This Croatian Flotilla is organized by Sea Safaris in Chicago and ASA Captian Jean “John” De Keyser and his wife “Admiral” Mila. Follow along in this three-part series as they lead the way through the three-week journey.
Our first week sailing from Split to Dubrovnik behind us, it was now time to get ready for our next adventure: Dubrovnik to Kotor in Montenegro and back. Saturday morning was cleaning and turn-around time for our two yachts.
New crew members had joined us:
With “Tina” not ready for departure because of unresolved mechanical problems (not related to their clowning around for the picture), we decided to leave Sunday morning, instead of Saturday afternoon, for our first stop in Cavtat where we would clear out of Croatia and be in transit to Montenegro.
In order not to be charged for the extra night at the marina (“Tina” could stay for free), we opted to get out into the river and spend the night at anchor there. The more we do these flotillas, the more we prefer to spend our nights at anchor or at a mooring ball.
Around 9:00AM on Sunday morning, we finally saw “Tina” leave the ACI marina. We weighed anchor and motor sailed down the river. We rounded Point Gnjiliste (repeat three times without stuttering) and then Point Petka and soon we were sailing right under the walls of medieval Dubrovnik. Quite a sight! We had ample opportunities to take pictures of the city and headed after that to Cavtat (pronounced Savtat).
We knew that we had to go with our boat papers, crew list and passports to the Harbor Master and Police offices but had no clue where they were. Cavtat is located on two anchorages and, of course, we sailed straight into the wrong one. Fortunately, we saw a yacht at anchor with a U.S. flag and hailed the skipper. He had sailed his boat across the Atlantic and was spending several summers in the Mediterranean. He explained where we had to go and we headed to the bay on the other side of a small peninsula and there was downtown Cavtat with its Customs dock, identified by a large yellow panel with the letter “Q” for quarantine. The dock was separated from the street and the waterfront promenade by a metal fence.
We docked there and were told that only the skippers were allowed outside the fenced area to go to Customs and that, as soon as we were cleared out, we were not to stop anywhere along the coast on our way to Montenegro or we would be heavily fined.
The Customs and Harbor Police office was located above a restaurant and bar and it took about twenty minutes to have all the formalities completed after which we were on our way to Montenegro.
The distance from Cavtat to the entrance of the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro was about 20NM. We did not have any decent wind and motored most of the way. Admiral Mila was only too happy to speak Spanish with her fellow Peruvians. Paul T used to opportunity to practice his Spanish with the help of Google Translate.
We navigated past huge cliffs that gave us an indication of the immense powers of nature that pushed these rock formations out of the sea into mountains. These cliffs were spectacular. Along the way, we also saw the Croatian radar system that was watching us to make sure we would not stop along the way.
When rounding Cape Ostra at the inlet of the Bay of Kotor, we were intercepted by a Croatian Police boat and asked what our last port of call was. Just checking, I guess?
As soon as we passed the Cape, we entered Montenegrin waters, raised our yellow quarantine flag on the starboard flag halyard and headed to the small port of Zelenika, the first available port of entry in Montenegro. We docked at the Customs pier and did our paperwork with Customs and the Port Authority and then exchanged the quarantine flag for the double-eagled Montenegro courtesy flag. We were now officially in one of the smallest countries of the Balkan.
The lady in the Harbor Master’s office recommended that we stay at a brand new marina called Lazure. It had not yet officially opened and there were only a few boats docked there. Nice floating docks, a beautiful hotel restaurant, clean showers and facilities and a neat little beach. This marina will certainly become a huge success with yachties.
Behind us, on the other side of the dock, was a Leopard 44 catamaran, obviously a former Sunsail charter yacht. The owner, Jeff, from Salt Lake City had taken a two-year sabbatical to go sailing with his wife and three young boys. They had bought the yacht in Greece and were now sailing all over the Med and with the idea of crossing the Atlantic back to the USA where they would sell the cat. A real sailing adventure and a wonderful experience for the kids.
Soon after we had docked, Skipper Joe and his crew on “Tina” also arrived at the dock.
Sandra and Paul decided to have an early dinner at the local marina restaurant while the Admiral and her Peruvian friends went for a swim at the nearby beach. I decided to just chill on the boat and to go on a reconnaissance of the amenities of the marina.
Joe, who, like a real Italian, loves to cook, asked if he could use the plancha of my boat to prepare the dinner for his crew. No worries, Antonio, Claudia, Mila and I were going to check out the marina restaurant anyway. The food was delicious and the service impeccable. We will be back!
