One Thursday in late July, first mate Humphrey found me at Heathrow and two flights later we were in western Greece, negotiating Preveza Marine in the dark to find a ladder helpfully propped up against Aqua Blue, my Kelsall 39' tri. Two days rapid fit out with Humphrey's help include several trips up the mast and antifouling all three hulls in the fierce boatyard heat. We also fitted a groundplate while the boat was out of the water and I looked critically at the rudder and centreboard which seemed as strong as ever.
On Saturday we motored straight down to Vliho lagoon to anchor off restaurant Hippocampus, above which live good friends Danny and Sue Keane of IGR Yacht Services, who entertained us to several good meals. Fitting out continued afloat; being able to dive overboard does ease the heat acclimatization, since Vliho is very hot in July/August. I bought new chain and a 35lb Delta anchor from IGR and left the rusty old 45lbCQR and chain buoyed on the bottom as our private mooring!
We left on Monday morning in an unusual strong southerly and had the strange sensation of being blown down the Levkas canal towards the swinging bridge which was not yet open!! Just as I was doubting my ability to hold Aqua Blue in reverse or do a three point turn, the bridge operator relented and we were through into the Ionian Sea.
Leaving Preveza behind to starboard after six years, we ran north in an increasing swell and made very good time to crowded Lakka on the north tip of Paxos. Max speed 9.8kts, not bad in a 28yr old cruiser full of fuel and water.
Overnight there was a violent thunderstorm with very strong gusts, enough to get me up to dress in a jumper and oilskin top in case we dragged, but the Delta passed it's first test. However the rain at dawn was torrential and was filling the cockpit lockers as fast as they could drain. Unbeknown to me the bilge pump exit hose was underwater and a siphon set up, which partially flooded the engine compartment. Humphrey in the rear cabin was alerted by his wet feet! Bucket bailing was called for until the penny dropped and I fished the exit hose out of the locker. Fortunately the starter motor survived it's near immersion. Needless to say the exit hose now has a one way valve! After a few other jobs the sea outside started to go down, so we ventured out and again made good time in fresh westerlies to enter Gouvia Marina for a meal ashore and a good night's rest. I was already a bit stressed!
Gouvia in the morning is very convenient for shopping, fuel and a written weather forecast at the office. We motorsailed up the Corfu channel, overtaken by the daily hydrofoil from Corfu to Sarande in Albania only a few miles away. In fact I do suspect that close hauling up the Albanian coast is the right way to head north, but like everyone else we turned left for southern Italy and beat all day into a WNW F4 or 5 over an increasing swell and made the south bay on Erikoussa (the most northerly Ionian island) by 6pm. There were only three yachts there in late July. The mobile still worked and I rang home to report progress, while Humphrey demonstrated his culinary skills in the galley, laughing like a drain to a Jeremy Hardy tape.
We left by 7.00am, it was pretty lumpy until we got off soundings since the wind had blown all night, always a sign of real weather in the Med. We close hauled past Othoni and the wind increased to 22 kts at times with short steep seas as we crashed our way across the Otranto Straits under cutter rig, fetching Cape Otranto by teatime. A few more tacks into the low setting sun brought us into Otranto harbour itself after 13 hours, to anchor under the castle walls where we enjoyed Humphrey's cockpit dinner, listening to Jazz coming down from the cafes above. We crashed out ourselves shortly afterwards.
Up early to start again we had another very long day beating up the coast from Otranto to Brindisi. I had a numb right arm from nerve compression and Humphrey was heroically doing all the winching while I steered with my left arm into the night, until eventually we passed the huge breakwaters in the dark at some speed under sail. In fact you continue for a mile into the harbour before rounding up to drop sail and motor into Brindisi town basin, where we tied up under the Sailors Monument.
