There are so few places on the planet which remain unspoiled. Alec and I have been cruising the Bahamas for the past 20 years and in that time, we have born witness to changes so great, it sometimes hurts a little to go back. Harbors which were unspoiled, untouched by human hand and unknown to all but a choice few are now filled to brimming with large mega yachts equipped with enough toys to make the most pristine anchorage feel like New York Harbor. The last time we were there, we saw boatloads of novice snorkelers standing on reefs and clipping go-pros to live coral. Heartbreaking.
While I have no way of knowing to what extent this peace is brought to us by Covid and what a “normal” year is like, I can only marvel at the enchanting anchorages and charming towns we have seen thus far.
Our first port of entry into Croatia was Dubrovnik. The cruising guide and most common wisdom states that you must clear in immediately upon arriving at the earliest port in Croatia, but our agents checked ahead to make sure that coming from Montenegro would pose no issues. Having made that determination, Dubrovnik was the perfect spot for us to begin our adventure.
Full to brimming with history, and dripping with charm, I could not wait to begin our great explore.
Having said “so long” to our Marina di Ragusa friends 3 weeks earlier, we were anxious to re-connect with them upon arrival. Unfortunately, only 1 of the “kid-boats” was here – the others were further up the coast, but Megan and Sophie (and their mom and dad) greeted us at the dock day one. They also introduced us to another “kid-boat” called The Long Summer. Over the next few weeks, we enjoyed each other’s company and explored.
We spent a day walking along the defensive walls which surround the city of Dubrovnik.
Jack, upon hearing that his friends were able to see this city without a tour guide begged me to be more “carefree” like them… Hmmmm. So, I agreed to let him do all the research and present us with a well planned and educational presentation about the beautiful city we were about to enjoy.
Jack, bless his heart, loves consequences like this. He rises to the challenge when he is given one and he truly gave us a fantastic tour. He stopped at intervals and read from a carefully prepared script which he himself had written. Lord knows he has been on enough tours to get a feel for what they are like.
In a nutshell, this UNESCO Heritage site was built between the 7th and the 17th centuries but defined in the 14th century. One of Europe’s greatest fortifications, the walls run for 1.25 miles around the city and up to a height of 82 feet. These walls protected the Republic of Ragusa for nearly 5 centuries and were never necessary to protect against battle. It should be noted as you look at the photos, however, that during the war for independence in 1991, the city was nearly 80% damaged and each of the orange roofs in the photo was a site of restoration.
When we used to travel to a place for a week or two, half the fun of the adventure was in the planning. Now that we are on the move nearly non-stop through the summer months, we typically plan only an overview of an area, we have a list of islands or cities we won’t miss but the actual visit of a city isn’t totally pulled together until we arrive. This results in a very serendipitous approach which is sometimes good and sometimes leaves me feeling like I can kick myself! In Dubrovnik, I experienced a huge “win” when we discovered that the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra would be performing at the Rector’s Palace the following night. One of my greatest disappointments during Covid is missing all the amazing performances and theatre in Europe. Being the very first audience to experience this live performance in such a magical place, was truly a memory which will stay with me for a lifetime. The wind was blowing the musicians music and cats were strolling in and out of the plaza, but the conductor and musicians were such dedicated professionals they never missed a beat (so to speak). They seemed to be enjoying playing for us as much as we were enjoying being there. It was a magical evening and one I will not soon forget.
Time to leave the “big city” behind though and we next visited the 3 anchorages we have enjoyed thus far. Sipan, an island which provided lovely shelter and offered a place to have a beautiful meal was the first spot. From there we took the dinghy to explore Ston and Mali Ston. Ston, another walled fortification, in fact the longest in Europe at 3.4 miles long, is a tiny Dubrovnik but without the crowds. As we have had no crowds in any place due to Covid, both were lovely to us. Particularly interesting here are the salt flats. A huge part of their history, salt made this area incredibly wealthy in the times when salt was more valuable than gold. We collected salt ourselves and dried it in the sun. We will use it to make sea salt caramel for an ice cream social in a few weeks. Back to the boats with a huge load of groceries, we were ready for our week in the next anchorage, Mljet.
