The 2016 ASA Flotilla in Croatia was organized by Sea Safaris Sailing School in Chicago with Capt. Jean De Keyser and his wife, “Admiral” Mila, as the experienced flotilla tour guides.
ASA Exuma Islands Adventure Flotilla, April 2013
By Mary Clor
My husband, as part of his mid-life rediscovery, decided last fall to attend a weeklong sailing school. To entice me to enter the sport, he then signed us up for an ASA Flotilla to the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas. Knowing how much I love the outdoors, camping, and snorkeling/scuba diving, he saw this as an opportunity to combine his new passion, sailing, with the things I love. I knew nothing about sailing, and my only sailing “experience” had been as a passenger on a 4 mast, 440 foot long sailing cruise ship.
All of that was about to change.
We sailors arrived in George Town and were met by Dallas, owner of Out-Island Explorers, and our guide for the week. At our welcome dinner that evening, we met the rest of our crew – Brenda from ASA, and our two assistant guides, Chris and Anita. The next morning, with all our gear transferred from suitcases to dry bags, we were whisked away to the north end of Great Exuma, where we saw our little 21 foot Sea Pearls for the first time. From this point on, our adventure took place on the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.
Our boats were laden with gear, food and libations were stored, and last minute details were settled. Our two Sea Pearls took us out of the tiny harbor of Barraterre for a very short sail to Rat Cay – just 20 minutes or so – to familiarize everyone with the boats and the use of lee boards: something new to all our sailors. Being my first time in a real sailboat, I learned what close-hauled sailing, and heeling, was firsthand. In a small boat, heeling can be very scary the first time, but I soon learned to enjoy it.
We then headed downwind to Norman’s Pond Key. We practiced wing-on-wing sailing: in this case it was slower than a deep broad reach. After successfully tacking to the sandy beach, and being thankful that the leeboard configuration allowed us to sail in shallow water all the way to the shore, we affectionately named our campsite “Three Palms.” We set up our tents under shady palm trees, shared a celebratory drink for our first day, and told tall tales of our sailing experience. With a total sailing distance of 7 miles, and 1 1/2 hours, it was a great beginning.
The next morning screeching seagulls started our day early. The boats were reloaded, and we checked out the charts to plot our course for the day. We headed to Lignonvitae Cay to lunch, then to Big Farmer’s Cay for two nights of camping. Another 3 1/2 hours of sailing experience for all.
At Big Farmer’s Cay, everyone got to practice sailing skills in the shallow sandy flats in front of our campsite. Brenda gave me some basic sailing lessons, using the sandy beach and a stick as our chalkboard and chalk. Then she took me out on the sailboat and had me tack back and forth until I was dizzy! Back on shore, over evening libations, our discussion led to the difference between training and sailing in a flotilla. Training teaches you the fundamentals through repeated practice, and when you’re sailing long distances for fun, such as in a flotilla, you use that training to execute certain maneuvers, such as tacking and jibing, efficiently when you need to.
Our next campsite was Gaulin Cay South, about 8 miles or three hours downwind from our previous campsite. Getting into our campsite was a bit tricky, as the beach was just past the strong ocean currents coming in from the Dotham Cut. At this point, our sailors were becoming experts at handling the little Sea Pearls, and handled the challenge well. Again, we spent two nights here – all of us were grateful that we were spared having to tear down camp every morning. On our “free” day here, Dallas took all of us on an exhilarating tour in his powerboat so that we could see highlights of the Exumas far north of where we would be sailing. Seeing the private island and yacht of everyone’s favorite current day pirate (Captain Jack Sparrow/Johnny Depp) were the highlights.
Every day there were opportunities to enjoy the best of the Exumas and it’s abundant wildlife. We were able to get into our snorkel gear at least once daily (sometimes 3 or 4 times) and see colorful reef fish living below our sailboats. Little lemon sharks and stingrays would visit the waters near our campsites, and we had more than one sea turtle sighting enroute. We hiked into a cave, snorkeled in other caves, and fed the swimming pigs. At one campsite, we even set up our tents under the watchful eyes of dozens of iguanas. This was much more than just sailing: it was adventure!
