sheets and a breeze through our window was enough for us to give it a go. The gamble paid off for us. While the beds offered the comfort of an army cot, the breeze kept us comfortable all night long.
At 6:00 am the church bell tower rang out, announcing that a new day had arrived. The sound echoed off the hillsides all around the town. As we laid in our beds additional sounds began to make their way through our window. A few cars, a tractor, men speaking to each other in the Croatian tongue. In spite of the increasing noises, we remained in bed, feeling quite comfortable. Laying there I had the sensation of my bed moving with the waves. It may be a few days after get home before that sensation goes away.
At 8:00 am, I finally mustered the discipline to rise from bed. I looked out to see that the skies were dark this morning and that a light mist was falling on the water over the harbor. The site offered yet another beautiful image from the window of our sobe. I stared up at the rocky cliff side in the distance not quite sure if I was seeing holes that looked like dwellings, or were my eyes simply playing tricks on me.
Hopefully, I’ll have an opportunity to ask someone local, or better yet, investigate the site myself. There is a rumor that the Yugoslavian dictator Tito had a cave customized and finely appointed for his personal use on this island…
Over a late breakfast, our captain announced that there would be a change of plans regarding today’s activity. Our plan originally involved all 16 of our crew members boarding the 57′ Grace of Sweden, and sailing to the Blue Cave, to swim and explore the caves along the coast. With dark skies and rain in our forecast we decided to put that plan on hold. Instead, we would look for a break in the weather and explore the island on scooters instead.
Around noon, we received a reprieve from the drizzle for which we were hoping.
Kim and I were first to receive our scooters. Given the length of time that it had taken the rental proprietor to process our rental, we thought there would be ample time for us to drive over to the public bathroom and be back before everyone was ready to go. Being much older than many of our 20 something crew mates, we are a little more concerned with regular bathroom breaks…
Unfortunately, by the time we wound our way back through the tight maze of narrow streets back to the scooter shop, our crew had already departed. Crap!
With our island map in hand we jumped back on our scooters and headed out in hot pursuit of our comrades. With only 28 km/ 15 miles of road on the entire island and a pretty good idea of where they were headed, we felt confident that we could find them. After covering several kilometers and making several stops to check our map, we concluded that our mission may be a bit more difficult than we had estimated. The intended plan was to explore Tito’s cave. Its location had been revealed to us by the scooter shop owner. Unfortunately, the Croatian language is a bit difficult to decipher. When you have asked “what, huh, can you repeat that again” for the fifth time, people have no problem letting you know what a pain in the ass you are… Rather than ask again, we made the decision to wing it. The roads were steep and winding as we climbed our way up from the coastal town of Kamiza. With the throttles wide open on our 50cc thoroughbreds, we sped through the hairpin turns at speeds comparable to leisurely run. My mount was not up to the task of carrying its large American rider up this steep road so, occasionally when it strained under my weight, I would push with my feet. I’m sure I looked like a 3 year old riding one of those Strider bicycles. Once I reached the top of the hill, the strain of the engine eased and my mount was able perform the required task of transporting me to our intended destination. Now if only we could find this damn cave! Nothing on the map resembled the signs or roads we encountered. We determined to find this darn cave but, I was also becoming alarmed by the quickly moving needle on my fuel gauge. Either I REALLY strained the engine on this scooter, or I’m losing fuel. Inside my head I was cursing the owner of the scooter shop for giving me this dog of a scooter, and for her unintelligible directions! My gas gauge was soon on ‘E’ and my fingers were crossed as we descended the hilltop road on our way into Vis. I did manage to decipher from the rental shop owner that in Vis is the only gas station on the island. Here is where I make a point to anyone considering traveling to The Dalmatian coast at the end of the travel season. At the end of September, many shops, retailers and apparently gas stations either close early or entirely during the off- season. Apparently the owner of the only gas station on the island had decided to close the station for the afternoon but, he would be back at 4:00. It was now 1:30… CRAP!
Driving back the 10 kilometers to Kamiza was not an option. Waiting around Vis until 4:00 pm didn’t hold much appeal either. Even if I did wait, there were no guarantees that the station owner would show up. It was time to get resourceful. I determined that I would charm some gas out of someone!