The following day, Monday, we had on our itinerary to go outside the Bay of Kotor to check out a blue cave or Blava Spilja. We dropped our anchors, lowered the dinghies in the water and soon were inside the caves, a very popular tourist attraction with lots of swimmers in the water. Better stop the outboards and paddle inside…
After lunch and some more swimming, we headed for nearby Bigova, a charming small anchorage with some restaurants and vacation homes along the shore. We took a mooring which belonged to one of the local restaurants where we would go for dinner that night.
A few glasses of wine and cocktails on board, some R&R and swimming and soon we were ready for dinner. Montenegrin food is very similar to Croatian. After all, they were all part of the of Yugoslavia. Similar food, similar language.
Nothing beats a good night of sleep at anchor or at a mooring, especially after a delicious meal with some excellent wine. The result? Quite a late departure on Tuesday morning to go back into the Bay of Kotor but first we anchored in the anchorage of Mirista where we had lunch, a refreshing swim and went to shore for a short hike to the fortress tower on Misita Point. On the way back we steered our dinghy past the cutest little church and monastery of Our Lady.
Our next stop was the Port of Montenegro in Tivat. This is one of the most luxurious and modern marinas in Europe, if not the most luxurious one.
We called the port on CH 17 and asked for berths for our two boats. We literally were surrounded by mega yachts. One yacht was so large it could not even get in the port and had to be moored at the outside seawall.
Porto Montenegro exudes luxury and money. You can find all top brands in the local clothing and jewelry stores like Balenciaga, Rolex, Bulgari, Max Mara, etc.
Bring your credit cards or Euros. For passengers on board of boats that clear out of Montenegro or are in transit, all these goodies can be bought duty-free. Porto Montenegro also has the least expensive fuel for boats in the Med.
The crazy thing about Montenegro is that their currency is the Euro even though they are not part of the E.U. whereas in Croatia, which is part of the E.U., they still use the Kuna.
After a night on the town in Porto Montenegro and Tivat, it was time to say goodbye to all that luxury and head for the old city of Kotor at the very end of the Bay. We had a bit of wind and raised the sails but lost all wind when we entered the narrow passage that connects the lower end of the bay with the upper part. Right passed that narrow isthmus, we found the two small islands of Our Lady of the Rocks and of Saint George across from the village of Perast.
Legend has it that local fishermen found an icon of the Virgin Mary on some rocks and thus started a tradition to throw rocks in the middle of the bay. Soon it resulted in an artificial island on which the Byzantine church of Our Lady of the Rocks was built.
Every year, the locals go out on boats and throw some more rocks in the water near the island. Tourists can visit this island, the small church and the museum whereas St George Island with its abandoned church and cemetery, is off limits to visitors.
As we were not allowed to anchor, our crew members took the dinghy to shore on our Lady of the Rocks while the skippers kept on bobbing around on the boats.
Our last stop of the day was the city of Kotor. The marina there is not very attractive and is located right next to the main road across from the gate entrance to the city.
It is only when you pass the main gate that you realize how magnificent Kotor is. Narrow streets, an architecture influenced by the Venetians and, behind the city the enormous high mountain topped by a fortress, make this a truly unique place.
Thousands of tourists from a monstrously large cruise ship had invaded the city buying cat-inspired souvenirs because Kotor is the “City of Cats”. Cats everywhere… There is even a cat museum.
Admiral Mila and Alex V from “Tina” decided to hike all the way to the top of the fortress from where they had a fabulous view over the city, the valley and even the Adriatic, far away. Unfortunately, my injured ankle would not cooperate and I decided to postpone that hike until next year when we come back.
Right outside the marina, we found the Galion restaurant, an architectural combination of old stone construction with modern glass and steel. From our table we had a great view of the city and the lights illuminating the fortress high above us. We had another memorable gastronomic experience which was a perfect way to cap off the day.
Again, we were on the other side of “hump day” and, on Thursday morning, we had to make our way back to Croatia. It was going to be a long day. We motor sailed back past the small Perast islands, through the narrow isthmus and briefly stopped at some abandoned military cold war ruins. Then on to Zelenika where we checked out of Montenegro and on our way back to Cavtat. We had a few hours of good wind and were able to sail wing and wing before the wind died completely which forced us to fire up the engine.
Yellow quarantine flag back up we made a beeline for the Cavtat Customs dock where we were processed back into the country. When we had checked out of the country on the previous Sunday, we had decided that we wanted to spend our last night in Cavtat. The anchorage and the city really had seduced us, and we dropped our anchor in the middle of the small bay. Dinner was prepared on board. A wonderful risotto prepared outside on the plancha. Thank Goodness for that griddle. I became such a plancha aficionado that the Admiral is buying me one…
Friday, unavoidably, has arrived and we are heading back to Dubrovnik. One last hooray before heading up the river to the ACI marina. More pictures of the Dubrovnik fortifications on our way back.
Week two has ended but we are already looking forward to week three.
Capt. Jean De Keyser