Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sometimes people do stupid things

 While anchored on the south side of Lopud island a week or so ago, Bill noticed a charter boat round the western point of the island and head into the anchorage.  We assume that this boat came from the anchorage on the northern side of the island, some 3.65 NM distance.  I say that we assume they came from that nearby anchorage because surely they would not have done what they were doing for a longer distance or in possibly rougher waters between other islands.

Here is a photo of what they were doing that caught Bill's attention:

Arriving in the anchorage towing children in dinghy

Notice that the parents are not watching the kids.  Both parents are focusing on maneuvering through the anchored boats and finding the 'perfect' spot to anchor:

Paying no attention whatsoever to their children
While both parents were busy anchoring the youngest child started to climb out of the dinghy and someone in another dinghy rushed over to stop the youngest child from climbing out.  As soon as they were anchored the mom picked up the youngest child and stood on the deck for a long time, while the older child went to play with older kids on another nearby charter boat.

Everyone knows that arm floaties are NOT to be used as a safety flotation device.  These are NOT a substitute for a PFD.  Bill and I are flabbergasted that any parent would place their young children in danger in this manner.  

Arm floaties are NOT sufficient safety flotation devices
Just an observation from 2 old-fart grandparents.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reached our summer destination!

Submarine hidey-hole.  And other entrances into what
must be tunnels from WWII  inside that mountain
Our 30-day cruising permit for Montenegro would end on Sunday, 13 July.  We did not want to chance having bad weather for the short passage to Croatia (and also did not want to chance having to pay overtime for clearance formalities on a Sunday), so we cleared out of Montenegro in Kotor a few days early.  Another American boat on the dock made the mistake of asking if they could stay another 24 hours after clearing out and were informed that they must leave the country immediately upon finalizing the outboard bound clearance formalities.  Bill followed the "don't ask; don't tell" policy.  He completed the formalities and we immediately left the Kotor Marina dock.  
Serbian POW camp with landing craft obstacles in water

As always, click on any image for larger view.

And motored right back into the large center bay and anchored off Stradioti Island in our favorite spot for the night.  Had we departed for Croatia immediately then we would have arrived after dusk.

One of half-dozen openings
(to tunnels inside mountain?)

Early the next morning we departed Montenegro for the 32 NM passage to Cavtat, Croatia.  I made grandson Zachary wake up to see the submarine docks built into the mountainside that he had missed during our arrival last month.  I thought he should see some of this old WWII stuff.  And the Serbian Prisoner of War camp from more recent years.  I still do not know what some of the tiny openings were used for.  Would love to see a blueprint or schematic of what has been built inside that mountain. Certainly tunnels and places for guns in past years. 
Ancient Croatia defense at entry to Montenegro's
Bay of Kotor.  It is a delicate question as to which
country should own this piece of land.

Montenegrin beer comes in 2-liter
plastic bottles.  A little large?

Quarantine Dock at Cavtat.
Do NOT go to that space to the left of that sign.

Leaving early in the morning worked out perfectly as we arrived by 10:00 to find only 1 boat at the Quarantine Dock, and he was leaving just as we dropped our anchor to back up to the dock.  The Q Dock at Cavtat will accommodate only 3 boats.  And clearance cannot be handled unless one is docked in 1 of the designated 3 spaces.   Lucky us!  Shortly after we docked 2 more boats arrived to fill the other spaces.  And then a few more arrived to circle inside that tiny harbor waiting for someone to leave.  One of the Customs guys helped with our dock lines.  Bill headed off to get us cleared in while I fixed a late breakfast/early lunch for the kids.  Part of the clearance process is a visit to an ATM to obtain Kuna currency (HRK) to pay for the vignette (cruising permit).  VERY much to our surprise the Harbourmaster charges 100 HRK ($17.90) for docking at the Q Dock!!  Granted, that is not enough money to get upset about.  It is more the principle.  Never before have we heard of a country or port charging for the mandatory use of their Quarantine Dock.

