Family Weekend

A good time was had by all.  The woods at the top of our garden are a wonderful amenity, as the photos attest, especially as the weather over the weekend was hardly kind and we did not venture far from the house.  Barns and crew arrived early evening on Friday and settled in.  The others arrived late on Saturday morning.  We shared a big bowl of prawns at midday (dear Joel who does not like them is prepared to peel for others) and a late afternoon feast of roast leg of French lamb.  A shared splash is a regular feature of Light gatherings – the smalls I mean.  But they are all big enough to enjoy the whirlpool feature which conjurs up giant meringue-like mounds of foam.  The little Sunbury and the little Hackneys were driven home to bed in their pjs.   On Sunday there was more playtime and fun.  At the end of the afternoon we all ate one of JACS’ favourites: a supper of mini toads.  After a wash and pj-time the JACS-mobile was loaded for its return to Cholsey.  I waved them off fondly and went straight to bed with a good book.

Two Nautical Adventures: A Launch

When we arrived at Trogir the berthing master told us that a large bulk carrier on the slipway at the entrance to the harbour was to be launched at midday on Friday.  It was very much at the last minute, (owing to some welding work being done on Verity) that Mike, Nick and I set off in their 5 ft dingy to witness this event at close quarters.

Mike, a retired shipbroker with a lifetime’s nautical experience, had seen a launch from the shore but never before from the sea but he knew enough to take us in very close to the slip.  As we bobbed about in the rib trying to hold station there was a loud bang as the chocks were cleared and the ship was released.

She slid slowly and gracefully down the slip and into the sea.  We were all expecting something of a splash.  Instead there was a large but gentle rolling swash that swept towards us and lifted us gently over its crest.   The enormous propeller which was half clear of the water was forced into revolution by the launch and continued to turn as the ship drifted away from the slip for perhaps ¼ mile.  Three tugs then approached to take her lines and tow her back to a fitting-out berth.

To see such a large ship move so effortlessly without any propulsion other than gravity, momentum and the help of a lot of greasy planks was quite a moving experience.  I was amazed that so few other boats were in the vicinity and even more that we had been permitted to get so close.  There were hundreds of onlookers in the yard and on the quay. Without Mike’s experience and knowledge Nick and I would never have dared to venture so close!

A Rude Awakening:

Nick was woken by the sound of Verity hitting something fairly substantial and immediately popped his head though the hatch of our cabin.  As he looked around and saw that everything appeared to be in order I heard Mike shout from the stern, “Get Nick here quickly.”  Pulling on some trousers he escaped through the hatch and went to the stern where he was amazed to see the large party boat/ferry, ‘Maranca’, bumping Verity’s stern.

Somebody had cast Maranca loose, no easy feat given the weight of the vessel, about 200 tons, and the thick mooring ropes.  Mike was doing his best to fend off as the vessel swung out into the tide.  As he moved forward to clear the dinghy, Nick handed the mooring ropes which were dragging along the quay to Carolyn and me to try and ensure they did not drag across or under Verity and rip us from our berth.

Nick ran forward to bang on the sides of a large Italian motor yacht to wake the owners but despite this and a lot of shouting no one stirred.  However with all the noise the four of us were making the two crew on the ferry came out to see what was wrong and realised they were adrift in the very crowded port powered only by the tide and wind.  We quickly heard an engine start as the skipper got to the bridge whilst the crew pulled in the mooring lines that would otherwise have fouled their own propeller.

Mike had called the berthing master who quickly arrived, wearing his trademark Tilley hat (at 4.30 in the morning?!) and the boat was rapidly returned to her mooring.  It is quite amazing no one was hurt in this incident and apart from a minor scratch on the stern of Verity neither boat was damaged.

The crew of the ferry and the berthing master voiced the opinion that right wing supporters had released the moorings in an act of dangerous vandalism because the ferry had been used for an event rallying support for the Communist candidate in the local elections currently taking place in Croatia.  When one thinks of the one year old infant on the small boat ahead, sandwiched between Verity and the Italian motor yacht, the outcome, if the ferry had not been swept out into the main tidal stream, could have been very tragic indeed.