Rather wearily we dragged ourselves on deck soon after dawn (we were still on Greek time) and headed out. However after about an hour of crashing offshore the wind was 26kts on the nose and the seas already two metres, very short and building, so I only half reluctantly span the wheel and we ran back even faster into the harbour. This time going alongside just north of the steps at the end of the Appian way. The trawlers seem to have been banished to the other side of the harbour. From this fashionable and very convenient spot I rang my partner Stella whom we had been trying to meet from a Ryanair flight into Bari. She laughingly accepted the inevitable and for the second time had to take a train with our daughter Louise from Bari to Brindisi where Humphrey and I met them at the station on Sunday the 1st August. At least we had a day and a half of much needed R&R and caught up on maintenance, including beefing up the heavily used staysail sheet attachment points and completing a new Formica covered saloon table. I also fitted the new Nasa Weatherman and stuck it's aerial out of a deckhatch. It promptly confirmed NW5-7 in the Southern Adriatic! However there were two good Trattorias on the quay for dinner, after we'd walked the old town, as well as water hydrants.
On Monday morning the sea of course was flat calm and we motorsailed gently to Monopoli to dine at anchor in the company of only two other yachts. Going alongside in the morning by the fishing boats enabled easy shopping in the wonderful mediaeval port. We topped up the fuel tank and commenced motoring NW along the coast past Bari where we turned more north in a SE breeze under the MPG, or code zero as they seem to be called now. Eventually we headed NE and sailed all night, including running at speed before one persistent thunderstorm, arriving at the Croatian island of Lastovo by mid morning. It's a port of entry in season and the officials in Ubli readily trousered the €210 for the cruising permit. We lazed away the rest of the day in Skrivena Luka bay where I caught up on sleep.
We then started our progress up the Croatian island chain, first pausing for a swimming lunch at the SW corner of Korcula, before continuing under sail to Hvar town on Hvar island. Anchored off the crowded harbour were a Cross 50tri and a Shuttleworth cat Solea. The Cross skipper paused alongside in his dinghy to chat about tris. They were six years into their circumnavigation from the US. Hvar is very fashionable in August and Paul Allen's enormous gin palace Octopus was anchored offshore with two helicopters on deck!! The Venetian town is well worth a visit with it's marble Piazza. We had a good meal on a hotel terrace overlooking the busy harbour, with Stella quoting from the Rough Guide to Croatia. It then rained all night, strongly enough in the morning for Stella to collect water for washing, as we watched torrents cascading down alley steps into the harbour.
The rain clouds left no wind behind them and we motored all the way past Brac and Solta to anchor in the large bay of Rogoznica on the mainland, opposite the huge marina which strangely did not seem to have a fuel berth.
In the bright morning we motorsailed to Zirge island for a lunch stop on one of the mooring buoys. Then a good long afternoon sail in the thankfully returned Maestro all the way to Lopatica Bay on Kornati island. The islands, although mostly uninhabited, were dry stone walled right over the summits to encase hardy brown sheep. The park rangers called by in their RIB and made a small charge since the Kornatis are a protected national park, but they were keen to take our bagged rubbish. I understand they take a dim view if you don't have any!
We could have spent a week in the Kornati islands but Stella was keen to see Zadar. So we continued north and exited the archipelago via the narrow canal at the top of Kornati and then under the low bridge between Uglian and Pashman. East of the bridge we paused for an afternoon swim and were promptly joined by a small modern racing tri with four female crew, who were keen to get extensive tans like everybody else in Croatia. By evening we were backed up to the marina outer wall in Zadar harbour, where water and power were still available. We were the only diners in the yacht club restaurant but had a good meal. Zadar's historic centre is worth a full day with it's walls and marble streets and many fine old buildings, despite being extensively bombed in WW11. There's an internet cafe and even a chandlery!
The threatened multihull surcharge was not levied when we left in the morning. We paused at the top of Uglian and then had another good trip under full cutter rig laying Simuni on Pag island where there is yet another marina, but we managed to back 25ft wide Aqua Blue into one of the few shallow spots in the outer bay. The bollards on the rough quay were made of plastic buckets full of concrete! I was surprised to learn later that the entrance is sometimes subject to dangerous gusts, presumably in a Bora which thankfully are uncommon in high summer. In the morning one of the island sheep was bloodily slaughtered on the quayside!