One of many water toys to rent in Tiha anchorage.
A sailor having fun in
Tiha anchoraage

Bill and I have been looking forward to visiting Croatia because others have told us how much they enjoyed this country.  On the other hand, we both have been dreading visiting Croatia because others have told us how everyone tries to gouge the tourist.  Charging for anchoring (sometimes ridiculous amounts).  In general trying to 
A bit of a twist on the usual peddle boat to rent.
These have sliding boards.
get every single dollar possible from visitors.  We were not looking forward to being hit up for money every time we turned around.  All we had heard for years is how expensive Croatia is for cruising boats.  But we needed to be out of Schengen area for 90 days so this is our only option.  (Note: Croatia is supposed to join Schengen in 2015 so this will no longer be an option after this year.)  Better to come to expensive Croatia than to go to Tunisia, which is the only other option when headed west through the Med from Turkey.   We would have been perfectly happy to stay in Montenegro for the entire 90 days required out of Schengen area, but time there is limited to 30 days.  So...Croatia it is for us this summer.  Fully aware that it will be expensive.

Clearance took less than 30 minutes.  Next we motored around the point to the Tiha anchorage, which is one of the few free anchorages.  Another Amel owner had told me that in September 2013 someone came to their boat and made them pay 150 HRK for 3 nights anchoring in Tiha. We stayed at anchor in Tiha for about a week and no one attempted to collect anything from us.  
Wearing grandmother's visor.  Nothing embarrasses this kid.
So, as far as we know, Tiha is still a free anchorage as of July 2014.  This is a good anchorage except with westerly winds or swell, then it gets a bit too lively.  Ferries come and go all hours, not slowing a bit for the anchorage and rolling all boats mercilessly.   Bottom is heavy weed so make sure  your anchor is well dug in! Take the dinghy into the tiny 'marina' on the right inside area and visit the Tourist Information office. The bus to Dubrovnik stops right in front of that office.  Taxis to the airport are available right across the street.  It is only one block walk back to the Cavtat dock area which is filled with restaurants.  We found one grocery store.  Bought a SIM for the cell phone from the Post Office.  We wanted to purchase 3G access and there was a data modem in a display case and a sign stating VIPme internet service with that data modem cost 13 Euro, but the clerk refused to sell it to us.  No reason why; just "NO."  So we settled for the iPhone SIM which has turned out to be a royal pain in the butt.  It comes with 300mb data usage but is only good for 7 days.  Set up an online account and prepay a few hundred HRK; then every 7 days SMS a code to 'renew' the SIM account for another 7 days.  The iPhone acts as a hotspot -- slow as molasses.  We are still in search of a real cell phone company where we can purchase real 3G access.  In the meantime, we are using whatever Wi-Fi hotspots we happen upon.  Because that iPhone access is just too slow and 300mb is nothing.
Arriving at the tiny harbor of the old Venetian walled city of Dubrovnik

Tower on left side entering Dubrovnik old city harbor.

We found a very good hair stylist in a salon right on the Cavtat dock area behind the berthed mega-yachts.  Zachary got a much needed haircut.  He was pleased with the results.  I had mine low-lighted and cut.  The stylist did a very good job of both cut and color.  Hope to stop back in early Sept for a touch-up/trim right before we sail to Italy.

One of the churches inside old town of Dubrovnik
Ornate decoration on exterior of town walls

On the main street of the old town.  Bill in background.

Others had advised us to take the bus to Dubrovnik to visit the Old Town -- the Venetian walled city and harbor that is supposed to be the most beautiful city in the world.  The bus cost 25 HRK per person each way and it stops some distance from the Old Town.  Then one must either walk what looked like a long way or take a taxi.  The ferry/day-tour boat cost 80 HRK per person round-trip; and it stops right inside the Old Town harbor.  That was a no-brainer decision for us = we took the day boat.  Between the 2 companies offering this service, there is a boat every 30 minutes from 9am until 11pm during summer season.

Beautiful stonework over entry to another of the churches
Dubrovnik Old Town was neat.  I am glad we went.  It started raining while we were there so our visit was cut short, but we had time to walk through the old city and enjoy the views.  We enjoyed a fast-food lunch of hamburgers and pizza and then some delicious ice cream and that made the grandkids happy.  We did not get to walk the wall around the city because of the rain.  Maybe we will return.  Maybe not.  Not one of us was interested in all the restaurants and souvenir shops, although the architecture of the old city was interesting.  Would be much more enjoyable on a clear, sunny, COOL day.  Hot and humid and gray skies did nothing to make the place more inviting on the day we visited.