By the time we had gathered our scattered wits and sat in the cockpit recapitulating the event it was well past 5 and as I had set my alarm for 6.15 there seemed little point in returning to my bunk.  No-one else felt like trying to retrieve sleep mode either.  Once Nick and I had used our washing facilities I cleaned the head out and completed packing.  Nick made some more of his fabulous omelettes for breakfast and after a cup of coffee it was time to look for our taxi.

As we drove to the airport I watched the semi-rural roadside scenery roll by.  There were orchards of dwarf fruit trees, small plantations of vines and occasional fallow fields startlingly beautiful in their mantle of exuberant wild red corn poppies.  I suddenly feel a surge of love for terrestrial countryside and wonder if I am a landlubber at heart.  I have flourished at sea, swimming in Bombay Sapphire water, going ashore to stroll or seek out somewhere to eat, the stark beauty of relatively barren low lying islands which create the network of waterways to sail or motor through, but I find I am really looking forward to returning to my English plot to see how the garden has come through our absence and what may be good and what may be disappointing.

Thirty-six Hours in Trogir

Trogir is an historic city and harbour on the Adriatic coast of Croatia and a UNESCO World Heritage site.  We arrived in the afternoon on Wednesday and anchored off the castle but were later invited by the harbourmaster to moor alongside the quay where we stayed for two nights.

Whilst Mike and Nick stayed on board to wait for the engineer who would be coming to make some structural adjustments for the bimini, Carolyn and I went ashore and she gave me a quick tour of the walled precincts of the city.

We walked through the narrow, high sided alleys over shiny, rounded and slippery marble cobbles, past several shoe shops, gift shops, jewellers, restaurants.  She pointed out some fine examples of the architecture.

Emerging the other side we crossed the road to an open market with fixed heavy marble slab tables on pedestals where all manner of fresh and preserved goods are sold.  Some vendors are elderly women, dressed in black, selling surplus produce perhaps.  I noticed poly bags of shelled broad beans, bundles of long thin asparagus, pale sugary dried figs, herbs.  A cornucopia of goodness.

It all looked beautiful and would be fun to cook with.  We bought some cherries to take back to Verity, we would be returning the next day for a lengthier shop as Verity will need provisioning for the forthcoming week when there will be Three Men in a Boat.

Carolyn had said that she wished to buy Nick his supper for being such a helpful crew.  As his consort I get to get thanked too.  We went to a fish restaurant close by the quay where Mike and Carolyn shared a handsome grilled sea bream, Nick chose Beef Stroganoff and I ate Scampi risotto again because I love it.

On Thursday morning the noisy work of trimming the colonnade of palm trees on the quay continued.  As the lower fronds were removed it revealed an opportunistic ephiphytic flora which had seeded itself in the axes of the fronds with the trunk: antirrhinums, fig treelets, ferns…

At the market I bought a kilo each of cherries and dried figs.  These figs are so much more appetising than the large squashy greasy-looking figs we buy at home.  I also bought four jars of the anchovy stuffed olives we had enjoyed on Verity at the beginning of our passage.  My clan has an unhealthy passion for salty things.  I later discovered one of them was a bit leaky so enveloped them in tissue and plastic film for transit in my hold luggage.

Returning to the boat, work on the bimini was underway.  But we also had an ‘appointment’ with the launch of the Novogradnja in the shipyard across the straits.  This was an experience that merits its own post.

Returning to Verity I then set to, to cook the 2 kilos of prawns the boys had ordered the night before.  Kya the Harbourmaster had kindly offered to pick these up for us at the fish market. They were raw, locally fished.  I chopped garlic, melted butter and cooked them in batches, sprinkling each batch with some Tabasco and salt.  Bit by bit the Le Creuset pot in the oven was filled to overflowing.  We sat in the cockpit under the newly fixed bimini and, with a bowl of crisp lettuce, tomato and cucumber we helped ourselves, peeled and ate until we could eat no more.