Even inclement weather could not dampen the enthusiasm of our sailors. During an afternoon of heavy pouring rain, our assistant guide Chris cut small shavings of wood from the dry inner part of wet firewood to start a small fire. How wise he was to start this fire on a large board– as he added more wood and the fire took hold, he was able to move the fire out from under the fly. Meanwhile, we sailors sat in dry comfort.
On our last morning, we woke up to totally calm weather – no wind. Our take-out point was only 2 or 3 miles away in Staniel Cay, but it took almost that many hours to get there. With no motor to help us out, our “running” was slower than a peg-legged pirate’s walk! Eventually, we arrived at our beach site, helped to disassemble the masts from the Sea Pearls, and had our final lunch together. Then we found our wonderful hot showers and comfortable beds before a celebratory final dinner.
Join us on next year’s Exuma Flotilla, April 12-19th, 2014. For more info, visit www.asa.com.
The Adriatic Sea was, for me, one of those places that always sounded incredibly far-off and wonderful, not quite real, a magnificent realm that I would probably never get to see. Its waters are steeped in history and legend. Strategically located between Italy and Greece, they were a focal point of the classical world, sailed by everyone from Odysseus to Julius Caesar to Marco Polo. Continue reading
This blog is about ASA’s 2012 Croatia Flotilla. Dubrovnik to Split, September 2012.
“Every fish should swim three times,” goes a Croatian saying. “First in the sea, then in olive oil, and finally in wine.” The residents of the Dalmatian Coast live by this creed, and their cuisine, a divine fusion of Italian and Greek styles, demonstrates why.
Of all the delicious repasts we ate during the 2012 Croatia flotilla (and there were many), one stands out in my memory, not only as a meal, but as a unique experience that you can only get while sailing.
It began, as so many sailor tales do, with foul weather. We had made a long and exhilarating crossing through spitting rain and heavy seas from the island of Vis toward a town called Milna, where we planned to get a berth in the marina, take a long, hot shower, and open a few bottles of well-deserved local wine. But Neptune had other ideas–the storm had forced so many boats to Milna that the marina was entirely full, and a long string of boats was being turned away. We needed a new course of action, and with nightfall coming, we needed it fast.
I regret that I never set foot in Milna, which is supposed to be a lovely place, but where one door closes, another opens. Jean de Keyser, our skipper and flotilla leader, studied the chart and located a deep, sheltered inlet a few miles away. What a stroke of luck that turned out to be. When we arrived, the rain had abated and there were a number of mooring balls available, which immediately made our lives easier. There was also a young guy fishing from a small skiff. We didn’t know it yet, but this was Leo, and he was catching our dinner.
It was a beautiful, serene little cove of wooded hillsides, but there was nothing there, virtually no sign of civilization, except for a few stone shacks on the hillside, and a sign advertising a restaurant called “Smrceva.” No one traveling by ferry, tour bus, rental car, or even on foot would be likely to find this place. The only reliable access was by sailboat. I was skeptical, but what choice did we have? It was time to dinghy ashore and try our luck.
This turned out to be the best decision we made in the entire trip. As the only diners, we were greeted by a young man named Neno and seated in an open stone shelter with a view of the bay through pine trees. It was not a refined place. There was junk piled in the corners, and a family of kittens living in the disused fireplace. Neno explained that they had no menu–they would cook whatever was available and bring it to us one course after another, along with some local brandies and as many liters of wine as we could handle. “Okay,” we said, “bring it on.”
It began with baked scallops on the half-shell, and just kept coming: Risotto, grilled calamari, sauteed potatoes, and finally, the piece de resistance, the grilled fish that Leo had been busily catching when we sailed in. The fish had swum in the sea, it had swum in olive oil, and now it was time for that third and final voyage.