Many of the restaurants were in what I would call alleyways
but are really streets.  Streets that are about 5-ft wide!

Daydreaming while waiting on pizza

Oh...and we have learned that we pronounce Dubrovnik incorrectly (although I do not see us changing that pronunciation).  The local people say doo-BRO-nik.  They do not pronounce the 'v' in this word and they say the middle syllable with a hard 'O' sound.  Catches me off-guard every time I hear someone say it.
One of dozens of 'streets' in old town.
Photo does not show how very steep
these alleyways are as they go up the
 hillside at the far end from the main street.

Pedestrian entrance to the Old Town via drawbridge

The main church of the Old Town.  
Weather forecast called for westerly winds and swell to begin soon so we finally left Tiha anchorage and motored (ever-so-slowly into awfully choppy seas) to the anchorage on the southern side of Lopud island.  At 2300 rpm we were only getting 3.5 to 4 kts boat SOG.  Once into the anchorage, conditions were lovely.  We stayed there several days until the weather forecast predicted southerly winds and swell to start early the next morning.  That anchorage would be untenable under any southerly conditions.  

Photo taken on the ferry to Dubrovnik.
What is wrong in this photo?
Note the life jacket notice on the door.
Behind that door are stowed all life jackets.
Look at the floor.  That door cannot be opened
because it is blocked by a built-in foot rest.

We motored around to the anchorage on the northern side of Lopud island.  Plan was to stay there 3 nights and then return to the southern anchorage.  We did not like this anchorage for some reason.  Nothing specific; just did not care for it.  There are small local boat moorings placed around the shore that limit anchoring space for yachts.  There is only room for 2 or 3 yachts to anchor in this northern bay.  We dropped anchor and Bill went ashore to dispose of garbage and buy fresh veggies, fruits and breads.  As soon as he returned we upped anchor and motored farther up to a very protected anchorage on  the northwest tip of Sipan island.

Bill kitted up to dive and check out our prop and any
marine growth on the hull/keel.  He took this opportunity
to teach Zachary how to breath underwater.
We anchored off the tiny beach on the western side of the long bay.  Zachary particularly enjoyed swimming in this area.  The water is so clear it is unbelievable!  After several days anchored in this spot, one night a small storm passed through, causing us to swing the opposite direction and pull out tight on the anchor chain.  This put us on a lee shore to rocks in a depth of only 3.2 meters!  If the anchor had dragged if the wind increased then we could have ended up on the rocks.  So we had a Chinese fire drill in the middle of the night!  In the pouring rain and hail and 30+knots wind!  All 4 of us were busy for an hour or so.  Zachary and Elisabeth both were a big help during the madness.  They know enough about the boat now to know what we mean when we tell them to do something.  The computer locked up at the worst possible moment and Elisabeth knew immediately to run find the tablet and open Navionics.  She zoomed in on our location on the chart and placed the tablet in front of me while I dealt with the helm and Bill and Zachary dealt with the anchor and chain.  

And down they go!  This was not dangerous.  They
stayed right at the bottom of the swim ladder.
Zachary got a real kick out of doing this.  Now he
wants to learn how to dive.
Pulled anchor and motored out to center of the bay; dropped anchor in 20+ meter depth and let out 96 meters of chain to wait out the worst of the storm.  Thank goodness it held!  As soon as the rain abated and wind calmed to below 20 kts we again pulled anchor and moved into shallower depth in the center of the bay closer to the town, being careful to stay well away from the moorings on the southwestern side.  Once again let out 90-something meters of chain and settled down for the rest of the night.

Next morning when it was sunny and beautiful we once again pulled anchor and moved even farther in toward town; this time anchoring with appropriate 6:1 scope in about 12 meters depth.  We did not want to get on any mooring; do not trust those and they are spaced way too close together for boats of our size.  Today granddaughter Elisabeth helped her Papa clean the seaweed out of the anchor chain locker.  Normally we are very careful and do not let debris or mud cling to the anchor chain as it is brought up.  Do not want a smelly chain locker.  But during the sudden storm that night there was no time to deal with sea grass on the chain.  She is the only person on this boat small enough to fit most of her body into the chain locker from inside the cabinet in the front cabin.   Bill let out all of the chain and she used the shop vac and extension to vacuum out the blades of sea grass.  Smelled awful!  She was a real trouper and did a great job.

