DOVKA

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DALMATIAN COAST - July, 2004

Croatia

Saturday, July 24
One month in Croatian waters: floating on aqua and sapphire blue, clear water surrounded by sparsely populated, green and rock covered islands, off a mountainous coast with medieval walled cities strategically located on the shores. Every morning we fall out of bed and into the water for a delicious wake up swim.

Croatia has 5,835 kilometers of coastline of which 4,058 kilometers are the shores of the 1,185 islands, solitary rocks and reefs which dot the coastline. Only 50 of these islands are inhabited. Croatia has thousands of anchorages as well as thousands of Austrian and Italian vacationers on charter sail and power yachts.

We have been able to find the less crowded anchorages, pick the times to explore the cities (when the cruise ships are not in port), the rural villages which seem like movie sets from pre and WWII movies of Eastern Europe, and enjoy the company of other live-aboard cruisers. This is a cross between the Caribbean and the Maine and Nova Scotia coastline and is really a cruising paradise, although less so in July and August, than other times of the year.

We left Corfu at the end of June and had a very pleasant (busy with lots of ferry and merchant vessel traffic) overnight to Brindisi, Italy: a surprise of an Italian treat, where we were tied to the town quay and were able to watch the evening promenade, common in all the Mediterranean countries, but perfected, of course, by the Italians, and where we could stock up on cheese and wine.

Our friend Fil was unable to find reasonably priced transportation out of Croatia in time to connect with his flight home from London. He left us in Brindisi after two months, having sailed with us from Turkey through Greece and just this side of the Promised Land he had so wanted to explore, somewhat like Moses. We were sad to see him leave.

A perfect 120 mile passage, due north from Brindisi, with perfect winds on the beam all night, brought us into Dubrovnik on July 3rd, as the full moon was setting and the sun was rising over the mountains behind the city. Our first impression was of green mountains, red tiled roofs and square granite houses hunkered on the hills.

At the Dubrovnik Marina, several miles from the phenomenally preserved, medieval walled city, we were put on a pontoon with six other American boats. We organized a low key Fourth of July barbecue on the dock, complete with a birthday cake and singing "Happy Birthday" to America, demanded by the 4 and 6 year olds circumnavigating on CLOVER. It was also a nice way to meet some new people with whom we would explore the Dalmatian coast.

The sailing community is still small. Last night we were anchored in a beautiful cove. The couple we have been cruising with for several days, were having drinks aboard DOVKA when, out of the blue, they asked us if we knew the boat MERHABA. We had first met Dudley & Jane, on MERHABA, in Trinidad in '96, and they now live several miles from us at home in Virginia and we see them often when at home. Searching past emails, we found that Jane had told us to be on the lookout for these now, new friends of ours on TEMPEST, whom they had also met in the Caribbean a number of years ago.

During the past month, we have alternated between the offshore islands, with their lovely anchorages, and the coastal walled cities. Each is different and fascinating, but the one we enjoyed most was the Venetian jewel, Trogir. It is built on a tiny island and surrounded by water, now attached to land by a short bridge. Easier to explore than most of the other walled cities which are built on hills, and which have steep alleys and narrow steps. Trogir's flat, but angled paths, morning lighting on the ancient stones and ubiquitous red roof tiles captivated us.

A lot of the architecture we have seen is Venetian, as Venice was one of the several occupiers of this territory over the hundreds of years it has been a pawn in the empire game. Mostly, it seems they raped and pillaged the natural resources and the people, but sometimes they built themselves palaces and administrative buildings and, of course, churches.

The Croatians have been fighting for their independence and identity for hundreds of years, at the expense of some of the other ethnic groups who also lived here. We do not pretend to even begin to understand the complexities of the historic enmities or the politics of today. The irony is that, today, both the Austrians (also once occupiers) and the Italians consider this their personal playground. At least, nowadays, they have to pay for the priviledge.

The Croats are extremely nationalistic, we understand, and the 1990s war is not forgotten. There are maps as one walks the intact walls of Dubrovnik showing every building that was hit by Serb artillery during the siege and showing which hills were held by whom. Many buildings in the less touristic cities and villages still are pockmarked from the fighting. The younger generation speaks English and is friendly. The older generation is less fluent and less friendly. They are not a terribly attractive people and one is aware that their lot has been a hard one.

Yet, we have found all the local women in the markets to be extremely sweet and helpful as we both struggle to understand each other. This is the universal test in every new culture we encounter. And while each culture is different, we have always found the men and women in the markets delightful to deal with, except for one Greek veggie man who ripped us off, royally. And the locally grown produce in Turkey, Greece and now Croatia, is better than anything we get in any of our upscale food stores, or even our local farm stands, at home. We are reminded of the bumper sticker which says "Tomatoes picked by machine should be eaten by machines."

Tuesday, July 27
We are holed up in a lovely bay which is a campground, surrounded by campsites on the curving shore. Last night it was dark, except for the light of the campfires, and was quiet, except for the sound of a badly played saxophone. The weather has been unsettled for the past few days and we had our first rainy day with severe thunderstorms. Today it is blowing upwards of 30 knots, so we are staying put. Some brave windsurfers and divers are making the best of their vacations. Otherwise, our activity of the morning is reading and checking how many naturists have put on clothes because it is cold : 74F, 42% humidity, with quite a wind chill factor.

We are taking the next two and a half weeks to leisurely work our way north to Venice.