We then had to motor along the rest of Pag before turning right to drift over to Rab island, anchoring in Fumiga bay northwest of the main port. All the vegetation on Rab is on the west coast since the east is so mercilessly blasted by the Bora in the Velebitski canal.
Humphrey left on the six am ferry heading for Trieste airport and a wedding in the UK. We enjoyed mediaeval Rab town with it's many bell towers (campaniles) to climb, as well as the fine park we were anchored off. We were visited by a radio ham from Slovenia (whom I had contacted in the winter), who spent every summer there to enjoy the naturism on the Frkanj penisula protecting our anchorage. In fact Edward V111 and Wallace Simpson were there in 1936! However the nudist colony did not protect us from the fresh southerly which arrived at 2.00am! I had to rise and lay the second anchor to keep the stern away from the shore, blessing the alloy Fortress I carry for just this purpose.
The depleted crew recovered both anchors in the morning without too much difficulty, before we hoisted reduced sail and blasted across to Jadriscica bay on the south tip of Cres island, where of course the wind promptly dropped. We lazed away the rest of the day in the fjiord like inlet with it's inevitable naturist campsite! Being British we kept our empire building shorts firmly on! Even managed a film show in the evening on Louise' new laptop.
In the morning we had to head south for an hour till we rounded the southern tip of Losinj, then spending the afternoon in Balbanida bay, before continuing to spend one night in Aratur bay. There was some Croatian festival and two restaurants turned us away. So we bought fresh pasta and returned to Aqua Blue for a cockpit meal to Cuban music, which we've been fond of since a trip to Havana two years ago,( by British Airways/Iberia I hasten to add!).
We made an early start for our crossing to Istria. In fact the north-easterly was quite fresh as it often is in the gulf of Kvaerner, and we had a fast bumpy close reach for several hours before rounding Kamenjak the southerly point of Istria. We then siesta'd in shallow Paltama bay where the previous industrial facilities are being converted into holiday apartments. Later we motored in rain up and into huge Pula harbour to drop anchor north of the marina off the impressive Roman amphitheatre. We found ballet rehearsals in progress in the amphitheatre which is one of the very few with complete oval walls. Pula also has a small Greek temple to Augustus, unusually with it's roof in place. Although after surviving two millennia it succumbed to American bomb disposal (in the harbour of all places!) at the end of the war and was not rebuilt till 1954.
I bought water in the morning by the tripper boats (20 Kuna). We then motored inside the Brioni islands where Tito entertained foreign dignitaries rather than in Belgrade, and slowly close hauled up the coast in light winds to anchor in the bay immediately south of Rovinj. The yacht population had exploded since our arrival in Istria, although we were invariably the only Brit and trimaran.
We were ashore at 8.00am for the walk round Rovinj which is an artist's colony and former Italian town with bilingual street signs like so many on this coast. There had been several boats burnt out on the hard standing at the marina. An electrical accident it was said! Great views of the town and seascape from the front of the cathedral on the headland.
The morning brought a southerly breeze so the rest of our trip up the west coast of Istria was unusually downwind. At one point our path was crossed by a nude yacht crew from a naturist marina! I had no idea there was such a thing. The Limski canal is prohibited to yachts so we continued to Porec. We sought shelter from the fresh southerly by anchoring inside Nikola island, the town quay was quite choppy. Although next time we'll use one of the mooring buoys off the marina. Another Italian town with a wonderful Basilica whose tower we climbed before a good meal in the courtyard below. Louise and I were in Mac heaven at the local internet cafe. I was in email contact with Lucian Comoy* in Trieste who was guiding our trip north to his boatyard up the Timavo river. The southerly blew all night and we slept as though in the UK. Back to the Euphrasian basilica in the morning to view the ancient mosaics, the best outside Ravenna apparently. We'll check next year! After our usual iced coffees (and how they vary) we struggled a bit to recover the well dug in Delta. I think we must get an electric windlass for the next ten years!!