Looking toward the town in the long narrow bay
on Sipan island.
We like this little town and this long bay.  There is a town dock that can accommodate 3 or 4 yachts docked stern-to with laid lines, no shore power or water.  Plus a half-dozen moorings more toward the southwestern side of the bay.  A ferry comes early in the morning and around 8pm and docks briefly.  After the ferry leaves a yacht can berth alongside, but it must leave by 6am the following morning so as not to block the ferry when it again arrives.  I have no idea where this ferry goes; I assume one destination is the commercial Gruz harbor at Dubrovnik.  If we did not have the grandkids with us then I would be tempted to take that ferry just for the fun of a day adventure, but getting kids in early teens to wake up that early is not worth the effort.

Zach and Elisabeth like to sleep late.  When we cannot
stand to stay on the boat for another minute, we leave
them a note with instructions to hail us on the VHF.
We left this note one morning when we went into town
for fresh bakery items.  Don't think they could miss it.

Tomorrow wind and swell are again predicted to come from the south or southwest, so we will remain here through tomorrow night.  The following day is forecast to have northerly and westerly winds and swell.  That should be good conditions to head back to Tiha anchorage at Cavtat.  Elisabeth's flight to Houston departs early Monday morning and I want to be at the correct anchorage for easiest airport access.  As usual, I would like to be prepared a bit early rather than be rushed and chance  possible adverse weather conditions.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tara River canyon and Durmitor National Park

In front of Black Lake in Durmitor National Park.

 Several cruising friends who had earlier visited Montenegro advised us to not miss a day trip to see the beautiful Tara River canyon.  This was on our very short list of things to do before heading next to Croatia.
As always, click on any image below for larger view. When we cleared into Montenegro at Bar I had checked with a travel agency to see what type day trips might be available.  A bus trip called the Canyon Tour was offered from Bar only on Thursdays.  We did not want to hang around that industrial/commercial port for another 5 days so that tour was not meant to be for us.  Later I searched online and could not find any tours of the canyons except white water rafting tours.  Oh no; not for us.  Those days are over.  

Looking down on island of St. Stefan near Budva
Finally I found a bus day tour to the Durmitor National Park which included the Tara River canyon.  This trip was offered by the Montenegro Hostel located in the Old Town walled city section of Kotor.  We had a few minutes phone time left on our Greek SIM so I called and learned that this tour was available any day of the week if booked for 4 persons or more.  Note that the 35 Euro price posted online is only available to hostel guests; non-guests pay 40 Euro. Same price as the tour from Bar but operated by a different company.  

The day we arrived in Kotor the kids and I walked through the Old Town and booked this tour for the following day.  

We were told to arrive at the hostel promptly at 07:30 the following morning and someone would walk with us to the meeting point to board the small bus.  We got a laugh out of the fact that the meeting point turned out to be right at the end of the dock where our boat is berthed.  So we walked to the hostel and then walked right back to the boat.  We could have slept an extra half hour had we known the location of the meeting point.

Kidding around during a short stop from driving.
Turned out that the tour would not be just the 4 of us after all.  Three of the hostel guests also had signed up after we booked the previous afternoon.  Two guys were from Australia and one was from Mexico City.  All were 21-yr-old college students traveling Europe for the summer.  Nice guys who could participate in intelligent conversation.  I think their presence made the trip much more enjoyable than it would have been with just Zachary, Elisabeth, Bill and me.  Elisabeth later said she really enjoyed this day and especially enjoyed talking with and listening to these college guys.  

