Thursday, June 16, 2011

Brindisi & Lecci June 11-13

Brindisi is a major commercial port on the south-east coast of Italy, just before the heel of the boot. It’s not a tourist town and visitors mostly use it as a transition point. We stopped here to clear customs into Italy and to get provisions. One blustery morning we entered into the huge harbour, chased by a monster-sized freighter, and pulled alongside the deserted town dock. Unlike Turkey, Greece, or Croatia, there are no harbor attendants to provide docking assistance. They will charge a lot of money for docking, but don’t expect any services! Welcome to the rest of Europe.

Brindisi turned out to be nicer than expected. Behind the single line of waterfront buildings and resturants, we found pleasant backstreets of stately houses, elegant churches, and tidy squares. This used to be an important port in Roman times, and adorning the harbor there’s a large, beautifully carved stone column which was uncovered and restored.

Chiesa del Rosario

Santa Croce, the rose window by Lo Zingarello

Santa Croce, the front

The lock-up lamp post

Interesting alley way

Taking the train, from Brindisi to Lecce

Passage from Croatia to Brindisi, Italy, and onto Sicily June 9-16

At long last we are on a long passage heading south, with the prevailing north-west wind behind us. We decide to just keep sailing as long as there’s a trace of favorable wind, and forget about the planned arrival time. This is the first time that we sailed for days without using the engine. With the genoa poled out on one side and the staysail pulled on the other side, we have a reasonably balanced rig that is also easy to reef if the wind picks up. Some time we were drifting along at 2-3 knots, slower than a person walking. Other times we were moving at a pleasant 5-6 knot, with 10-15 knots wind behind us. We’ve built up confidence and are more comfortable in doing work on the foredeck with the boat pitching and rolling, such as setting up the spinacker pole (which we use as the whisker pole for the genoa). On the second day the seas built to a lumpy state, 2-3 meters, but Three Rivers was running comfortably. One afternoon the Croatian and Italian weather radio seemed to be on a competition of issuing gale warnings and were announcing them almost every hour, but we had learned by now that those are local gales driven by coastal thunderstorms. In the open sea it’s actually safer.

And then one afternoon suddenly we had the depth sounder alarm came on, warning us of depth of only 8 feet. We were then in the middle of the Adriatic, with a charted depth of over 200 meter. We reset the alarm, and in a few minutes it happened again. Ben rushed down to double check the chart. Just as we were concluding that the depth sounder has gone haywire, the culprits presented themselves: Several dolphins were swimming around our boat, diving under and jumping out, and in the process fooled our depth sounder!

The total distance of 500 miles from Komiza, Croatia, to Siracusa, Sicily, took about 5 days of sea-time, with a stop at Brindisi, Italy. It’s a slow pace due to the lack of wind, but that’s what sailing is about. The elements are unpredictable and you take whatever comes. This is also likely the one and only downwind passage we will have in the Med, as the rest of the journey will be north-westerly. The wind mostly dies down in the evening, although there are exceptions. One night we were motoring along in dead calm, and then the wind piped up; so we raised sails, and soon the wind freshened to 20 knots. We reefed down, and Three Rivers had a wonderful ride for two hours at over 7 knots, a very good speed for us.

The sea was very busy around the heel of Italy, as there are ferries, freighters, and cruise liners plying the waters between Italy and Greece. They were keeping us occupied on our night watches. But once we turned the corner around the heel and headed south-west, it was completely different. The vast span of sea between the heel and the toe of the Italy boot is an empty space, with no coast line in sight, and devoid of ship traffic. In two days we spotted one other sailboat, and a small handful of ships. We kept wondering, where is everybody? Finally, after one week of sea-time (plus a 2-day stay at Brindisi), we reached Syracusa on a calm sunny morning.

Farewell Croatia June 9 2011

Farewell Croatia June 9 2011

We are only half-way up the Croatian coast but unfortunately our time is up and we need to start heading south to Italy. It’s with mixed feelings to haul up the anchor at Uvala Razetinovac, where we have spent the last 3 days waiting out the gale warning at the open sea. To get to Brindisi, Italy at the ‘shortest’ distance, we’ve decided to go to Komiza, a fishing village on Vic Island where there’s a customs office to complete the exit formalities.

