The wind veered to the northwest as we approached the island of Brac and anchored in Uvula Stiponska along with a Croatian, German and British boat. Only one problem: nowhere on the VHF dial could we get a weather forecast. In theory, they are broadcast in Croatian and English three times a day, but they are not repeated between the updates. We tried to pick the right channel at the right time but had no luck. Were they taking the weekend off? Rowing over to the German boat, we got our answer: experienced Adriatic cruisers ignore the VHF and get their weather reports off the Internet. The forecast was for summerlike weather; the maestrals were back.
The next day we motored into the nearby fishing village of Milna and headed for the town quay. Had this been high season, we would have been forced to try our first Med moor. But today there was room for us to pull alongside, so we avoided the inevitable for another 24 hours.
Merchants here began catering to the needs of the marine trade long before any cruising sailboats appeared. Consequently, restaurants and shops are just a few paces from the quay. We bought cheese-filled bureks and chocolate-laden kifla at the waterfront bakery and celebrated Laurie’s birthday with freshly squeezed orange juice and iced coffee under an umbrella just a few feet from our boat. Local fishing boats with one-lung diesel motors and chain-smoking skippers chugged past a row of nearby sailboats. A medieval church on a narrow back street stood proudly in the background. Perfect.
At the state-run marina in Milna we learned that all Croatian marinas and many private boaters participate in the Blue Flag program (blueflag.org), an international effort to green-up cruising. Recycling and garbage collection is offered almost everywhere. All boats in Croatia have holding tanks. Emptying them into anchorages or coastal waters is prohibited.
The maestral blew hard that afternoon, making for a lumpy passage south across the Havarski Channel to the protection of Luka Tiha (“Quiet Bay”) at the entrance to Starogradski Zaljev on the island of Hvar. The town of Stari Grad is at the head of the bay and serves a steady stream of boat and ferry traffic. We were content to sit in our protected cove, watch the world go by and breathe in some history.
A Greek colony was established here in 385 B.C. and Hellenic paving stones are still visible in the streets of the oldest part of town. One of the earliest recorded naval battles was fought in the bay a century later. The Romans arrived in 219 B.C. and made the town a regional center in their empire. The island’s importance during the 20th century was emphasized by the World War I gun emplacements on the high land overlooking our anchorage.
A lone wild goat stood sentry duty on the hillside as we contemplated 2,500 years of men and nations struggling for control of this coast. The autumn light played across olive groves and pomegranate trees on the distant hillsides, and later a full moon rose in the east, obliterating all other objects in the sky, save a brilliant Jupiter. Having Jupiter, named after the supreme Roman god, looking down over our protected anchorage was a fitting reminder of the parade of history that had marched this way.
From Luka Tiha we sailed farther out into the open Adriatic to Vis, an island off-limits to cruisers until the mid-90s, as it served as the base of the Yugoslav navy. This history was evident at our anchorage in Luka Rugacic, just outside the main harbor, where two cruising boats were tied up in the maw of an abandoned submarine pen. Motoring into town the next day we passed fortifications built by the British in 1812 and by the Austrians in the 1860s.
The Vis quay was packed with stern-to boats, which meant we could no longer put off executing a Med moor. Fortunately there was an open spot on the far end of the line, so we cruised slowly past the watching boats, rounded up and backed in. We didn’t hit either the neighbor’s boat or the quay, and once we had secured our stern lines it looked like we’d been there forever. Elvis was right, but I can honestly say I was never so relieved to have docked somewhere.
Vis town is the oldest Greek settlement in the eastern Adriatic; a gravestone in an ancient Greek cemetery refers to the deceased as having lived in the time of Dionysius the Elder. The Romans took over in 49 B.C., building aqueducts and public baths that are now being restored by the local authorities. A 16th-century Franciscan monastery built over the ruins of a Roman amphitheater dominates the inner harbor. The town’s narrow streets, colorful gardens, brightly painted doorways and ageless architecture make it a must-stop for cruisers.
It was in Vis that I tried octopus salad (or hobotnica salata in Croatian) and a cold glass of an island wine, which the locals dilute with water. At an open-air market overflowing with local produce we had fresh figs. If your idea of figs is a dried lump of dark chewy grit inside a Newton, then go to Vis right now. Try a fig picked that same morning; they are juicy, colorful and beyond sweet. Tasting fresh figs may have been the single most delightful culinary experience of our trip.
Our week was going too fast. It was time to head back north before the weather turned on us. We had a great sail to the deserted Pakleni Islands, anchoring in Tarsce Luka, where we shared the anchorage with a galia, a type of local cruise boat that takes groups out for multi-day tours. The next day we sailed past the island of Jarolin, the site of Croatia’s best-known nude beaches. Naturists take the ferry out from the nearby town of Hvar and then doff their duds. Yes, of course I looked. No, I couldn’t see anything from offshore.
We sailed back to the mainland for a quick visit to Trogir, a tiny fortified island town with marble streets worn smooth by centuries of shuffling feet, one final reminder of how many thousands of mariners had preceded us on this historic coast.
Finally it was time to head back to the base—and just in time. The VHF forecast was for the sirocco to return the next day. Even through the heavily accented, spitfire-fast Croatian version of English we could tell it was going to get nasty, with heavy rain and even stronger winds. Back at The Moorings base, we executed one last Med moor, after which Marinella greeted us with a bottle of champagne and the quickest, easiest check-out in history.
Afterward we lounged in the cockpit, champagne glasses in hand, as the dying maestral caressed the breakwater and the moon rose once more over the Adriatic. Historic. Stunning. Welcoming. Superlatives come easy when describing Croatian cruising. Jennifer, David and Laurie all agreed with me; we would come back some day.