Saturday, 27 June 2009

Croatians Cross The English Channel In a Classic Rowing Boat

2maraton2008_ lada boats

This morning we read an article in the Croatian Times reporting on an astonishing feat by a team of Croatian rowers yesterday. In a classic rowing boat called a lađa, pronounced ladja, 16 rowers, one drummer (to keep the rowing beat) and two coxes apparently made the crossing of the English Channel in 3.4 hours.

This afternoon we finally found a UK site, Kent Online, that corroborated the story but differs substantially on crew numbers and has the  video evidence to prove it which shows 8 rowers, a drummer and helmsman battling the waves.

These rowing boats have been used for transport on the Neretva River for centuries and you can read more about them by following this link - Ladja Marathon – and the one above. Thanks also to them for today’s photo of the annual marathon on the Neretva River.

The Neretva Delta covers around 20,000 hectares of Croatia and Bosnia and is one of the few remaining wetlands in Europe making it an important Ramsar Site and a great bird watching destination. It is also being considered for Nature Park status though that comes with additional restrictions and the idea is not universally popular with the locals. 

For those interested in bird watching go to sister site Croatia Online - Bird Watching in Croatia. For those more interested in the remarkable achievement of the Croatian rowers we will endeavour to hunt down some more information and hope the UK press does it justice. In the meantime, rowers of a more mainstream style may be interested in the following posting - Croatia Online - Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race In Split.


Readers of the Croatia Cruising Companion  should note that the Neretva Delta is not suitable for sailing boats. Very few of Croatia’s rivers are but the Krka River is a notable exception and well worth exploration as it passes the magnificent city of Šibenik, provides a great freshwater marina - ACI Skradin – and of course leads to the spectacular Krka National Park


Aficionados of tennis may be interested to read about Croatia’s prowess in this sport by linking to Croatia Online - Wimbledon And Tennis In Croatia

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Weather Forecasts In Croatia

Adriatic Sea - DHMZ

We recently had an email from a reader unsure as to how the areas of Croatia were identified in weather forecasts. Croatian weather and forecasts are covered in pages 8 and 9 of the introduction to the Croatia Cruising Companion and VHF broadcasts will normally identify a city - Split or Šibenik for example. However on sites such as The Croatian Meteorological And Hydrological Service, references are made to the Northern, Central and Southern Adriatic.

We have taken the liberty of including the map from the above website to show that, in fact, readers sailing in the area covered by the Croatia Cruising Companion need mostly focus on the Central Adriatic Region, though the small area of Croatia, south of Dubrovnik, falls in the Southern Adriatic region.

This classification of regions is not to be confused with the division of the Dalmatian region into Northern, Middle and Southern Dalmatia. The whole of Dalmatia is covered by the Croatia Cruising Companion and Dalmatia, as a whole, can roughly be said to equate to the Central Adriatic Region above.

These definitions probably sound more complicated than they are. In practice you will find that every marina has a daily weather report available for the area, and most tourist offices will print these out on demand. Plovput are responsible for the radio broadcast of weather and navigational information and operate three radio stations – Rijeka, Split and Dubrovnik – which broadcast this information 3 times a day in English.

The Croatian Tourist Board also has a good weather map on its site for looking at the weather in specific destinations. We’re sorry to see that today, whilst the UK is basking in sunshine for the opening days of Wimbledon, the whole of the Croatian coast seems to be suffering from “variably cloudy with thundershowers”!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Town Ports And Harbours in Croatia

CCC - Rogac Harbour

A few days ago we posted a review of Marinas In Croatia and pointed out that, although some marinas offer the ultimate in luxury, many town harbours are close to marinas in standard and usually half the price. However there are a few differences:

1. Town or village harbours are normally run by a small company that gets a concession from the government. They are not so easy to find on the web or book ahead. In the Croatia Cruising Companion we’ve done our best to give all the contact details, but sometimes that’s just a mobile phone number. In most cases you’ll find it’s better to turn up and find a space, though in the high season it’s worth getting there a little earlier.

2. Some local harbours are just too shallow for yachts and exclusively geared towards local fishing boats so check depths carefully. Again, in the Croatia Cruising Companion we’ve identified, as far as we can, the areas for yachts and those for local boats. However you’ll normally find someone ready to help you as soon as they spot you coming – normally the concession manager.