The circuitous route through the mountainous terrain took us first through Budva, a city we had skipped on our way north up the coast because the southerly swell was so bad that day.  A pretty beach side town that is known for its younger aged population.  Can we say party town.  I think the guide said Budva was the second largest city in Montenegro.  This country has a population of only ~500,000.  It is hard for me to believe that any country could have a population of only a half-million people.  The guide kind of put that into perspective as he talked as he drove for hours.  He said that as a child he was proud that Montenegro had never once in history been defeated by another country in any war.  Later, as an adult, he came to realize that the reason that no other country had defeated Montenegro in a war is that no other country felt that this land was worth the effort or expense of a war.  He said there are no natural resources in Montenegro except a small amount of minerals for aluminum...and that can be obtained elsewhere.  Tourism was 2 million visitors annually in 1979, prior to the Bosnian War when it went to zero.  Today tourism is 1.5 million visitors annually.  They still have a way to go to get back to the rate of 1979.  Thirty-five years later and the country is only 75% of its primary source of economy.  The Bosnian War or Serbian War was very hard on this country.  Actually worse than the dictatorship of Tito and the hardships of communism for all those decades Yugoslavia existed.  I remember being taught how bad and oppressive Tito was.  Some of the people who live here feel differently.  Not that they loved the dictator.

There were stands like this all along the walkway at
Durmitor National Park.  Fresh raspberries.  No idea
what the other berries were.  Or the liquids.

After an hour or 2 of driving we stopped for a quick food break as a sort of fast-food vendor where we all bought burek and yogurt drink recommended by the guide.  Burek turned out to be a pastry that is filled with either minced meat or cheese.  Shaped like a coiled rope.  And the yogurt was a salty drink.  Oh boy!  This is the same as the ayran drink in Turkey and the same kind of rope-shaped filled pastry dough.  Difference is that here in Montenegro those coiled rope shapes are only about 1/4 the size of the same thing sold in Turkey.  Taste exactly the same.  We opted not to accept the salty yogurt drink; water for us, please.

Next stop was a monastery.  I did not catch the name of this monastery but did learn that it was built in 1250 and has been occupied and used continuously since then.   It was well up on the side of a steep mountain overlooking a river many hundreds of feet below.  Without the current-day road in place, this monastery would have been very difficult to access.  According to the guide, this part of Montenegro was occupied by the Ottoman Empire for 500 years.  The Turks attacked this particular monastery several times but never conquered it.  The final time the Turks attacked in 1877 the people who lived anywhere nearby rushed inside the walls of the monastery and fought to protect it.  Many people died during that battle but they held off the Turks once again.  As chance would have it, the following year Montenegro gained independence from the Ottoman Empire, recognized by the Treaty of Berlin on January 13, 1878.

 Old fresco on exterior of church.
No photos allowed inside where the good
frescoes were located.

Inside the chapel of the monastery was completely covered in frescoes supposedly painted during the 13th century.  I am not so sure this information was correct because those frescoes looked like they had been painted at the most 10 years ago.   Colors were very dark, typical of the 13th through 15th centuries.  The frescoes were in excellent condition.  Sorry; no photos were allowed even without flash.  Near the living quarters stood a monument to the people who died protecting the monastery during that final battle with the Turks in 1877.  The surname of each person was carved into the granite.

Montenegrin coffee at the monastery
Names of the people who
died defending the monsastery
The grounds were nicely landscaped with lots of flowering plants.  Just outside the wall surrounding the monastery was an elderly woman selling Montenegrin coffee -- which is exactly like Turkish coffee.  Since Zachary kept falling asleep in the bus and resting his heavy head on my shoulder, I insisted that he drink a cup of this coffee with me.  It was an experience that he said he does not wish to repeat.  Espresso = okay; Turkish or Montenegrin coffee = much too strong and powdery for his tastes.
Zip lines at upper level across canyon.  About 5,500 meters high.
Mountain spring/waterfall

The drive continued through a canyon; I do not remember the name of that one.  Then farther onward to the Tara River canyon.  This canyon is supposed to be the Grand Canyon of Europe.  It is the second deepest canyon in the world, surpassed only by the Grand Canyon.  But to compare this canyon to the Grand Canyon is like comparing apples to chopped liver...cannot even say that it is like comparing apples to oranges as those are at least both fruits.  These might both be canyons but their similarity ends with that word.  Major differences between the 2.  Anyone who considers this a valid comparison has not personally seen the Grand Canyon.
Filling our water bottles at mountain fed spring

Very narrow canyon for long way.  Note
the tunnel entrance on road on far side.
Very narrow road; very deep canyon.
And very, very narrow.