The still fresh southerly blew us up the coast past Novigrad our original destination and on to Umag or Umago as the Italians still call it. Inside a very narrow entrance is a broad shallow harbour where the council have usefully laid some moorings beyond the marina. We swung to one all afternoon before a shore trip. All the restaurants are on the south side of the town so we had a windy meal sheltering behind some bamboo screens in one of them, with a good view of the cement works!
Ashore in the morning I found internet access in the public library, still trying to arrange to meet Lucian. Then we had to bring Aqua Blue alongside the ferry quay to visit the authorities before leaving Croatia. The Port police complained that Humphrey had left the boat without being stamped out or removed from the crew list. However a kind lady at the harbourmasters where I had taken Louise amended the documents so the port police would accept them. We then had great difficulty leaving the quay since a light breeze was blowing us into a corner. Three point turns are not easy in a trimaran. Finally we extricated ourselves and headed for the Capo d'Istria.
We anchored for lunch in the lee of Piran(o) under the buttressed escarpment below the cathedral. The echo sounder was on the blink and we dropped the anchor in far too deep water and (missing Humphrey's gym honed muscles) ended up hauling in a huge weight of line and chain. One more job for the winter! After running past Izola and Koper we passed through the southerly gap in the three huge breakwaters that shelter Trieste now visible rising up the hill ahead. However we turned into the new marina at Muggia, the Porto San Rocco. Where we found the beautiful Shuttleworth 56ft tri La Goia. Painstakingly built over many years by an Austrian surgeon. One can only wonder what the mooring charges are at over thirty feet wide. We paid 55 euros for one night. It was very hot and muggy in Muggia but we walked to old town and had a very good fish meal in Trattoria Risorta, facing the belching chimneys across Muggia bay. One could only hope the fish were caught some distance offshore, although if you look at a satellite photo it's obvious how the river Po is polluting the whole north Adriatic.
In the still very warm morning we took the Green Dolphin ferry across to Trieste for some sightseeing in the formerly Austrian port, whose inhabitants were celebrating the 50th anniversary of their town's reunification with Italy in 1954. The waterside buildings are very grand and there's both a Russian and Serbian Orthodox church. As well as a small Roman theatre where Joan Baez had recently played. The heat demanded an early pavement lunch with iced beer. We were back in the marina by mid afternoon and left immediately since our overnight fee was valid till 6pm.
We had to motorsail north past Trieste and Miramar castle to anchor in crowded Sistiana bay where we'd arranged to meet Lucian on Sat morning to act as our pilot up the Timavo river for which there was no info in my Imray pilot by Thompson. Stella spotted a flea market ashore and coveted something she could see in the binos. Before letting her go I checked the Nasa Weatherman RTTY forecast and was surprised to read that SW near gale force winds were expected in the early hours! This of course is the one direction Sistiana is not sheltered from! It was obvious we would have to leave immediately and find the Timavo river in the remaining hour and a half of daylight. Another rapid anchor recovery was followed by motoring northwest into the setting sun past Duino castle till we could make out the fortunately plentiful wooden piles guiding us up the winding Timavo river. In fact our 25ft beam was using a lot of the channel! We rolled up the centreboard on one shallow patch and it grew misty and cool before we finally made it to the ex commercial basin that Nautec marine occupies. We claimed a vacant finger pontoon and were promptly attacked by large mosquitoes! However they were then dispersed by heavy rain so we retreated inside for yet another DVD now we had shore power again.
The strong winds did arrive in the morning and the few boats that ventured out soon returned. Lucian, surprisingly an art historian like Stella, found Aqua Blue and introduced us to the friendly staff of Nautec which will be our base for a while. I recommend the Adriatic to anyone whose boat is in the Med.