We arrived at Komiza at 4:30pm, and casted the lines to the harbour attendant. He recommended two lazy lines but we would only stay till we’re done with the exit papers. This is only the second time we took a berth in Croatia! It’s going to be a bit of a wait since the harbourmaster’s office only opens between 8:00am to 1:00pm, and 6:00pm to 8:00pm only. So we took the time to do one last provisioning and for Ben to have his daily ice cream.

Komiza is a pleasant, unassuming little town with harbourfront lined with palm trees. On the southern end of the harbour is the Kastel, a 16th century fortress with a clock tower built onto one of its corners at the end of the 19th century. The town is known for a traditional, sail-powered wooden fishing boat, the Gajeta Falkusa, built on Vis for over 300 years. We had a short walk, completed the exit procedure with just enough time left to have a diner of angler fish stew at Bako, a restaurant by the beach. In the fading light of the evening we headed out to the open Adriatic for Italy. A distant thunderstorm displayed a techni-colour lightning show for us …. then, we’re blanketed in total darkness with little illumination from the passing ferries and freighters, which came less than a quarter mile to 3Rives.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hvar, Split, and Trogir: Croatia June 5, 2011

We’ve been in Croatia for a few weeks now, keeping our appreciation for travel keen by alternating between popular cities and quiet anchorages. In terms of cities, the Rough Guide to Croatia has the following to say about these three cities:

Hvar town: One of Adriatic’s most bewitching cities
Split: Adriatic’s most vibrant cities, exuberant and hectic
Trogir: Most seductive town on the Dalmatian Coast

Given these colorful descriptions, how can one afford not to check them out!? So we visited all three as we worked out way north-west up the Croatian coast.

For Hvar, we anchored at the little island of Sv Klement, as Hvar harbor looked to be too busy. The bay of Uvala Vinogradisce, on the south of the island, is very popular and when we arrived there were already 16 boats anchored there. We managed to squeeze in, but we put our fenders out just in case. The island has a few restaurants, and across the island is an ACI marina (I think ACI means ‘Absolutely Cost Ineffective’) where one can take a water taxi to Hvar. The island is pleasant enough, pine covered, with some short walking trails, and has a sheltered bay of turquoise blue water, which proved irresistible to some Slovenia guys to urinate into and some German men to swim in (at the same time).

The next day we took a water taxi into town. Hvar is a beautiful town, quite touristy but not overwhelming. Meandering alleys lead uphill to a Roman castle which overlooks the town. It was a refreshing walk for us, having been sitting around in the boat for a few days. On the castle wall one can see a beautiful view of this medieval town with ancient stone houses and Venetian architecture.


The next day, while preparing to leave the island and head towards Split, we experienced a thunder-shower that’s common in this part of Croatia. The sky darkened, followed by fast-approaching lightning and thunder, and then heavy rain that went on for an hour. On the VHF the Split forecast station was breathlessly warning of severe thunderstorm and gale somewhere (which we never figured out exactly where). We hid our laptops into the microwave, and mopped up the few places where water seeped through. We were thinking about Turkey, where we never saw any trace of clouds from June to October.

Eventually we did get to Split. We were expecting to see a harbor crowded with anchored yachts, such as Hvar, but strangely there was only one other sailboat anchoring at the area which the Pilot Guide indicates to be ok to anchor. On the shore, there is a large sign indicating ‘no anchoring’. When in doubt, ignore signs that you don’t like. We dropped our anchor and dinghied into town.

Split is Croatia’s second largest city and we were expecting to see a crowded metropolis, but we were pleasantly surprised: the place is lively, but the streets are very pleasant and it is nice to stroll through the town. The harbor is fronted by a large boardwalk, covered with palm trees. The old town started as a retirement palace for Diocletian, a Roman emperor. Of the original palace, only the mausoleum remains, and it has subsequently been turned into a cathedral. Meandering alleys open up into pretty squares, some big, some small. There are plenty of tourists, but by early evening the place is packed with locals, who are out for a walk, have ice creams, or relaxing in the cafĂ©’s. It’s a lovely, vibrant city. We found a small restaurant just outside the old city, and had an excellent and reasonably-priced supper of Italian/Croatian dishes.

Split waterfront

Vibrant city squares

Diocletian Palace

The next morning, we went to the town market to get some fresh produce, and then took a walk to a large park just outside the city. The pine-covered trail hugs the waterfront and offers a beautiful view of the city and the peninsula. On the way back we were caught by yet another afternoon shower. It seems noon shower is an everyday event here. And then while dinghying back to our boat, the Port Police spotted us and came by to inform us that no anchoring is allowed, and we should go to the marina instead. So instead of paying a 90 Euro marina fee, we decided to leave. That was too bad, as Split is a city that one could spend several days.