So, with my hair matted down from my helmet, my face scruffy after a month with no shaving, and zero confidence in finding a local that would understand a word I was saying, I set about getting some gas for my sorry little nag of a scooter. My first stop was a competing scooter rental shop located along the pier. The girl behind the counter was young, and given her lack of customers and preoccupation with her phone, I judged her to be bored. I thought my situation might provide her with a nice distraction to her otherwise boring day.
I approached her saying, “hello”. She looked up and did not recoil in horror at my appearance. “Yes”, I was in. Or so I thought… She explained as best she could that she had already put all of her fuel into their scooters. For the sake of this story I am stating that had her fuel been available, she would have given it to me. So, with no fuel to give she signaled her indifference to my situation. Determined not to surrender, I thought quickly and proposed my ‘plan B’ to her; “how do you feel about driving me over to the other side of the island”?
With that, she went next door to the neighboring rental shop and told the owner of that shop about my situation. To my great relief, the owner emerged from the store with a 5 gallon can of gas. 20 Kuna later, I was on the road with a full tank of gas! So, perhaps it could be said that I didn’t charm my way into a tank of gas, or did I… 🙂 With new directions and a renewed dedication to finding the lost cave of Tito, we set out from Vis on our way back to Kamiza. One would think that with only one major road running a loop around the island that there wouldn’t be that many confusing intersections. Well, THERE ARE! We did not give up however, and within 40 minutes of our departure, I found the road to Tito’s Cave. The sign indicating the road was worn and perforated with what looked like bullet holes. The sign read ‘Titovonick Splitvick’. Or something like that…. From those two words however, I interpreted “Tito” and “Spelunking”, which is the word for cave exploring in English. I have no idea if that is an accurate translation but, it worked. There was nothing ceremonious about the cave location. No monument which would indicate “you are here”. Just a road that climbed steeply up a mountain and a turn out off the road at the base of a set of steps that had been made by human laborers, by stacking the areas natural limestone. At the top of these steps was the secret bunker of a once notorious dictator. This was going to be impressive. We abandoned our scooters and made our way up the hand crafted steps. Step after step we climbed. Up to one landing and one turn after another we climbed. As I climbed further and further I questioned out loud, “why would a dictator of a country like Yugoslavia subject himself to climbing up so many damn steps”? Yes, the views were nice. We took several pictures along our route. As with other places we had visited on this trip, the rock walls covered the hillside. I’ve decided at this point of our journey, if I ever move to Croatia, I’m learning the art of ‘rock wall building’. After a long climb of roughly 300 steps, we come upon a stacked rock wall that extends up from the ground to a cliff face which extends out over our heads above. The design is similar to what we have seen in the old Pueblo Indian villages of the southwest. Kind of cool, but not really impressive. We entered the structure, not sure what eccentric details may be revealed. Within the wall was a cave. A dank musty cave… There was no conference table where a notorious dictator would have plotted the victimization of his people. No rich mahogany floors, where high priced call girls would have danced for a dictator’s entertainment. It was just a crappy little unimpressive cave. We didn’t even need flashlights! So disappointing! Hardly the type of appointments I would expect of a man with ‘dictator’ status. We descended the stairs back down to our scooters disappointed that we had chosen this as our mission for the day. Then we stopped for a moment and looked out over the valley below and to the greater sea beyond. Very cool! Suddenly, the search for Tito’s cave wasn’t such a disappointment after all.
As we made our way back the boat, the sky began to rain once again. It wasn’t raining hard enough to make riding difficult but, as our clothes began to soak through, we were starting to get a bit chilly. Now, there are two schools of thought when riding in this condition. There is the arguably smarter approach employed by my wife which involves using caution and driving slower on the winding roads, slick with new rain that descended back down the mountain towards our marina. The downside to this approach is that you are guaranteed to get soaking wet. The other approach to this situation is to drive so fast that the rain virtually dries as it is hitting you. The downside to this approach is that often times the rider ends up soaking wet any way as he lies there on the ground tending his wounds after a gnarly crash on the rain slick, winding roads. I deployed this approach!
Caution be damned! I was getting out of this rain. There was only one problem. My less than trusty nag was equipped with a governor, which limited my speed to 40Kms per hour. I think this piece of safety, technology, may have been the only thing on my scooter that was working properly. As you may have guessed, 40 kms per hour isn’t exactly the evaporative speed I needed to execute my plan. Recognizing my scooter’s intent to let me down once again, I made the decision to kill it. Turning off the engine took the governor out of play. Soon I was reaching evaporative velocity speeds as I raced down the winding roads. A slight tap on the rear brake allowed me to slide into the corners and achieve the trajectory needed for my lean into the turn. It was thrilling. I envisioned myself on these roads with my motor bike, as the newest member of a Croatian biker club. I was cool… Luck would be on my side this day, as I safely reached the town of Kamiza and the rental shop in one piece.
