After a year of driving a counter-clockwise loop of Europe, we are once again back in Croatia. I know our latest blog post had us in Albania still because this blog is sadly very behind. I hope you have been following along via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and/or YouTube. If you follow us via any of those accounts, you should have some idea of the places we visited and what we’ve been up to. I wanted to give you all a quick run down on what we are doing back here in Croatia.
When we left Croatia at the beginning of January 2019, we had just gotten approval of my temporary residency. That means along with Marlene and the kids’ dual citizenship status, we did not have to follow the ‘Schengen Area‘ travel limitations. With solely a U.S. passport, a visitor can only stay in these 26 European countries in the ‘Schengen Area’ for 90 days out of the most recent 180. It is actually quite convenient for 99% of all travelers since the ‘Schengen Area’ is a border-free zone. For short term travelers who don’t plan on staying longer, it is a great way to see a bunch of places in Europe without the hassle of crossing borders. But for long term travelers like ourselves, ‘Schengen Area’ is a tricky thing to deal with. First of all, not all European Union countries are part of the ‘Schengen Area’ and not all ‘Schengen Area’ countries are part of the European Union. But for the most part, almost every country in western Europe is in and only a few in the east are not. Once I received my residency in Croatia, it was very convenient to not have to worry about overstaying my time. That is why we are back here in Croatia to renew it for another year.
You might remember last year it took us over 3 months with many trips to the government office providing numerous documents to get approval. We are hoping this renewal process will be easier but so far we have no proof of that. We have been back in Croatia about a month now and we’ve not heard a definite time frame on when the renewal will be complete. But that hasn’t stopped us from being here to enjoy what is left of summer.
It seems that every year Croatia is getting more and more popular. I couldn’t believe how many people were still here in October and November of last fall. This time, it seems there are even more tourists. Prices also seem to be rising year after year. I don’t exactly recall what we paid for a scoop of ice cream from our favorite shop but it feels like they increased their prices by about 10%.
While we were here, we spent a lot of time in the village where Marlene’s father is from on the island of Hvar. We are really surprised how warm it has been this October. We have done way more swimming in the Adriatic sea than we did last fall. A couple miles from the island village is the little cove of Vela Stiniva. It is pretty much a little slice of paradise with crystal clear water and rock walls that shoot straight up on both sides. Last fall the kids only got in the water once and had to wear their wet suits to stay warm. This time we are getting sunny and perfect 75 degree days with the water temp about the same as the air. As long as there is not much wind, we are spending many days still at the beach.
Before we came back to Croatia, while still in Germany attending the Caravan Salon show representing Dometic, we reached out to Orvas Yachting about trading some social media promotion and photography for the use of one of their boats. They reached out to us last year and we had an amazing 7 days on the water in a 38 ft sailboat with our friends Jason, Angela and Bode of bodeswell.com. Making no assumptions that the partnership worked as well for them as it did for us last year, we didn’t know if this was something they wanted to do again this year. But we were glad to hear that they were open to another trade. In fact when they responded to our request, they asked if we had noticed that one of the photos we provided them last year is actually displaying on their current home page.
We basically agreed to the same deal as we had done last year. 7 days on the sea with the same boat we had used before. When we arrived at the marina, we were surprised to see that we had been upgraded to a newer 46-ft 2018 Bavaria Cruiser sailboat. It was one of the biggest boats I’ve ever sailed but knowing the weather forecast is favorable once again during our trip, we were ready for it. We spent the last 7 days cruising the Dalmatian coast visiting a few of the same spots we had been to before and also several new ones. The main goal of this trip is to circumnavigate the island of Vis, one of the farthest Croatian islands in the Adriatic sea.
Marlene’s maternal ancestors are from the Island of Vis. It most recently has been the filming location of Mamma Mia 2 which means its popularity is gaining. We have been there many times but never in a sailboat. In fact we have actually never even been there with a car either. It is pretty expensive to take your car on the ferry to go out there and we don’t have a good place to park it while we are there. Sailing a boat there is something we got really excited about doing because it allows us to visit a few spots that we are otherwise inaccessible.
First night out of Split, we sailed across to the island of Solta and met up with our friends Sale and Maja who came out in their own boat to meet us for one night. It was our first time rafting up with another boat on anchor with a stern line tied to shore. It was a very cool experience. We felt like we were on our own little tiny island for the night. For the next 2 days, we sailed toward Vis with an overnight stop at Pakleni Island.
Our first stop on Vis was in Stoncica Cove. It is a relatively popular cove with 12 mooring balls. In Croatia, the rule is that you are not allowed to anchor within 300 meters of a mooring ball field. I suppose that is because concessionaire of the mooring field pays the government to run their business and the rule is there to protect their livelihood. That said, this being the shoulder season, the concessionaire never came to collect so our stay in Stoncica Bay was free. The water was warm and calm and at the end of the bay is a shallow stone beach that I shuttled everyone to and from on the dinghy. As compared to last year, there were noticeably more people still chartering boats in this time of the season. Of the 12 mooring balls, 8 of them were used on that first night. We actually ended up having to move to another ball because a big 54-ft boat came and tied up to the ball next to us. We were on the ball closest to shore and their boat is entirely too long for the area. We probably would have bumped into each other at some point in the night. Yes, sailing is just like RVing as there are some people who are less concerned about courtesy and personal space than others.