When the meal was over, Neno invited us into the nearby home to see their massive collection of family artifacts. He told us that Marino, the owner, had been a famous soccer star for Yugoslavia in the 1970s, and showed us pictures of him lining up to play Germany and shaking hands with Yugoslavian president Tito. (As he was talking, we could see Marino bustling around outside, keeping the place in order.) They even had us watch TV with them for a few minutes. The local Croatian news was on, and with minimal English they tried to explain the headlines to us through mime. I don’t think any of us understood much, but we appreciated the effort anyway.
It was pitch black as we returned to the dinghy dock, Neno lighting the way with a series of hand lanterns. By the time we were back on board, it was clear to everyone that things had worked out exactly right, and we had just had one of those special experiences available only to the cruising sailor. That’s the adventure of a flotilla–you have a plan, but when circumstances change, and you are forced to improvise, that’s when some of the greatest discoveries are made.
This is a story about ASA’s 2012 Croatia Flotilla. For more info on upcoming ASA sailing flotillas, click here.
Sailors (and tourists of all kinds) have beaten a well-worn path through the Mediterranean, particularly in places like Greece, Italy, and Spain. These are the world’s most ancient sailing grounds, and they richly deserve their reputations for beauty and splendor. But Croatia’s a bit different. Having only been open to tourists for about 15 years, following virtually 800 years of war and strife, you might expect the place to be a bit rough around the edges. But it’s actually quite the opposite–Croatia has a vitality, hospitality, and magnificence entirely its own.
You won’t find the bright colors and baroque flourishes of Italy, or the spectacular blinding white domes of Greece. Instead, as one local told me, “In Dalmatia it is all about the details.”
You will encounter jumbles of cascading orange tile roofs, and walls whose masonry spans 2,000 years: Originally built by the Romans, augmented in the time of Marco Polo, given a few Renaissance touch-ups, and perhaps reinforced by a tradesman yesterday. Immersing yourself in this rich historical tapestry is one of the great pleasures of a visit to Croatia.
So, when it comes to the architecture and culture of the Dalmatian coast, what should you be sure to see? Here were my favorite highlights, discovered on the 2012 ASA Croatia Flotilla.
Dubrovnik City Walls: Nicknamed “the pearl of the Adriatic,” this is Croatia’s most popular tourist destination. And it’s not hard to see why. With a huge, well-preserved “old town” district dating to the 15th century, the streets are pretty much as they were when Dubrovnik was a powerful Mediterranean city-state, rivaling Venice. Walking the city walls is a must, well worth the 70 kuna price (roughly $12). From the battlements you’ll get numerous stunning views of the town and the sea.
Moreska Sword Dance, Korcula: “You sit here,” the usher said, guiding us to the front row, “maybe you get broken nose. Maybe you lose tooth.”
If you make it to the island city of Korcula, you’ve simply got to see the Moreska Sword Dance—it’s the only place in the world where you can. The performance is elegant, violent, and real—not for the squeamish. Swords clashed and occasionally their broken blades hurtled into the audience, hence the warning (or perhaps invitation?) about getting a broken nose. By nightfall, blood had been spilled by performer and spectator alike, though no one was (seriously) hurt.
The dance recounts the battle between two kings for the love of a beautiful princess, and performing in it is a centuries-old tradition among the youth of Korcula. Shows are held on Mondays, so plan your itinerary accordingly.
Spanjola Fortress, Hvar: Another place for astonishing views. Abandoned for centuries, left “for the fairies to dance in at night,” there’s a spooky thrill to exploring this hilltop fortress. The hike up takes some work, especially on a hot day, but you’ll be glad you did it. From the walls you can see all of Hvar Town, plus the almost tropical-looking Pakleni Islands and the sparkling Adriatic. They’ve got a cafe up there, too, so you can kick back and relax.
Diocletian’s Palace, Split: No trip to the Dalmatian Coast would be complete without this landmark, once the home of Roman emperor Diocletian. It lies at the very heart of Split, and the city has been growing around and inside of it for 1,700 years. The palace is an entire town to itself, and full of oddities from various time periods. There are sphinxes taken from Egypt, fully intact Roman catacombs, ramshackle medieval houses, and the world’s smallest Christian cathedral, in what was once Diocletian’s mausoleum. There are “klappa” singers who perform in the rotunda with the polyphonic voices of angels, frequently reducing their audience to tears.