Trogir is only a few hours boat ride from Split, on the other side of the peninsula. The whole town is a UNESCO world heritage site. We found a spot on the river outside the town to drop our anchor. At least there’s no no-anchor sign here. It seems most yachts have no problem going to the marina and paying a 90 Euro (or more) per day berth fee. We all complain about Croatia being expensive, but it’s simply supply & demand. From what we have seen, the cruising market in the Med is fundamentally driven by the chartering market. Charter boats flood every marina and every anchorage; entire industry of restaurants and shops are fed by charter boaters. With two to three couples sharing a boat, paying 90 Euros for a day is suddenly affordable.

Our anchor spot on the river, just outside Trogir old town, is a noisy one. Numerous ferries and water taxis roar by at full speed. Right across from us is a large shipyard, with what looks like a huge tanker under construction. But it’s free!

Trogir, St. Lawrence Cathedral

Trogir waterfront

The main attraction in Trogir is St. Lawrence’s Cathedral. Built in the 12th century, the cathedral has a fascinating, complex stone carving depicting stories of religion and life. The rest of the town, however, is a bit disappointing. Perhaps it’s that the souvenir shops are a bit crowded, compared to Korcula; or that the restaurant gophers are a bit aggressive; or that the city is sitting on flat land and there is no surprising vistas that open up, unlike Hvar. Or perhaps it’s that we’ve done too much sightseeing with cities. It’s probably time to move on and get back to anchorages at deserted coves. For summer has finally arrived: the days are hot, hazy; mosquitoes are out; winds are light, except when the Bora blows. It reminds us of the EMYR last year, wonderful time we had, but it was roasting hot in the Eastern Med. Hopefully this part of the Adriatic will be somewhat cooler.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Anchoring in Uvala Luka-Korcula Island May 30, 2011

Korcula Town is one of Dalmatia’s best preserved medieval town centres, and the birthplace of Marco Polo. Four of the 15th century cylindrical towers, part of the fortifications built to protect the town against the Turkish invasion, are still standing.

Like a mini-version of Dubrovnik, Korcula Town has the usual defensive towers and churches, but with a different type of charm and grace. We walked up a flight of steps to the Land Gate, the main entrance to the old town, on one side of the gate was the Trg brace Radica, a small square bordered an elegant loggia belonging to the 16th century town hall, and St Michael’s Church. Further up was the Church of Our Lady, a simple structure whose floor was paved with the tombstones of Korculan nobles and above the high altar was a mosaic of the Virgin and Child, a dazzling confection of yellows, blues and pinks completed by Dutchman Louis Schrikkel in 1967. Immediately beyond was the St. Mark’s Cathedral, with bizarre exterior and interior stone-carving that looked anything but Christian in inspiration. On the exterior, the main figure directly above the porch was St. Mark, flanked by lions pawing smaller, more subservient animals, while the door was framed by figures of Adam and Eve … in toilet-ready squatting pose. Inside the cathedral, the pillars running along the north side of the nave were decorated with extravagant floral squiggles, in writhing goddess-like forms.

Sea view of Korcula town

Entrance to the old city

Marco Polo's birthplace?

A view of the city from Forteca

A wonderful Croatian diner

After a long walk along the narrow alleys lined with tidy well-ordered grid of grey stone houses, the late afternoon sun with light breeze was most pleasant and welcoming. The narrow streets that branched off the main thoroughfare like the veins of a leaf, by design, were to reduce the effects of wind and sun.

Based from the recommendation by one of the tourist staff, we took the Ulica Bernarda Bernardi (very Italian), a wide walking path leading to the Tower Forteca, a wooded hillside with park-like setting and in front of us, were the splendid post-card perfect views of the old town and the Adriatic beyond.

Also following the recommendation from one of the guide books, we bought sweets and biscuits from Cukarin, winner of the HTZ blue flower award and had dinner at Adio Mare, which was only a few steps away from Marco Polo’s “house”. During peak season, the queue would make the street outside virtually impassable. For main course, Ben had the korculanska pasticada (braised beef in port wine and plum sauce) and Eliza had the modest black risotto (made from pieces of squid with ink included).

Korcula was a beautiful medieval town with friendly locals and Luka was a quiet, scenic, sheltered anchorage with an active sailing club across the bay. All in all, we had a great visit here.