Our last evening in the town of Kamiza was spent at a local restaurant where once again, our captains had made arrangements to have our crews treated to a special meal. The restaurant was inside of an old lobster breeding facility. As it turns out, lobsters don’t breed well in captivity so, after many unsuccessful owners, dating back to the original construction in 1863, some guy finally decided to abandon lobster farming and turned the facility into a restaurant. The restaurant interior is centered round a large walled holding tank that allows water from the sea to come into the tank, keeping the water fresh. They have illuminated the tank with underwater lights, which gives the restaurant a nice glow and ambiance. On the walls are relics from the fleet of fishing ships that must have been prevalent on the island when lobster, tuna, and sardine fishing were the life blood of the village. Old pictures of fishermen and the village are everywhere. It gives one a glimpse of the town over the last 100 years.
We could see our meal of steak and fish was being prepared in a brick oven as we’re seated. The waiter wasted no time in bringing us red and white one, which was much appreciated. As if on repeat, our party once again picked up where we had left off only two nights ago with more laughter and more drinking. Appetizers were served; prawns, octopus salad and prsut (prosciutto). And once again we received and excellent meal when the steak and sea food arrived. Our captains have done an excellent job of finding restaurants that offer not only great food but, a great local experience as well. I will definitely be recommending their sailing company.
The Blue Cave & the Sail Home
The final day of our journey has arrived. Spirits of those within the group this morning are rather somber. The blame for this quiet mood is likely related to another late night, combined with the rolling waves that kept our boats in motion throughout the night. The creaking sound of our bumpers rubbing the sides of the boats and mooring lines being stretched as the waves lifted our boats up and down and side to side, did not make good conditions for a restful evening. The rainy weather which kept us in port the day before was gone but, the weather this morning offered no promise of the sunny skies which are preferred when beach or swimming activities are on the agenda.
We departed the marina in Kamiza at 9:00 am. We had awoken at 7:45 to the sounds of our captain stirring, as he made food preparations for our breakfast. Kim and I dressed quickly and walked to a nearby cafe for a morning macchiato. We had struggled early in the week to place a coffee order that resembled something close to American coffee. Usually, we received a small cup with espresso or something similar. Regardless, it was always a small cup with even less actual caffeine. It wasn’t as if you get a refill either once you finished your cup. With most coffee bars we visited, you saw your server three times; once when you placed your order, once when they brought it and the final when you flagged them down an hour later requesting your bill so you could go. Increasing the amount of the tab and the businesses profits, does not seem to be a priority here. On this our final day, we had learned what order place if we wanted to maximize the amount of coffee and caffeine to be served, “Two macchiato please”! The taste was delicious as we surveyed the town and harbor for the last time.
As we departed the harbor, the wind picked up and the waves increased, pitching our boat wildly. We made the decision to motor out to the small island of Bisevo, which was only a short distance away. The closer we got to the island and the location of the ‘blue cave’, the more the waves increased, and the more apparent it became that making our way by dingy into the cave, would be a monumental challenge. The Blue Cave gets its name from the glow of the water inside the cave. The cave consists of a small opening at water level, roughly 3′ high by 4′ wide. Taking a dingy inside requires the passengers to duck in calm water conditions. Once inside the cave it opens up into an enormous cavern. On bright days, the sun shines down in the water illuminating the cave from underneath the cave walls. If one were to swim down 10′ under water they could swim under the cave walls and back out into the open sea. From the pictures we saw in Kamiza, it seems like it would be a beautiful site. Today however, with the waves crashing against the cave entrance and the sky dark with clouds, the idea of trying to guide our small dingy fully loaded with people into the small cave entrance with the waves rising and falling with such ferocity, seemed like a really bad idea. If we swam in, would the cave be dark because the sun wasn’t shining? The prospect of being slammed around by waves in a dark hole with sharp rock edges held no interest for me. We were satisfied with looking at the entrance of the cave.