The next day we sailed around island and moored for a couple hours at the famous Green Cave on the southeast side of Vis. We had been here before kids on a day tour but it has been over 10 years. The kids were really excited for this new experience and we got to hang out in the cave all by ourselves for most of our time there. After the Green Cave, we made another stop at a tourist favorite spot called Stiniva. You can only get here by boat or by scaling a set of steep rock steps down. We have never been here but it is as stunning as we thought it would be. With a couple of touristy stops out of the way, we made our way to the town of Komiza for the night.
Komiza is the place we know well. When we take the ferry to visit Vis, it is here that we come to. Marlene’s grandmother and great grandmother both spent a lot of time taking care of her when she was a kid living in California. They both have since passed away and wanted to be buried in the cemetery at the church on the hill in Komiza. It is the one place we make sure we visit each time we come. We ‘med moored’ against the dock right in the harbor of the town. We’ve always seen sailboats out here in our previous visits and always thought that this was a great way to spend a night in this charming little island town. What we didn’t know was that the prices have become a bit outrageous. It was over 80 bucks to stay for one night but since we weren’t planning to pay anywhere else on this trip, we decided to splurge for the experience. Being an island in the middle of the Adriatic, winds were also much stronger than the other islands like Solta, Hvar and Brac. We saw on the weather report that overnight winds were expected to be over 30 knots per hour which also contributed to our decision to stay.
On the 5th day of our trip, we completed the circumnavigation of the island of Vis. While sailing around the north shore of the island, Marlene’s mom mentioned to her that we were near a little cove where her great grandmother swam at as a child. Before moving to Komiza, she had lived in a tiny village just up the hill from the cove. We did not plan to stop there but decided to make an impromptu visit as it was an opportunity that will not likely come again. It was a very cool experience being in this remote bay far from most of the tourists in Croatia. Imagining Marlene’s ancestors living here a hundred years ago was very cool to say the least.
Another spot we had wanted to visit for a long time was the former submarine base on the island. Last year when we were here, we had inquired about taking an off-road tour to see it. It was expensive and long so we didn’t go. This time though we were able to sail right up to the entrance and swim into the submarine tunnel. When we first got there, we had planned to stay the night. But just as we dropped our anchor, 10 sailboats full of people showed up and anchored right next to us. We could tell they were all skippered boats that came together but were probably not going overnight. But not knowing when they would leave, we decided to complete the circumnavigation and made our way back to Stoncica Bay before dark. This time we tied to a mooring ball at the far end of the mooring field and had a very peaceful night with no issues.
With only 2 nights left on the boat, we began sailing back towards Split. From Stoncica Bay in Vis, we were about 40 nautical miles out. We made it back about 1/3 of the way to the island of Hvar and anchored in a small bay called Vela Garska. It was a spot we had anchored at last year and the kids found 5 kittens on shore. They had been talking about these kittens all year and when we were coming back out on a boat, I promised them we would come back to try to find them. Unfortunately those same kittens were no where to be found. But we did find 4 other small cats who also needed food and love. We dropped our anchor in the middle of the bay and tied out stern to shore. Once again we had another sailboat dropping their anchor much to close to us. If we had not been tied to shore, we would have for sure swung into each other as the current moves. Not only were they a big 45 ft catamaran, their friends in an even larger catamaran decided to tie up to them creating a massive raft of 2 catamarans. As they were swinging on anchor, we were safe from bumping since we were secured to shore but we could not leave until the current changed directions since our anchor was directly under their boats. I was just hoping their anchor would hold long enough for us to leave the next day.
Fortunately the next morning, they had swung the other way just as we were planning to leave. As we untied from shore, we began weighing our anchor which pulled us towards their boats. I don’t know why but just as that was happening, a third boat decided that was the time when he should also try to tie up to their already massive raft in the middle of this small bay. I had to ask them to stop what they were doing as they were directly on top of my anchor. They moved out of the way just long enough for me to retrieve my anchor to be on my way.
After leaving Hvar, we sailed across the channel to the town of Milna on the island of Brac in the morning. This was our first overnight spot last year. This time we came during our last full day on the water. We needed to start prepping the boat for return. Milna is the perfect spot as we could stop to fill up diesel for the boat and get a few more items at the store to make sure we had enough supplies for the last night.
Our friends Sale and Maja once again came out to meet us in their boat. We met on the water at Milna and headed over to the nearby bay of Bobosvice. We once again anchored and tied our stern to shore and they rafted up to our side for another magical afternoon of swimming and hanging out on the water to enjoy what is likely the last moments of this amazing October weather.
Bright and early the next morning we woke up and motored out of the bay for the 7 nautical mile journey back to Split for a 9 AM check-in time. We had another week of unbelievable weather in the shoulder season here in Croatia on the Adriatic Sea. The kids had perfected their jumping technique from the swim platform and the side of the boat through countless repetitions. We had the perfect amount of wind for sailing to, around and from Vis. We got to visit places that would have otherwise been nearly impossible to see. Most of all, we safely and confidently handled a 46-ft mono hull sailboat for the first time as a family. We still have a lot more to learn to be ready for this lifestyle but it feels like if that time comes, everyone will be on board.