Towards the end of the afternoon Carolyn and I went to the Internet Café.  She had some large email files to download and I wanted to upload a blog post.  This was speedily executed for the price of only 8 kunas (£1).

We were due to eat onboard and we would have quayside entertainment laid on.  The ferry behind us was to become a concert stage and disco with appropriate lighting and speaker systems. A group of barber-shop type singers followed by a live group of singer and musicians entertained us for 4-5 hours with a brief interval for political speeches.    The candidate was Communist.  Later in the evening the small crowd of quayside audience and café onlookers thinned and the pace of the music tightened.  It was music to ‘rave’ about: insistent, impossible to shut out but I was asleep before the music came to an end.

It’s Sarong Time, It’s Sarong Place…

Bright sunny days, very little breeze, water temperature consistently in the 20s.  Out comes my rather garish yellow, turquoise and lime green cossie with pink and orange shells and my Maldives sarong.

We visit the Austrian boat and despatch 2 bottles of Sclumberger.  Mike and Carolyn swap sailing stories and experiences with Engelbert and Hedi.  They are both in their 70s and amazing advertisements for the sailing life.  We don’t get back on Verity until 11.40 a.m.

We leave Smokvica, out into open water and head south most of the day.  Someone spots a small pod of dolphins off to port and heading in the same direction as ourselves.  This is the third group we have seen during our sailing, but like the other two groups these animals fail to join us for a play.

Carolyn provides sandwiches for lunch which we eat in the cockpit during the passage.  We are bound for Primosten which will put us one sailing stop away from Trogir from where Nick and I will take a taxi to the airport on Friday morning.

Before sailing round to Primosten proper we pull into a horseshoe-shaped bay with a shore of what looks like coarse sand and there are people sunbathing and swimming.  The water clarity isn’t a patch on the sea we have been swimming in around the offshore islands because we are anchored off the Croatian mainland now. But it is more than good enough to swim in, so I do.

We eat on board…….

It’s nearly pick up time.  I’ve been up since 7 having already lingered in my bunk for a good hour reading Frederick Forsyth’s ‘The Afghan’.  Nick is already in the cockpit with his book, ‘The Welsh Girl’, one of the titles I have read recently for my Book Group.

The background noise of nearby morning traffic builds up and before long the jack hammer which is attacking a hillside sloping down to the coast starts up in the distance.  There are a few municipal amenities in what looks like a parkland backing this small bay.  A track runs around above the shore with wooden seats at intervals.

A very fit looking man in a black tracksuit walks down to the path and puts his jacket on the seat.  He walks around a bit flexing his wrists then performs forty press-ups in three goes.  Nick says he couldn’t possibly do that (he later tries and manages 5!).  Then Mr Fitness replaces his jacket and jogs off towards the headland at a very steady pace.  We see him jog back to his start point and start a new lap several times.

A small woman in a grey raincoat, clutching a cane and a plastic carrier bag descends to the water edge.  We watch her hand cast out a weighted line.  The orange of the lure attached to the free end flashes in the early morning sun.  It plops into the sea, the sound carrying noisily across the still water and she pulls the line in, looping the line into her other hand until the weight has been retrieved.  She walks 10 paces along the waters edge and repeats the process.  She circumscribes the bay out to the headland.  We do not see her land a fish once.  I remark that this seems a thankless task but Nick, a seasoned fisherman, says you only need to have struck lucky on one occasion in many to make it seem worthwhile.

So now we are ready for the off.  Carolyn has taken a dip and showers off on the stern.  The little cabinet in the hull which contains a hose and showerhead which dispenses hot water is a wonderful perk.  It’s been a diy breakfast and feeling a bit hungrier than normal I have followed my plate of mixed cereals with two slices of toast, one of Marmite and one of Bovril.  It gives me the savoury kick a cooked breakfast would.

Sail away time is a special moment.  I have to close all the hatches and hull ports so the sea cannot lap its way into Verity as we sail.  Nick and Carolyn pick up the anchor.  Mike is at the helm as we ease oh so gently away from the shelter of the bay towards the open sea.  We are playing Sibelius’ ‘Karelia Suite’ because someone has mentioned it.  Magic!