With so much wind there was only one thing to do… SAIL! We turned down wind and prepared our riggings to make sail. As the muscle on board, my first task was to raise the main sail. The weight of this sail increases as the sail is pulled higher. The final 10′ up the mast increases the weight of the sail substantially. My large mass does a good job of countering this weight. Once the main sail was hoisted, I moved to the jib line, and after just a few pulls the wind grabbed the sheet and forced the sheet open. With both sails open we shut down the engine and let the wind provide our propulsion. I took over the helm from our captain and within minutes we were reaching speeds of 9 knots. This was the first time that we had achieved such speeds on our trip. The sensation was amazing! As the wind pushed us one way, the large waves pushed us another. The pitching and swaying made maintaining a steady heading very difficult. I loved the challenge. I thought of friends and family that would enjoy this unique experience as much as I was enjoying it now. For nearly two hours I steered our course. As I steered, Ross served our crew a meal of the most incredible truffle cheese and prosciutto that I had ever tasted. I nibbled at the meal when I could, as best I could. I wanted to dig in but, I didn’t want to leave the helm either. Our course takes us downwind of the island of Brac. Once behind the island, we lose our wind and the seas calm substantially. My thrilling sailing experience has come to a screeching halt. For an hour I limped along at 2 knots while Kim and the other members of crew slept or read books, stretched out on deck. I was ready for my turn to relax.
The remainder of our time at sea was spent with our new friends relaxing, conversing about jobs, politics and telling stories. Occasionally the wind would pick up and we would challenge our sister ship for supremacy of the wind.
At around 16:00 the Kastel marina located between Split and Trogir, where we had begun our adventure, lay off our bow roughly half a mile. We lowered our sales and made our way by motor over to the fueling dock. We must return the boats to the marina with a full tank. The task was quickly completed and we made our way back to our port of origin. Tying off in the marina is a routine task for our crew at this point. Each crew member has a job. They all know where NOT to be so that another crew member can do their job. It is a seamless process for us. In spite of our precision, it is already 18:00 hours. The sun will set on our final day in less than an hour.
In the morning we will depart our boat and head to the airport for the trip back to Oklahoma. The crews have decided to cook the last of our food reserves and dine in this evening. As it turns out, we didn’t have as much reserves as we thought but, our captain found missing ingredients quickly at the marina grocery store. I also purchase another bottle of Johnny Walker Red to share before dinner. The result was another well prepared meal of locally grown and raised foods. Onions, peppers, dates, olives and more cover the table. This is combined with smoked prosciutto and cheeses we purchased in Hvar. The truffle cheese, in particular, is like crack cocaine to me! I can’t get enough of it. I’m not sure where or how I am going to find this cheese when I get home but, I will make it my mission.
During our meal we exchange numbers and email addresses. We make commitments to visit our new friends in their respective cities. We want to visit George in NYC and take his guided bike tour of the city. While in New York, we will visit the Freedom Towers and see the work that Tom has been in charge of completing. Kim is less enthused about me going out with Hans, who is a production designer for Victoria’s Secret, the next time I am in New York. I can’t for the life of me understand why? Stefan and I have talked for hours on this trip about his insolvent and travels with custom motorcycle builder, Deus ex Machina. His skills and experience tie in very well to my vision for a unique motorcycle cafe and experience on old route 66 in Tulsa. He has invited me out to LA to ride bikes in the hills above Los Angeles. He will be moving back to LA this next week from NYC, to start work on a new assignment. I’ve invited him to stay over in Tulsa for a night on his way west. I’m eager to show off my bikes and to exchange more ideas about my vision for ‘Moto 66’. There are many promises and good intentions exchanged throughout the evening. Perhaps some will be fulfilled? Regardless, all are delivered with sincerity and that is what matters. We say are farewells and goodbyes after dinner as many in our group will be leaving before dawn to catch their flights.
Tonight there would be no late night drinking. We only manage to kill half of the Johnny Walker. It will make a nice gift for the cleaning crew tomorrow. Some, like me, were too tired, while others wanted to be quiet out of respect for those getting up early. I lie in bed trying to read a little. Through our porthole I could hear conversations in different languages taking place on other boats. Across the marina, the voices of Germans singing and chanting rang out. Euro disco played loudly for a while, until someone told them to turn it down. A Swedish family I’m sure… All the while our boat gently swayed. Ultimately, I focused of the sounds of the waves lapping against the side of our hull. This will be a good night’s sleep.