Mljet is a pristine National Park. There is a charge to anchor the boat in any of the harbors and an additional charge to go ashore, but both charges were, we felt, reasonable. There are exceptional trails and 2 charming towns we explored by EBike. Never ones to shy away from an adventure or a bit of exercise at the same time, these EBikes were amazing! We all had such a great time we are considering adding them to the Gratitude Ship’s Equipment. We certainly could have managed 1 but probably not both days and we never would have had as much fun as we did – given that the hills were large. We also had a group of 13 on 4 boats, some of whom were gaining passage on their parent’s bike. It would have been no fun to take these hills with a child on the back. Don’t be shy, just get the Ebikes if you come here. Aloha gave us a great price and took very good care of us. We enjoyed the hospitality of this natural wonder for nearly a week, then continued to Korcula.
The next island to the North, Korcula, has a reputation for being the “historical” island. Nearly 30 miles long and, on average, 5 miles wide, Korcula is the most populated of the 1000 islands not connected to the mainland with a bridge.
According to legend, Korcula was founded by the Trojan hero Antenor in the 12th century BC. But the island’s history dates to Mesolithic and Neolithic people. The second wave was the Illyrians in 1000 BC. But perhaps the most notable historical item is the claim that Marco Polo was born in this city on this spot. Of course, the building is younger than the 13th century when he was born but it is claimed that it was here he was born. Since the island was Venetian at the time, certainly it could be true but who could know for certain…
Recommended by a friend, we anchored just adjacent to the Monastery on a nearby island. The island is a terrific spot to see deer and goats though we were in and out so fast, we saw them only from a distance. Also missed and the reason I’m kicking myself for not doing more advance research, is the notable Sword dances which take place on every Thursday in Korcula. Sadly, we arrived on Friday and as we have an itinerary, we need to stay reasonably close to, we must keep going rather than remain here for a week to see the dancers. I have not given up hope, and we may be able to work it out by taking a taxi from the West side of the Island as we pass by on our way to Vis.
Which brings us to the lovely anchorage in which we sit right now. Tucked into the West side of yet another National Park, Lastovo, the most distant inhabited island, and one of the last 10 biodiversity treasures of the Mediterranean Sea, is only approximately 5 miles long. Declared a Natural Park in 2006, it consists of 46 islets, rocks, and reefs. In addition to the amazing abundance of sea life, Lastovo offers over 25 kilometers of bike paths.
Recommended by another cruising couple we only knew through social media, we met them yesterday, in person for the first time for dinner. Which is one of the unusual aspects of cruising that we love so much. I have mentioned before that we are far more social on-board Gratitude than we are at home, but one would think that in an anchorage 4000 miles from home in a country speaking a language other than one’s own mother tongue, it would be hard to make new friends. But alas, we continue to be amazed at the new and interesting friendships which emerge in this idyllic life.
Phillip and Donna, Aussies aboard a Nordhavn 57 invited us to dinner last night along with 2 other couples, one French and one Slovenian. We had never met before and even Phillip and Donna were only known to us previously due to social media and a shared appreciation of Nordhavn Yachts.
When we retired, more than 1 person asked us if we thought we would be bored. Presumably they were referring to the inertia of retirement which leads some people to stop learning. We are clearly not in that group, and we learn so much every single day in this new life of ours. Alec has been living on and cruising in boats his entire life yet today was a first for him and for me as well. Anchoring in water this deep with a large drop off of water close to the shoreline, often times the most secure way of anchoring is to drop the anchor and back to shore, then tie the stern with lines ashore. So, with a bit of luck and a lot of help from our new friends, we tied to shore. Thanks Phillip and Donna on Beyond Capricorn 1 – a Nordhavn 57.
We hope from wherever you are reading this you are enjoying your summer.