Croatian Gallery Part 2: Boats, Buildings, Places

This is a second upload of pictures taken during our Croatian island hopping interlude.

A Shore Foray and some Natural History

We had slept, unrocked in our waterborne cradle but were rudely awakened at 6.15 by a gutsy rendition of Happy Birthday in heavy Slav accents from the 7-man crew of the neighbouring charter yacht.  We lay and tried not to hear their loud and animated conversation, at times the talk was clearly heated.  I got up, went up into the cockpit and gazed down the fjord-like inlet to the islets at the end.  The surface of the water was unbroken, everything very still.  A single gull occasionally flew down to peck at the water.

One by one the others surfaced.  Carolyn and I enjoyed a pre-breakfast swim, a wonderful brisk freshen-up.  Once we were set we dropped our mooring and headed away from Levrnaka.  We are bound for Smokvica, finally.

We have barely got under way when we sail between two islands, round into a small embayment on the south side of Kornat.  There is a small chapel near the shoreline.  The simple style is typical of the Croatian islands, a white building of artless design with a plain cross on top.  The water is crystal clear, the seabed looks interesting.

We decide to anchor up, row ashore and walk a while.  Although in previous years Carolyn tells me there has been a key in the door to the church it is not there so we cannot look inside.  I’d rather roam around the small building photographing the plants and lifting the red clay roof tiles.  Under the first tile fragment I find Mr and Mrs Flak Jacket Toad and wonder how they manage to raise their families, as the island appears devoid of fresh water.

We clamber up to the ruin on one of the hillocks where we can enjoy a view of the Kornatis and capture some digital images.  Carolyn is reminded of the words of George Bernard Shaw: she expounds “On the last day of the Creation, God desired to crown his work and he cast down a scattering of rocks and gems and created the Kornatis”.  When we return to Verity she searches for the quotation, which actually reads “On the last day of the Creation, God desired to crown his work, and thus created the Kornati Islands out of tears, stars and breath”.  I much prefer Carolyn’s version…..

There are scattered shells of the Roman snail , an edible species which the Romans introduced to the British Isles.  There are still populations of this species on Chalk terrain in England although they are threatened by unscrupulous collectors who sell them to London restaurateurs.  But the species has legal protection under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.  From this vantage point we spot a small pond in a greenly vegetated depression set back from the coast.

During the clamber back to lower ground I try to get close enough to photograph a pale yellow swallowtail butterfly which flits between magenta pink thistleheads, but have no trouble photographing the attractive beetle which has settled on my hat.

Back on the boat, we feel rather warm after our exertion.  The water temperature is 22 degrees, clear as a sapphire, inviting.  It takes a bit more courage to enter the water as it feels almost icy, but once acclimatised it is one of the nicest swims I have had, I’m in no hurry to get out.  Nick and I are on lunch duty.  I produce a pot of finely chopped green cabbage and spring onion sweated in butter to accompany four delicious tomato and mushroom omelettes crafted by Nick.

We left the Kornati National Park at its southern end and made for Smokvica.  As we arrived at the entrance to the cove I recalled many of the details of our previous visit here when Mike and Carolyn teamed up with Lymington friends on a charter catamaran.

There is time for quiet so I open up the Conchological Society Recording Manual on my laptop and continue with some editing.  This is now a real chore as the Manual, a voluntary effort by several contributors,  has been two years in the writing but we are on the final lap.

With the approach of cocktail hour we prepare dips, carrot sticks, bread sticks and Mike conjures up a bottle of bubbly in recognition of Nick’s engineering labours to date.  I love this interlude of a sailing day, rarely missed, when we sit and allow our personal mechanisms to go into tick-over.

