It’s All Relative – England/Croatia 2015
Mine and Rick’s first foreign trip together was our honeymoon in St. Maarten. One night, we ventured over to an old-school restaurant, claiming a romantic table on a balcony overlooking Marigot harbor on the French side of the island. At the end of our dinner, we were presented with a check of 665. Both of us gulped hard, and worried that our credit limits might not accommodate that total. Thankfully, it dawned on us that the tab was in Francs, and we could divide by 6 to approximate our total in dollars. Whew!
A few weeks ago, a similar calculus was at work. It was the first night of a sailing charter in the Adriatic Sea among the many islands off the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia with our friends Skip and Harriet, and Pat and Emily. We moored along a rocky shore off the island of Šolta, bobbing in crystalline deep green waters in Šešula bay.
Crystal clear green waters and craggy shores along Šešula bay and the restaurant where we enjoyed dinner.
The price for the mooring was having dinner at the adjacent restaurant, Konoba Šešula. Our local captain, Roko, told us the restaurant was “OK.” Well, it was more than OK to me. Any place that lets me choose my fish from among the days catch is much better than OK. We dined Mediterranean-style on the scary-looking but deliciously grilled scorpion fish and local produce and bread, and quaffed many a bottle of Croatian wine.
Yes, we did name this fish — over 2 kg. deserves his own identity.
The toll at the end of the evening was 1800. Kuna that is. (Croatia is in the European Union, but has not adopted the Euro currency.) With an exchange rate similar to that of Franc to the Dollar on our honeymoon, we divided by 6 and discovered we’d feasted for a very modest $300 for 7 of us.
And so it was for the rest of our week among the islands of Šolta, Brač, Hvar and its satellites the Pakleni Islands (islets, more like). Roko took us somewhere wonderful and we paid a reasonable price for it (after dividing by 6). In the town of Stari Grad, on the island of Hvar, we got 3 liters of decent white wine, poured from a barrel into empty water bottles, for a mere 60 Kuna (less than $10).
It may not be pretty or classy, but it was good wine.
Initially, we weren’t too thrilled with the idea of having a skipper. We’ve got a lot of nautical miles under our keels and a lot of experience chartering boats, even ones bigger than the 44 foot catamaran we’d chosen from Sunsail’s fleet. But sailing in the Adriatic requires a license which none of us has, and we weren’t inclined to scramble to get and pay for one. Ultimately, having a captain was good value. He managed the tricky business of mooring [See Moondance’s Blog ]. He did the Croatian speaking for us (despite our game attempts to learn a few words, and despite the Croatians’ excellent English, it was a great help to have a native speaker among our crew). And he took us to places we wouldn’t otherwise have found.
Case in point was our second night. Roko had arranged for us to have dinner in a beautiful setting near the village of Dračevica on the island of Brač. After a taxi ride inland and way uphill, we were ushered through to a terraced villa overlooking cultivated fields. At a wooden table under a spreading tree, we – and no other guests – shared a locally-sourced meal of grappa, local vegetables and ham, spit-roasted lamb, and dessert cheeses. And lots of local wine. It felt like a scene from a movie, or from a travel program.
A beautiful setting with delicious local food.
A priceless experience, at a reasonable price.
If Croatia had us dividing by 6, the days we spent in London before and after our Croatia sail had us doing the opposite. As sailors, we cope with the inflated price of all things “marine” by calculating them in “Boat Units” – the value of a Unit varying with the size and complexity of your boat. It’s less painful to say that a new mainsail will set you back 10 Units than the actual price. Given that London is a notoriously expensive city, I simply let my brain assume that a British pound was the equivalent of a US Dollar.
Unlike our experiences in Croatia, where the modest price of top-notch experiences allowed us the best of everything, most of the pleasures we experienced in London were more moderate. Pub lunches and bistro dinners away from the glittering thoroughfares of swanky London. Walking around until our feet ached, and taking public transportation, instead of taxis. By no means did it lessen our experience; it merely lessened the load on our credit cards!
Rick and Harriet enjoying a pint in a pub.
All of that walking in London confirmed to us, once again, how much more compact and congested Europe is than the US. When we have chartered in the Caribbean, one of the running jokes is that you can easily tell North Americans from Europeans by how close they anchor. They clearly have a different sense of space than Americans, accustomed as they are to close quarters in the homes and on their roads. This became more than abundantly clear during our Croatian sail.
Narrow streets like these in Hvar Town and Stari Grad remind us how accustomed Europeans are to tight quarters.
Our first night at Šešula was merely a pre-cursor, with a dozen or so boats moored stern-to the shore, separated only by fenders. Roko had told us that the first night is usually quite crowded, since most charters in the region start on Saturday and can only get so far from the base, there are a handful of destinations where everyone gathers.
Perhaps our catamaran Jams was aptly named; it got jammed into a lot of tight spots, like this one in Šešula.
This did not prepare us for the next night, which was even more of an awakening. We’d headed to the Palmižana marina across a channel from one of the prime destinations in the Dalmatian Islands – the town of Hvar.
Scenic Hvar Town.
Consisting of basically 3 docks, Palmižana’s marina accommodates 180 (!) boats. The boats are tied stern-to the dock, and wedged in using K-Y and a shoehorn (OK, exaggerating; but only a little).
Roko watches carefully, but without alarm, as boats anchor close to ours at a popular swimming spot.
Once the dock was full, we were no more than a fender’s width away from our neighbors. When cruising in the Bahamas, we’d probably have made plans for happy hour together. In the US or the Caribbean, we’d at least introduce ourselves and find out a little bit about each other. In Croatia, the practice seems to be to put blinders on and benignly ignore neighbors. And yes, close the shades in the head and cabins so as to avoid unintended exposure (not that Europeans seem to mind, judging from the prevalence of tight Speedo swim trunks and bikinis, regardless of the wearer’s physique).
Just to add more to the festivities, we were sharing the marina with a flotilla of about 50 boats carrying 20-somethings of all nationalities engaging an annual event called Yacht Week. It’s a series of week-long trips throwing together both friends and strangers aboard yachts for a week of port-to-port partying (if one of the destinations’ names being “Carpe Diem Beach” is any indication, it sounds dangerously fun). So Palmižana was full of shrieking, braying, hooting, laughing, howling, and throwing each other in the water. What I want to know is: where was this when I was a 20-something? And how could I have gotten my parents to pay for it?
Fun at Yacht Week. How come I never got to do this?
Even after the Yacht Week flotilla moved to bays where we wouldn’t be, the bays were full of boats. Luckily, Captain Roko knew where to go, whom to call, and how to get us situated at a quay or mooring that would keep us from the fate that befell other charterers, puttering around looking for somewhere safe to tie up, or tied to a tree or rock onshore and suffering a miserable night rolling at anchor and wondering if it would hold.
Amazingly, the high season had yet to begin, so heavier crowds could be expected in a few weeks. For me and Rick, who typically seek solitude, this was very different kind of trip. We learned very quickly that even though not many North Americans knew much about sailing in Croatia, it has most definitely been discovered.
The season has yet to begin, but Split is busy and vibrant.
More to come.