3. In all the town ports of any size you will find a source of electricity and water, normally in the form of a concrete bollard or two. In some cases though, these are at the shallow end. Some ports have pedestals for almost every berth but in a few smaller ports a degree of resourcefulness is required. In Kukljica on Ugljan island, our neighbours tapped into the electricity supply at the security office, even though there are pedestals on the inner pontoons; and there’s a small secluded bay up the Krka estuary, which for obvious reasons should remain nameless, where the locals are “wired” to the lamp-posts!

4. Check shelter carefully, (covered for each port in the Croatia Cruising Companion). Whilst you will find that nearly all marinas are sheltered from all weather conditions, the town harbours and moorings don’t always afford all round protection, particularly where the best mooring options for yachts are towards the outer end of the harbour,  and sometimes on the outside of the breakwater.

5. In some municipal ports there are toilets and showers but this is the exception rather than the rule. In nearly all of them you will find lazy lines to tie up securely. You will normally be approached to pay your fees when you arrive and can expect to receive an invoice which will also include the nominal tourist tax charge for your stay. Also expect to hand over your passports briefly, and occasionally your other papers, so that the details can be taken. The overnight fee usually includes reasonable electricity and water where available. Out of season and in some smaller harbours, you may simply be expected to dine at the local restaurant in return for a berth. 

6. As we suggest above, the fee is normally around half the amount you would pay at a marina though there are some exceptions where the standard of facilities are higher. The Brijuni islands in Istria, a favourite for superyachts, are one example; Lastovo is another.

On the whole, you get the best of both worlds in most town harbours – a comfortable berth at a reasonable price, but you still feel part of the local scene. Below are a few of our favourites:

Pučišća on Brač island – Pučišća seems to be oblivious to tourism though very welcoming to visitors. It’s a thriving town as a result of the white Brač stone it quarries and there’s evidence of this everywhere including statues and intricately carved stone lamp-posts. The long narrow bay has plenty of space and the depths for yachts, and electricity and water pedestals are generously scattered around it. There’s also a good supply of bars and restaurants and our only problem was the chiming of bells, from a number of churches, throughout the night.

Sali on Dugi Otok – Sali is picture postcard perfect at sunset with the pastel hues of the houses reflected on the water. Electricity and water are available and there’s a boatyard and engine repair facilities. No shortage of cafés and restaurants either and, as with Pučišća above, you can expect to find life all year round though its prosperity centres on fishing and fish processing.

Vrboska on Hvar – Vrboska is a sleepy village that calls itself Little Venice because of a number of bridges over the inlet. It also has an ACI marina (see Marinas In Croatia) but the enthusiastic harbour manager knows every trick in the book when it comes to diverting boats hovering around the marina entrance. Though Vrboska has a few bars and restaurants, for more facilities it’s a lovely walk of about an hour along the coast (and past some lovely houses) to Jelsa, a bigger and upcoming town with a ferry service to Split and Brač. Jelsa also has good berthing but it’s exposed to the Bora and the berths are beside a clutch of noisy restaurants so not the place for a quiet night!

Prvić Luka on Prvić Island – The Šibenik Archipelago has many hidden gems. Prvić Luka, our favourite, is a charming small town but has a newish boutique hotel, Maestral, that also act as a base for swimming holidays (Swimtrek). Berthing is inside the breakwater on lazylines and there are toilets and electricity and water available. If you fancy spending a little more time in this area, Zlarin and Krapanj island are well worth a visit and have good facilities. However note that Krapanj acts as a base for flotilla holidays and therefore the lovely Hotel Spongiola (which also provides the berthing facilities) can get a little raucous on changeover night.

Bol on Brač – These berths are not the most sheltered in all conditions but Bol is such a picturesque and compact town that it’s worth the trip. Electricity and water are available and if the weather conditions are not right you can always get a boat trip from Jelsa which lies  opposite (see above). Bear in mind that the iconic Zlatni Rat beach, featured in most tourist literature photographs, and popular for wind surfing and other water sports, is a good walk away from the town centre. Also note that, despite its appearance on the photographs, its a pebble and not a sandy beach.

There are plenty of other great stops – Vis town on Vis island is one of the most popular, but those above are some of the less obvious. Today’s photo is of Rogač, the main ferry port on Šolta Island which provides a great illustration of how yachts and local boats co-exist in harmony on a quiet island. Šolta, the island, hides a number of gems and you can read much more about that on sister site Croatia Online. The link takes you to the last of four postings on this very special island just a short sail from Split.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Croatia – A Place For All Sailors?

