Dalmatian adventure

In my previous post I mentioned that I’d been on holiday in Croatia at the start of this month. Mrs TD’s sister and her husband have a yacht and had invited us to join them for eight days’ sailing down part of the Dalmatian coast.

Boat Kastel marina

That’s the boat we lived in for over a week

They’d been sailing for some time up and across the Adriatic before we arrived. We joined them at a marina just outside Split (we’d flown to Split airport). It was my first visit to Croatia, but Mrs TD had been many years ago in the days of Yugoslavia. It was also our first experience of sailing, so we were a bit apprehensive as well as excited.

It took some time to get used to boarding the boat from the quay via a narrow plank (BIL tried to instil some nautical terminology into us: it’s called a passerelle!) I don’t know why yachty types insist on making boarding and disembarking so precarious; why can’t they provide a nice, wide, safe method, with handrails?

Leaving Split table mountainThe view back towards the mainland on leaving the marina was magnificent. The mountain range that looms over Split reminded us of Table Mountain in Cape Town.

Our first stop was the island of Solta. We anchored in a small bay and enjoyed swimming and paddle-boarding. Cicadas on shore chirped enthusiastically all day.

From there we sailed to Hvar island. The Croat (or is it Serbo-Croat?) for island is otok. It’s a strange language. Like Turkish, its vocabulary bears almost no relation to other European languages. The small marina supermarket bore the word ‘ulaz’ next to its English equivalent, ‘entrance’.

We moored near the pretty harbour of Stari Grad, which simply means ‘old town’. Which it is. It was founded around 385 BC as a Greek colony called Pharos. In the town centre is Tvrdalj Castle, the impressive stone fortress-house that belonged to the 15-16C local poet Petar Hektorović. Like most of the honey-coloured buildings in the town, it looks Venetian, but inside there’s a cloistered courtyard with a pool in its middle that looks quite Moorish. It’s a beautiful, cool haven of peace in what would have been a turbulent place during all the centuries since it was built.

Next day we sailed to the island of Vis. Much of the time there was almost no wind, so we had to motor, but when the wind got up and we had the main sail and a smaller one in front (BIL insists it’s called a ‘genoa’ – I think that’s right) unfurled (I’m sure that’s not the right word) it was a magical experience. We even saw a small pod of dolphins at one point.

It was my birthday that day. We had a wonderful meal in a thatched, open-sided beach restaurant that we had to access by dinghy. The view was amazing; it was like I imagine the Caribbean to be: coral pink sunset, then inky blue-black night sky, with the sea shimmering and blinking with the lights reflected from the anchored boats and from the restaurant’s lights. The Serbian waiter (almost all the waiters we met seemed to be Serbian) brought out a surprise dessert bowl for me with a sparkler fizzing in its centre. The whole restaurant sang happy birthday – in English!

Bobovišća harbour

Bobovišća harbour

The next island stop was Brač, and a pretty harbour in a sheltered bay. This village was called Bobovišća. Like most of the harbours we saw, this too looked Venetian. As we ate outdoors on the harbour that night a full moon rose above the cypress trees that line the slopes above: huge and pale orange, a harvest moon I suppose.

Next day strong winds were forecast, so we returned to the marina for our last two days. Caught a taxi from there to Trogir. This was another ancient fortified harbour town, with imposing defensive walls around the old town, bristling with fortress-towers at key points.

The Romanesque-gothic cathedral of St Lawrence dominates the central square. Its accretions as a Christian building mirror the history of the country: it was destroyed in the 12C by Saracens, and rebuilding continued for the next five centuries. It survived the various invasions and occupations during this time, from the Turks and Venetians to the Austrians and Hungarians. No wonder they built so many fortresses and walls around the town.

Possible St Mary of Egypt, Trogir

Possible St Mary of Egypt, Trogir

It’s a picturesque place, full of narrow alleys in which churches and monasteries rub shoulders with shops and houses. Outside a 14C Dominican church-monastery I noticed over the main door this carving of three figures. The one on the right is striking: she’s covered head-to-foot with flowing long hair. I’d like to think this is another image of my favourite saint, Mary of Egypt. This is how she’s often depicted, as I’ve written several times here before. The Latin inscription simply gives the name of the sculptor, Niccolo Dente, known as Cervo.

And those were the highlights of our first time as proper sailors. I now know how to use a roving fender…