There’s so much more to see, of course, and more details than I could possibly describe. This should give you a taste, but the rest you’ll just have to see for yourself. Stay tuned to ASA social media for news about our next Croatia flotilla!
Continuing the story of the ASA St. Martin Flotilla 2012.
PART THREE: BARBEQUE FOR EVERY MEAL
As a finale, we spent two days in Grand Case, on the French side of St. Martin. Grand Case is a narrow village of colonial facades facing a wide bay packed with sailboats, and bills itself as the dining capital of the Caribbean. Here you can get everything from fresh-caught snapper and lobster, artfully prepared by a master chef, to $2 barbeque. You can also get fine Italian cuisine, and at the Fish Pot, if you want to you can pluck your own lobster out of a pool, hold him up for a picture, and then have him for dinner.
The buildings are painted in bright yellows, red, and blues, just a bit faded from the Caribbean sun. One of the first places you’ll encounter as you stride up the dinghy dock is called Bar 24 — a little juice and cold beverage stand run by a Quebecois named Natalie. This is a great place to cool off and refresh before you hit the main drag.
For lunch, I opted for the barbeque. For dinner, I opted for it again. I’ll admit that I even had steak for breakfast one morning. Sad to say, I can neither approve or deny the claim of Grand Case’s gastronomic supremacy, I can only report that the barbeque is INCREDIBLE. It doesn’t seem to matter which place you go to; just wander and let the smell of sizzling ribs guide you. You will not leave unsatisfied.
A number of other flotilla members did eat at the finer establishments, and reported back favorably. So, it seems, you really can’t go wrong in Grand Case when it comes to eating. At night the town comes alive with music and singing, throngs of people; a very festive and happy atmosphere.
But what about those pesky in-between times when you’re not eating? Well, I clambered out some rocks, past a few local fishermen, to the point of the bay, and took this video:
Not a bad view, eh? Everywhere we went, we seemed to be encountering these spectacular vistas. And after two nights and a farewell beach party, we departed Grand Case and our trip came to a close.
What I’ll remember most, aside from the place itself, is the tight-knit bond that developed among the group, and particularly within the crews of the individual boats. Sailing with people, and living aboard with them, is a share experience that you can’t replicate any other way. For me, that’s the greatest value of an ASA flotilla. I can’t wait to do it again!
To find out more about upcoming ASA flotillas, click here!
Continuing the story of ASA’s 2012 St. Martin flotilla.
PART TWO: THE ROOSTER CROWS FOR DAY
After two nights in Gustavia, St. Barths, it was time to up-anchor and head for the British island of Anguilla. It was a marathon sail, 26 miles with several tacks and gybes onto different points of sail. Great practice for all of us, especially the three people on my boat getting their ASA 104 certifications! We had excellent sailing conditions throughout the trip, with consistent winds of 10-15 knots.
This is how you arrive in St. Martin: the 737 screams in over tin rooftops and a strip of yellow beach, then desperately brakes on the world’s shortest commercial runway; the taxi rides the perilous curves of the road, cut into the mountainside above sapphire seas and distant islands; and you are thrust, groggy and confused, into the bright mid-day sun at Oyster Pond Marina, where your vessel awaits.
From there, things slow down considerably–to a magical pace known as “island time.”
ASA’s first ever St. Martin flotilla was held from April 20-28, 2012, and I got to go along for the ride. The Caribbean’s Renaissance Islands are separated from one another by only a few sea-miles, but are worlds apart culturally and geographically. Comprised of bustling, half-French/half-Dutch St. Martin, the distinctly European flavor of St. Barths, and rural, English-owned Anguilla, a week of sailing these islands is not just a lesson in the art of relaxation, but also a study in the remarkably varied history of the West Indies. Continue reading