SC trip

Many people seem to feel that a sailing holiday is beyond their reach, either because they don’t know how to sail, or because they imagine it’s way beyond their budget. This posting aims to dispel a few myths.

Whilst a round the world trip might not be a good idea for a novice and nervous group of sailors, a sailing holiday in Croatia could be just the job. Obviously you have to pay attention to the weather and basic navigational and safety rules, but if you charter a yacht with a skipper you can learn as much or as little as you like about sailing whilst exploring Croatia the way it was meant to be discovered – by sea.

As for budgets, if you do your research carefully you will find plenty of bargains to be had this year. If you compare the total cost of the charter holiday with what it would cost you to stay in a hotel, you could get a pleasant surprise.

Croatia, particularly the Dalmatian Coast and Islands, is particularly friendly to a variety of nautical travellers.  The many islands mostly lie close to the mainland so you are never very far from land if the sea roughs up. Similarly, it’s easy to pick a route to stay in flat water if the weather conditions change. If you happen to be in a group of mixed bravado and tastes then you can leave some of the group in a fascinating historic city while the others go chasing the winds in the nearest channel. If some like to party and some don’t then seek the peace and quiet of the Pakleni Islands and send the party lovers by water taxi to Hvar town. Deserted bays may be the order of the day for romantic couples, and for families perhaps Bol on Brač, or Vodice and Biograd on the mainland, provide the ideal children’s playground for a daytime stop.

Those that haven’t sailed before often aren’t aware that charter yachts are relatively luxurious – the floating equivalent of three star hotels, without the room service but with a good sized kitchen. So if you just want to potter around and enjoy cocktails on the sun deck then you can do that in style too.

We’ve yet to meet any sailors, novice or otherwise, that haven’t had a great time when they’ve sailed with a skipper. The skipper takes all the responsibility, makes himself scarce when necessary, and knows exactly where to go to keep everyone happy. Those that choose a bareboat charter (without a skipper) also can’t fail to have a good time in Croatia if their sailing skills are up to it and they find other means of getting the best of local knowledge.

Below are a selection of  links to charter companies of which we’ve had excellent first hand reports. However the quality in Croatia is very high, as long as you stay with licensed charter companies, so you’re unlikely to go far wrong:

Adriasail Charter

Dalmatia Charter

Sail Croatia

And here are ten tips for making the most of your sailing holiday:

1. Travel light – pack your gear in foldable bags so they stow easily. Include a pair of jelly shoes for the pebble beaches.

2. Beware the sun – make sure a bimini (sun cover) comes as standard on your yacht and that you take a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc

3. Embrace the unexpected – don’t be to rigid in your itinerary so you can enjoy the ad hoc experiences which will make your holiday

4. Treat yourself to a bit of luxury half way through – maybe an overnight stop at a marina as a change from the quiet anchorages, see Croatia Cruising Companion - Marinas In Croatia

5. Learn a little Croatian  - it will make the locals happy though most speak good English. For a handy phrasebook link to the Croatian Language School

6. Leave everything except Marmite, Branston Pickle and teabags at home. The local produce is excellent, particularly olive oil, eggs, all fruit and veg, smoked ham (prsut), cheese and of course fish

7. Communications – for a relaxing holiday it’s best to leave the laptop behind but you’ll find WiFi in an increasing number of marinas. Mobile telephone signals are good in most places too.

8. Respect the weather – if you’re skipper suggests shelter to avoid a summer storm then he’ll almost always be able to find you a nearby town with plenty to explore. At worst it will be a sheltered bay with a restaurant and bars.

9. Prepare and do your research so that you can let your skipper know what sort of places you like.

10. Don’t forget to pack your copy of the Croatia Cruising Companion!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Marinas In Croatia

Those of you about to set off on your sailing holiday in Croatia, may already have decided on your overnight stops. Just where do you stay to maximise your enjoyment of one of the world's best cruising destinations? If you've novices onboard or appreciate the full gamut of overnight facilities, you may lean towards the bon homie and luxury of Croatia's 50 plus marinas. In that case, what do you need to know?