After, we skull ashore, to a waiter who is waiting to take our painter and show us to a table at Konoba Piccolo.  We are next to an Austrian couple with whom we strike up a conversation.  (Before they return to their boat, Lanerlei, they invite us for a glass of Schlumberger at 10 o’clock the next morning.  Named after its creator, who was born in Stuttgart and was a director of a leading champagne house in Reims, it is a sparkling wine made from Austrian grapes.)

We’ve come to Piccolo to eat their peppered steak.  It is cooked and served in shallow clay casseroles, a chunky piece of meat sitting in a deep puddle of thick curdy pepper sauce.  I’d love to find the recipe for this, it’s not like any other pepper steak I’ve eaten.

Croatian Gallery Part 1 – People

Although I was able to get some posts in the system whilst away in Croatia, using the Marina wireless, Charlotte’s good services or an Internet Cafe, assembling images was problematic in terms of time and formatting.  So before I post any more narrative, here is a first montage of the team:

The Kornatis

The Kornat Islands form the densest archipelago in the Mediterranean with some 150 islands crammed into 320 km sq of sea.  They run in four parallel series and were formed at the end of the last ice age when the sea rose so much that fields became sea and mountains became islands.  Some would appear as no more than cow pats in an aquamarine sea when viewed from above.  The land appears bare, inhospitable.

The limestone strata have weathered to classic karst terrain.  The limestones were laid down in a shallow, warm sea about 100 million years ago.  It is the skeletal remains of all the calcareous organisms which inhabited this sea that have made it so limey.  The limey deposits hardened into layers of rock and the uplift of these strata, which gave them their dipping aspect, was caused by the same earth movements that created the Alps and other mountain ranges in Africa and Europe some tens of millions years ago.

We have tarried at Levrnaka, a large island in the ‘open-sea’ Kornatis.  This was an important winter fishing location in former times.  At the head of the almost fjord like inlet between two limbs of Levrnaka there is Konoba Levrnaka which happily is open for business.  As we approach their pontoon the young waiter we recognise from previous visits comes forward to help us hook a lazy line and takes our mooring ropes.

This is a perfect spot for Sunday lunch – we variously choose octopus salad, scampi risotto and a platter of cheese and dried ham.  Our main course is a simple plate of pork chops and excellent fries.

Nick spends some time chatting with our waiter, yet another Daniel, who runs the Arvor 250 which is moored along the pontoon.  The owners use it for ferrying supplies and Nick and Daniel swap experiences and troubleshooting tips.

When we return to the boat at 4, instead of taking the rib round to the stern with Mike and Carolyn, I decide, against better judgement, to hoist myself up onto the bows from the pontoon.  Nick manages this with ease.  Fortunately I don’t hear laughter from other boats as I hover in mid-hoist and sway precariously, hanging onto the mast and bent double, whilst Nick attempts to haul me aboard with us much dignity as remains.

We sleep into the 6 o’clock hour and don’t eat a plate of Nicoise until gone 9 o’clock.

We Sali Forth

Fortunately we thought to check that Villa Rava would be frying tonight. It would not.

Thus towards the end of the afternoon we pick up and head back south to Sali, a larger settlement where we are sure to find somewhere to eat ashore. It is on the southeast coast of Dugi Otok. The harbour is encircled by cafes, konobas but mostly houses some of which date from the 17th century. There is one particularly pretty house, painted in pistachio green with chocolate brown shutters and an elegant staircase with a glistening stainless steel handrail, spiralling up its façade.

We are assisted with our mooring, bows to quay, and it costs us 294 kunas overnight. We can see at least two restaurants around the harbour which might be open. It is only when we go ashore that we find many more places with inconspicuous frontages or tucked up narrow alleys. One such is the Konoba Marin. At the top of an old flight of stone steps there is a small courtyard where locals are drinking and a small room given over to rustic tables, a small bar and scullery. It is dominated by an old open fireplace. The tables are decorated with glass bowls of pebbles and floating flower heads. One of my favoured centrepieces.

The young waitress welcomes us, brings us a bottle of ‘open wine’ (house wine), some sparkling water and we study the menu. I am rather taken with the idea of a risotto of soft-shell crab with salted anchovies to start. Carolyn loves mushrooms so the beef and mushroom in cream sauce main course is for her. Nick is in a spaghetti mood, Mike chooses lamb.

