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Croatia - Prvic

By Mark Stevens • Photographs by Sharon Matthews-Stevens

The sun rises over green hump-backed hills, backbone of an island called Prvic in the Adriatic Sea, off the coast of Croatia, in the region of Dalmatia. We’ve docked overnight in one of the most beautiful cruising grounds in the world. 

The hills look across a blushing expanse of water riffled by winds whose names we discovered yesterday morning at the chart briefing that began our Sunsail charter flotilla near a village called Primosten. 

Bora, Pura, Yugo. Winds that nuzzle the grey-green slopes of the Dinaric Alps, winds once wooed by Roman triremes. Winds that carry us north and east and west on exhilarating romps for six days, that skim waters traversed by Turkish warlords, that skirt havens where fisherman have returned nightly for nigh on seven centuries. 

These winds with names buffet my wife and I this morning when we go ashore to explore a medieval village hunkered down beside a stone pier while our friend and able crewmember Elizabeth makes coffee in the cabin of “Neve”, our chartered Jenneau 36’. 

Croatia - Pavle GaleryWe pass Pavle Gallery, huddled inside a fifteenth-century house. Eve, the proprietor, wears a white-and-blue bikini. Her husband, sporting a Speedo, tinkers with the outboard engine on a dilapidated wooden runabout on a stone quay just outside. 

We stroll serpentine cobblestone streets; we enter a churchyard, negotiating weathered crooked headstones in the shelter of a stone steeple circa 1461. We climb a stone alley behind the church; we look down at a sun-dappled harbour where history abounds, where a fleet of white sailboats sharing the characteristic scarlet Sunsail furled foresails are lashed, Mediterranean-style, to a wharf built from ancient stone blocks.

Now we return to “Neve,” straining at her dock lines in a gentle swell.

Elizabeth sets steaming cups on the cockpit table. I sip and sit, looking around in awe, entranced by the scene before me, a Technicolor travelogue.

Now we finish our coffee and saunter down the pier to a path skirting the shore, occupied by rusty ladders that descend to crystal waters. 

Croatia - Krka FallsWe dive into the Adriatic. 

Sharon, Elizabeth and I splash about, cooling off, gazing, with a dolphin’s-eye view, at a multitude of islands scattered across the horizon line like the ransom of a Roman emperor (that’s no mere simile: the emperor Diocletian built his retirement palace a couple of hundred miles south of here around 400 A.D.), islands we’ll explore by sail, chasing fair winds, islands that will shelter cool swims on hot days. 

This morning we’re taking a dip in Dalmatia.

Yesterday we traced a rhumline of roughly eleven nautical miles out of Base Kremik, Sunsail’s second largest base worldwide. Nine miles under sail, velocity made good, steady at six knots. A multitude of emerald islands rose up from waters that sparkled like diamonds, mist shrouding the further ones. Our own boat was heeling; white triangles ahead and behind marked both our flotilla and those nominal winds blowing out of a cloudless sky.

Croatia - Krka FallsLast night we proved the efficacy of going with a flotilla: Ana, the “social director” hosted a dockside punch party replete with hors d’oeuvres and great company. “Eat, eat,” she said, playing the fleet like a Savannah socialite. Then she found her way into my heart. “Drink, drink,” she added.

We made new friends doing the flotilla and we had built-in escorts and tour guides: to suggest ideal stops, to make arrangements in a different and difficult language, and, most important, to guide us through the trials and tribulations of Mediterranean Mooring. 

These thoughts and images – the memories of yesterdays perfect sail, my anticipation of the next few days – float as lazily in my consciousness as I now float during my first Dalmatia dip.

We’d take our next dip late that afternoon at Krka Falls.

But first a charting briefing from Mr. T., our lead skipper, in the shade of a grove of cypress trees. His name is Tvrtko but no one can pronounce it. He suggests perfect lunch spots, identifies potential hazards. But he finishes the session with a pessimistic prognostication for the day. “Winds light and variable,” he intones in a solemn voice. 