The driving route started at the bottom of the canyon and quickly went up to 1700 meters.  We stopped at a bridge that is famous in this part of the world.  It crosses the Tara River and is hundreds of feet higher than the river.  

The famous (?) bridge over Tara River.  The river is very
low this year due to lack of rain.

The guide told us a story about how Tito had ordered the bridge to be blown up to prevent the Germans from crossing during WWII.  But the man who was supposed to blow it up refused to carry out that order from Tito.  He was shot; the Germans never arrived; and the bridge still stands.  That man is considered a hero and a popular (?) movie was made about him many years ago.  It is called simply 'Bridge' and I doubt it is available anywhere outside of this region.

Almost dry Tara River way down there

Another view of the almost dry Tara River and canyon.

The views here are spectacular in all directions.  Not Grand Canyon spectacular, but spectacular in a different way.  This canyon is much narrower than the Grand Canyon and the mountains are much higher.  On either end of the bridge were cafes where one could sit in the shade and enjoy a beer or whatever.  Bill bought the kids ice cream and they were happy with that.

Elisabeth on the bridge

Zachary on the bridge

End of the upper level zip line across canyon

There were a couple of zip lines nearby, one higher up and one below the bridge level.  Each went across the canyon and both were in use while we were visiting the bridge.  Zachary would have ridden the lower level zip line if we would have let him.  Sorry; not time for that.  Moving on.

Our guide.  Embarrassed to acknowledge that we
never learned his name.
Refreshed and relaxed and very hot, we all climbed back into the mini-bus once again.  Driving yet father on towards our final destination before turning back towards Kotor via a different route.  This destination was the Black Lake in Durmitor National Park.  This was only a few miles from the Bosnian border, which our guide repeatedly called the Serbian border.  There are actually 2 lakes side-by-side.  During spring flood when the snows melt it appears to be one larger lake, but as the drier summer months cause the water level to recede then it becomes 2 lakes.  The local people call this lake(s) the 'Mountain Eyes' and the reason for that name is obvious.

At Black Lake

This day there were 2 lakes.  Our guide said that last winter was extremely dry. (Just like it was in Turkey.)  Normally there would be 2 meters of snow on the roads on which we had driven up here, but last winter there was almost no snow at all.   This is a very popular ski area but not last winter due to lack of snow. 

They spent a long time finding the right stones to
skip across Black Lake.
Durmitor is an enormous park.  It took us about 25 minutes just to walk from the entrance to the lake.  The guide said it should take a reasonably fast walker about 1 hour 50 minutes to walk around the lake(s).  Okay; not for me; not on this day.  Just walking from the entrance to the lake had put blisters on my toes.   We toyed around and took a few photos while watching Russian tourists doing silly poses for their own holiday photos.  Most of the tourists to Montenegro are Russian.  This likely is because Montenegro is not part of the EU and the Russians do not have the visa limitations that apply when visiting the EU.  

Simply put; it is much easier for Russians to visit here than it is for them to visit the EU.

Our meal of 'local peasant food.'  It was good.  The
roasted lamb and potatoes was the best.  The unusual salted
clotted cream served with the smoked ham was like butter.
A couple of hours at Durmitor and we headed back to Kotor via a more northern route.  About halfway back we stopped at a restaurant to sample what our guide called typical regional peasant food.  I did not catch the name of this restaurant but it translated to Our Village.  Meals were very reasonably priced; much less expensive than in Kotor or Tivat.  The kids chose the roasted lamb with potatoes; Bill and I chose to share a plate of 'smoked meats' and a basket of various local breads.  All were good.  Even sharing our plate it was too much food for Bill and me.  The smoked meats turned out to be some form of smoked ham but nothing like anything we had eaten previously.  

Throwing pebbles off the mountain while stopped
near Risan.

Another 2 hours of driving placed us back at the northern tip of the easternmost bay of the Gulf of Kotor.  We stopped for a view of the 2 tiny islands with the churches near Perast.  Looked very different from up here than they did from sea level on the deck of our boat.  Twenty minutes later we were dropped off at the end of our dock once more.  Our almost 13 hour day tour was at an end.  

Pooped?  Oh yeah!