All of Dalmatia's marinas are covered, in depth, in the Croatia Cruising Companion, as well as all other feasible locations for overnight stays. Northern Croatia has an even higher density of marinas than Dalmatia but that's mostly because they are handy for the Germans, Austrians and Italians to drive too. Particularly at the beginning of August, you'll see fleets of foreign flagged yachts heading south to the sailing heartland of Croatia - Dalmatia. Wherever you are, there won't be a marina too far away though the coverage is thinnest in southern Dalmatia, around Dubrovnik and Peljesac.

Below are a few pointers if you favour marina stops, rather than anchorages or town ports, though many town ports have facilities almost up to marina standard and are often considerably cheaper.

Standards and Classification
All of Croatia's marinas are of a relatively high standard but Croatia classifies them by category. Category 1 indicates marinas of the highest standard, and so on. On some occasions the difference in category is just a question of whether some facilities are inside or outside the marina complex. All marinas have toilets, showers, reception, electricity and water, though in some of the more remote locations (normally islands with no natural water supply) electricity and water may be rationed to certain times. Most have cash points, exchange facilities, restaurants and bars. Some have fuel, maintenance and repair facilities, deluxe accommodation and a lot more. If you really want to spoil yourself, try Frapa, Tribunj and Lav. Marina Frapa, in Rogoznica near Trogir, is about to get an underwater restaurant, underneath its new superyacht pier, to add to its extensive facilities and nightly summer entertainment. Tribunj, not far from Šibenik, is a lovely unspoilt village with a classy marina, and Marina Lav, though a little isolated from any major town, is attached to one of Dalmatia's newest and plushest five star hotels, Le Meridien Grand Hotel Lav.

Government Owned ACI Chain
State owned ACI (Adriatic Club International) owns 21 marinas dotted around the coast. The Croatian government was well ahead of its time when it planned and conceived its network of marinas. However, in some locations, where possibilities for expansion are limited, the older marinas don't always cope so well with today's larger yachts. One of the advantages of state ownership (and this applies to Croatia's post offices and ferry services as well), is that the more remote and less profitable locations are covered (Zut and Piskera for example) though these marinas tend to be closed in winter. Those that berth in an ACI marina all year round get significant discounts on daily berthing in other ACI marinas.

Superyacht Marinas
Croatia is increasingly aiming at the luxury end of tourism and many marinas are being expanded to accommodate larger yachts. NCP Marina Mandalina will soon be Croatia’s first dedicated superyacht marina and already accommodates a number of gin palaces. Tribunj, Frapa and Lav also have good space for larger yachts and the facilities that go with it. Many other marinas will normally find a way of looking after superyacht captains or have a few dedicated superyacht berths.

Some Marinas To Watch
Recently opened Marina Preko, on Ugljan Island near Zadar was the first Croatian marina to install a purpose built pump-out system to keep the sea clean and we hope more will follow.
Šolta Island, near Split, should be getting its first marina this year, in Maslinica harbour. That's the next project for the owners of the beautifully refurbished castle, now that it is fully functioning as a luxury boutique hotel - see Croatia Online - Solta, Martinis Marchi
Dugi Rat, near Split is watching progress eagerly on the Korenat Point Development which will transform the area.
Marina Vinisce, not far from Trogir and Marina Agana has been open, closed, open and now appears to be closed again.

Staying in a marina is the most expensive option, other than leaving already comfortable floating accommodation for a hotel. Daily berth rates are normally 10% to 20% higher in July and August, some marinas reduce their rates substantially between November and March, catamarans normally cost double, and you will find that negotiation on pricing is normally fruitless, particularly in the summer season. Rates normally include fair use of electricity and water and below are some examples for 10/20 metre yachts in the shoulder season, per day.

ACI Trogir - €45/€110 per night -
Marina Kaštela - €37/€94 near Split -
Marina Preko - €44/not quoted -

Some Tips
You can expect English speaking staff, someone normally on alert to show you to your berth, and a very helpful service. You will be expected to use marina facilities over third party ones, and some marinas do not allow other service/repair companies onto their premises. Every marina has a daily weather report and will provide as much local knowledge as you need though beware, they may have a cousin working at the "best restaurant in town".

For those on a first trip wondering whether to choose marinas or not, be prepared for the fact that you may have to sacrifice some tranquility for a little more luxury. You will be tightly packed in the summer season and that might shatter the image of the deserted island that you left behind a couple of hours ago!
Today's photo is from Marina Frapa looking towards Rogoznica.