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September 30, 2005

This season of our tenth year of cruising aboard DOVKA has ended. We left her on the hard in Hannibal Marina in Monfalcone, Italy, for the second year in a row. It was a good season spent cruising the Croatian waters and a good decision to make the easy passage up to Italy from Croatia, rather than push on to Turkey this fall. We hope to do that return trip to the Eastern Mediterranean next summer.


August was highlighted by two weeks with our older son, Benjamin, with whom we shared all our favorite spots. Our last stop with him was the tiny island city of Trogir, as it is an easy bus trip to the Split airport from there. It turned out to be his favorite walled city, too.

His last evening was celebrated with a concert of Croatian music and songs in the city's fortress. We climbed above the crowds on the main floor to listen to and watch the full orchestra and men's octet from one of the turrets. From there we could also see the crowds meandering up and down the waterfront promenade, families grouped at the food vendor stalls, and clusters of people gathered around the street performers. The mega-yachts were tied alongside. The regular yachts were floating at anchor and the full moon was shining down upon us. His last evening ended up being one of those unexpected magical moments.

After Ben left, we headed north towards the Istrian Peninsula. En route, we met up with several cruisers, reconnecting with old friends and making some new ones. We also spent almost a week being fed and feted by some fascinating Croatian academics and their family and friends. A cruising friend had given us an introduction for which we are eternally grateful.

Sharing the ambiance of their established summer community on the island of Losinj was a wonderful experience. It reminded me of life in the summer community in the Adirondacks, where I spent all my childhood summers. I guess it does not matter where in the world it is, people kick back and relax the same the world over in their summer places. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to meet Croatian citizens, learn about their world and share thoughts on ours.

We learned so much about the history, culture and life in Tito's Yugoslavia (his parents were partisans with Tito), the whole Balkan arena and about life in now 'capitalist' and 'democratic' Croatia. We had stimulating discussions over meals at their home; they took us sightseeing; we took them sailing; and we spent long evenings eating, drinking and talking on DOVKA.

We especially appreciated this time as we had met few cruisers this season and even fewer locals. This lack of society, as well as having no destination, no journey's end, but cruising and exploring the Croatian coast, which, in fact, we very much appreciated and enjoyed, showed us what is really important about cruising for us.


In fact, a friend wrote and asked if we did not get bored on board for four to six months at a time. And it really made us think about what we do like about this life. What is it that is important to us and what is it we do all the time and why do we not get bored?


The boat, our home, our transportation, our magic carpet, is a continuous source of challenge, responsibility and repair. There is constant maintenance to keep it going and going well. Most of our ordinary activities are not ordinary and require vigilance and thought beyond routine. Almost always, something is not working, no matter how vigilant we are.

The ever present and ever changing wind, seas, salt, temperature, and sun, take their toll on everything from sea air causing rubber bands to disintegrate and shackles to corrode, to the sun eating away at cloth and line and teak wood coatings.

The motion of the waves, from wakes in the harbor to choppy seas in strong winds and swells from far away weather, put everything above and below deck at risk, unless always adequately stowed. The minute something is not put in its place, we will need it urgently and will not be able to find it, or it will wreck some havoc in falling from where it has been misplaced.

Every venture requires decisions based on evaluation of the world around us. Of course, this is true when you cross the street in Manhattan. But here we evaluate weather reports, the condition of the clouds, the sea, direction of the wind, intensity of the wind, how it smells, feels and tastes, the topography of the sea floor and land formations and traffic on the sea. Navigation has been made much easier with GPS, but it still requires use of many brain cells.

When, on the all too rare occasions, we decide to put up the sails and turn off the engine, we become a sailboat and we become sailors and we are in a different world. One that is ALWAYS changing. Everything on the boat is in motion and so quickly it could be a very different motion than what it is now and we have to be able to respond with speed to protect ourselves and the boat.


This life allows an exquisite awareness of the natural world around us which is so often missing from life ashore. Without the boat, I would not know the joy of experiencing nature isolated from 'civilization,' or the awe of being alone on the high seas, in both cases, having the whole world to ourselves.

Without the boat, I would not be able to lie in the cockpit at night and watch my planets rise and set and the stars move across the sky. I would not be able to see the dome of our world and watch the sun set, causing half the sky to glow with pinks and golds and the other half to fade into silver and black. I would not be attuned to the feel of the breeze on my body and know exactly from where it is coming and whether it is strengthening or lessening.

I would not be able to fall out of bed and into the water for a wake up swim and then take that last swim of the day at dusk to entitle myself to a hot shower on deck, drying with the soft wind. I would not be able to sit mesmerized by the motion of the water around us as it reflects the every changing light from the sun, sky and clouds. I would not know the motion of floating and bobbing and rushing and crashing and cutting through the water and waves.


Life on a sailboat has so many different aspects. It is a water Winnebago: a home in which one can travel to different places and still have your own bathroom, kitchen, bed, books and music. The boat enables us to live in Europe as we would not be able to do otherwise. It gives us an opportunity to continuously experience and interact with new places and peoples. It is an cultural anthropology expedition as we seek out hardware stores, produce markets and often the industrial zones of the towns we visit to find odd parts and persons to help with repairs, as opposed to tourist shops and restaurants.

It is a way to get to places and a way to get away from places. Passages act to refresh our enthusiasm for the next stop like a sip of wine refreshes the palate between bites of a good meal. We like exploring new places, learning about the history and the culture, meeting new people, as well as anchoring alone in uninhabited coves and experiencing natural beauty from the comfort of our own home. And we like leaving that all behind, as we commence a passage, and return to our own shipboard world where one lives totally in the present, preoccupied with the immediacy of the effects of wind and sea, savoring and surviving.

When we leave a place and are once again a self sufficient entity, totally responsible for ourselves, we feel a great sense of relief. When we arrive safely and put the anchor down in a protected harbor after a successful passage, we also feel a great sense of relief and a wonderful sense of accomplishment and the anticipation of exploring a new venue or reconnecting with a place we have visited before.

And, most importantly, it enables us to continuously meet new and interesting people. In the past ten years we have made some very, very good friends from all over the world, with whom we stay in contact and see when we can. We have visited them in England, France, Italy, Germany and Turkey, New Zealand and Australia or simply re-encountered them, unexpectedly, in a different port. They have visited us at our land home in Falls Church and our water home on DOVKA in different places in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. We also have met many people with whom we enjoyed contact and will enjoy seeing again as our sailing paths cross somewhere, someday. As we know they will.

While this season was different for us in regards to connecting with other people(fewer encounters), and staying in one area (the Adriatic), it still was an enjoyable and worthwhile season. People often say to us "how wonderful that you are living your dream." We reply that this is not our dream. This is our life. And life has its ups and downs, its highs, lows and in-betweens. We'll take this life for an 'in-between' any day!


Our return to Hannibal Marina and Monfalcone really confirmed that as we relaxed into a familiar world, biked our way around this lovely town on their safe bike paths, discovered the beautifully renovated public library with its periodical reading room and Internet access, and the "Sally American Laundry" and returned to our favorite little restaurant, Trattoria Polimeno, with Max, the young maitre d', his father the pizza maker, and his brother the chef, turning out gourmet dishes for reasonable prices. It was hard to leave their fettucine and grilled vegetables, but we know we will be back soon enough, to eat there again next spring.