Croatia - SkradinAn hour out from Prvic with ten perfect knots of Mistral (“The sailors’ wind,” Mr. T. told us yesterday.) off the port quarter, making for a massive Renaissance fortress, we wonder about the forecast. 

“Do you think he does that on purpose?” asks Elizabeth.

“Then we get great winds. Could be.”

But the winds aren’t a factor for long. We soon enter a long twisting canyon, past sheer cliffs where hermits once lived, past Sibenik on the port beam, host to a Croat king a thousand years ago. 

We sail where we can, motor where we have to, at long last pulling up to a marina beside the village of Skradin, a picturesque settlement climbing steep hills in an emerald valley, a place once populated by Turkish warlords, dominated by the ruins of a stone stronghold high above the harbour. 

Tonight we will march en masse to a traditional Croat kanoba (traditional restaurant) we never would have found ourselves. We’ll dine on a traditional dish called a ‘peka’ – a sort of metal Croatian crockpot, comparing notes, exaggerating boat speeds.

But first my wife Sharon, Elizabeth and I will make our way upriver to Krka waterfalls, carved out of limestone cliffs. Eight or nine cascades plummet from high overhead, sending up a fine mist, a welcome spray on a thirty-degree-plus day. 

We clamour down a steep shore and lower ourselves into the rushing current. 

We enjoy another dip in Dalmatia.

 It is a day and a half before our next Adriatic immersion.

Next morning we make for open waters. Seas are flat; winds cooperate. We glide over glittering expanses past green islands sporting fishing villages with makeshift wharves; we chase the winds rather than either course or velocity made good. We make landfall at Tribunj: a shower in the new marina, a stroll to the old town over a stone bridge, an early start next morning.

For today we sail for the far islands – the Kornatis. We get ten miles out of Tribunj in perfect conditions. The islands loom ahead, swathed in haze and mystery. George Bernard Shaw described this one-hundred-fifty member national park archipelago as being made from “tears and stars and breath.”

To me, once we see them up close when we drop the hook at Smokvica Vela in a bay we share with only two other boats, they look like Mars meets Death Valley, but with water.

Swinging gently here at the edge of the world, I fire up the barbecue. I wait for the coals, I watch the sun fall behind a barren grey slope decorated by low stone walls built here by shepherds twelve, thirteen centuries ago.

Tomorrow we will make for Zlarin. We will stop and drift in the company of cavorting dolphins. Next day we’ll race other boats past the wreck of a World War II submarine, we’ll take a rollercoaster ride over six feet waves in twenty-five knots of wind. We’ll lunch in a bay with waters Caribbean blue. We’ll have another dip in Dalmatia.

But for now, nursing a Karlovacko beer in the cockpit, swinging on the hook in the waters of history, I wax pensive, gazing out to sea. 

Then I stand up; I go forward, balancing on “Neve’s” toe rail.

“Anyone for a swim?” I yell. 

Then I take my penultimate dip in Dalmatia.

 

To check out more destinations, stories and photography by the award-winning team of Sharon Matthews-Stevens and Mark Stevens, log on to www.travelwriteclick.com.

 

Ship's Log

Sunsail and Moorings both maintain extensive fleets in Croatia. Our charter explored rustic villages and relatively deserted islands. The flotilla option is an excellent one for sailing here. For all your options go to www.sunsail.com/destinations/mediterranean/croatia or www.moorings.com/destinations/mediterranean/croatia 

For background on the newest member in the European Union along with information if you tie your charter to a land-based adventure, check out http://croatia.hr/en-GB/Homepage 

 

Photo Captions:

Photo 1 - Ships of the Sunsail flotilla lined up on the seawall at Prvic, a medieval fishing village.

Photo 2 - Many of the out-islands are retreats for artists like Eve, co-proprietor of Pavle Gallery on Prvic.

Photo 3 - A cool oasis on a hot day - Krka Falls is spectacular and popular.

Photo 4 - After a long cruise up a picturesque canyon, boaters can take another boat ride to a National Park encompassing Krka Falls.

Photo 5 - One perfect overnight spot for sailors who dip into Dalmatia is the village of Skradin, once the haunt of Turkish warlords.