It is evident that our meal will be cooked off site, across the courtyard as it turns out by the grandmother and sister. My salted anchovies are two fillets from a jar, garnished with capers. My soft-shell crab risotto contains tiger prawns only! No matter – it all tastes good and Carolyn says her beef was exceptional. At the end of the evening we are offered complimentary grappa – I choose mint, Nick chooses cranberry and Mike juniper.

Next morning we are going to sail to another previous haunt, we call it The Cut, it is a narrow channel between the islands of Dugi Otok and Katina. We motor at a very gentle pace down the channels that run between Dugi Otok and the string of smaller islands to the east.

Low-lying, the dipping limestone strata of these islands are vegetated by patches of low-growing scrub whose colonisation of the rock is favoured by the faulting and crevicing of the strata. Plants such as sage, sedge, thistle, asphodel, wild thistle, Helichrysum are the most notable ground cover. On some of the larger islands there are isolated trees of wild olive, juniper, fig, Phyllyrea, Vitex. Less desirable trees such as the Aleppo pine have been introduced as a result of intensive agricultural practices.

The Restoran Aquarius is remembered by us all as the place we ate a delicious pasta with the large clams that the French call ‘Praires’ and which pedantic old me knows as Venus verrucosa! Carolyn took her shells from that first meal back to England and keeps them in a glass jar with a chunky candle at home.

Alas it is not yet open for the season, no welcoming figure comes to the ‘house’ pontoon to help us tie up, but we do see someone come down onto the terrace and purposefully pick up a ladder and carry it, with a large pot of what we believe must be paint, to the rear of the building. Message understood!

There is another konoba in a cove on the south side of the island but this is very firmly closed too. Fortunately we strike lucky at Levrnaka.

Hallo! Sailor!!

Uvala Hiljaca is a dream of an anchorage. The approach takes us through a network of smaller islands. We sail round the coast of Zut island and at last get a glimpse of a small sheltered embayment with a few stone buildings with red tiled roofs scattered along the shoreline. It is still early in the season: there is a konoba which is not yet open and a small group of men working on a wooden quay.

By now the windless heat of the afternoon has settled around Verity. We make tea and Carolyn and I sit in the cockpit and gaze at the view. A young man with an arresting tattoo is drifting across the tiny bay in a shocking pink canoe. The tattoo completely covers is left arm and encircles his left shoulder blade in a sweeping arc.

The men on the quay continue with their construction work but it is not intrusive. We bask in tranquillity. Nick and Mike are derusting an old shackle down below. Soon it will be time to crack a bottle of bubbles, wheel out the nuts and anchovy-stuffed olives and sit in the stern whilst the sun goes down.

We are going to eat onboard and this is Carolyn’s forte. Before we left the Marina she had already mapped out what we will eat, how much to buy, how often we are likely to eat ashore. She has a clear idea of her menus.

Every fresh fruit and vegetable she buys is carefully picked over to remove bugs and then washed. The lettuce is laid out to dry then bagged, it keeps beautifully for days and days. As a special dispensation Verity is carrying spring onions for me and a fat green cabbage for Nick. Tonight she serves a one pot dish of Grilled Chicken breast on wild rice with strawberries to follow.

After a good night we up anchor and head north. Our destination is the island of Rava, lying just off the east coast of Dugi Otok. We all recall a champagne moment at the Villa Rava. This is a waterside restaurant in the small cove on the west coast between Uvala Lokvino and Uvala Marinica. We are hoping to eat dinner there.

The water temperature has been creeping up and it now reads 19.3 degrees. Moored off the Villa Rava, the afternoon heat convinces me that a swim will certainly be cooling and probably invigorating. Now I have shorter hair I am less precious about how I enter the water in an attempt to keep it dry. I can now plunge in. As I do so I recall the words of Napoleon as he urged his men to set sail (and which inspire the title to this post)……….. A l’eau! C’est l’heure!!