Our first proper trip out in Mariadz of 2023 was the start of our holiday to Montenegro and southern Croatia. A quick two week trip around this part of the Adriatic. A month before we had removed the hula hula skirt around mariadz by going out into the bay, anchoring and then scraping it off by hand. The difference in handling on the way to the anchorage and the way back was night and day. She was now ready for a summer of nice trips. We have also been removing non essentials from the boat, including the passerelle, we have a wooden plank with wheels and space is at a premium, but more of that later.
We had decided, both having new permanent jobs, that we would maximise our holiday by including the May bank holiday. So on the Friday, we go off to the port police to check out for the boat and to get our passport stamped. At the office the friendly policeman who is dealing with us asks if we are going to Montenegro to reset our VAT clock. This relates to the eighteen months that a British boat has in Europe before it is classed as imported and you are required to pay the local Tax. We were both very keen to point out that the VAT for the boat was paid in Malta so it is European VAT paid already. In two weeks, when we return we will be able to test this with the customs team who have been singularly uninterested in us so far. So after some time, our passports and boat papers have been stamped and we are ready to go.
We are back to the boat and doing final preparations whilst we finish work. By 6pm, we are ready to go for our overnight trip to Montenegro, a distance of about 120 miles. We have checked several forecasts including our beloved Meteo and they are all predicting a very nice 14 knots right on the beam, the best place for it. We should have a lovely sail over. We drop our lines and gently leave our berth, go past the castle at the entrance of Brindisi and parallel to the long sea wall. It’s exciting, our first proper holiday in the med on our own boat and we both need the rest and reset from work life. As we exit the entrance of the outer harbour, the wind isn’t where we expect it. Instead of blowing a north westerly onto our beam it is blowing northerly, possible with a bit of east in it! We also notice that despite having cleaned up the log, that tells our speed through the water, we do not have speed showing on our instruments which also means that the wind speed is the wind going across the deck so we need to adjust it to consider our speed and direction.
This has torpedoed our chances of a nice sail across to Montenegro. With the wind in that position, we are beating into it with seas crashing against the hull, slowing us down. It’s going to be a bit crashy and a bit slow since we don’t want to double the distance by tacking across the Adriatic. There is a reason that gentlemen don’t go to windward!
We start under sail but the wind is pretty much coming from our destination so I have to aim a bit more east trying to balance speed with direction. At this stage we have most of the main out, the staysail and about half of the headsail. The wind across the deck is about 20knots meaning the actual wind is probably 15 knots, pretty much in our faces with a corresponding sea slowing us down with waves crashing against the hull. Normally we would expect to knock out 120 miles in about 17 hours but this is clearly going to be slower.
We have decided on this trip that we will take it in turns to get some rest, up to a couple of hours at a time each. Hopefully it means we won’t be too tired when we arrive and, despite a late night and a poor sleep before leaving, we should be fine to stay awake.
The sailing is mostly uneventful for the first few hours and Maria is resting. I can see a fishing boat on AIS going slowly and towards us. We are also on AIS so they will be able to see us. At night we are sporting a tricolour light at the top of the mast because we are under sail. For some reason, the fisherman doesn’t seem to like this as they check out where we are with a large spotlight shining on our sails. They go harmlessly along our port side as we keep beating into the wind.
We settle down for a long sail. Sunset is lovely and the stars come out and it is spectacular. Our daughter Rachel has informed us that Rowan John Park, our first grandson, has had a star named after him. If only we knew which one!
However, we are going slowly. Mariadz normally likes a minimum of 45 degrees off the wind to sail nicely and there is no way we can go off in completely the wrong direction so I am trying to pinch the wind as much as possible, making us go slower but closer to our destination. When Maria awakes we discuss it, we are going too slowly so we agree to start the engine and motor sail. We will need to bring in the headsail so we can go closer to the wind but we should make better time. Our speed increases to about 6.5 knots which is closer to the seven knots we normally plan on when we have good weather.
It is getting close to dinner time and Maria has decided to stay Italian for our meal this evening. She has made an orecchiette and cime di rapa dish. Quite simple but really tasty and just what we need as we prepare for a long nights sail.
As Mariadz ploughs her way through the Adriatic, we take it in turns to get our rest but the trip is uneventful with hardly any ships getting near us. Before long it is sunrise but we are barely half way to our destination. Interestingly, it is not long after this that Maria looks at the horizon and says she can see land. That can’t be right, we are fifty miles from our destination and at least forty miles from land. However, it is exactly right since the spectacular mountains of Montenegro rise high and fast from the water line giving a spectacular view.
For the next few hours we are watching the land getting slowly bigger and bigger. It seems to take ages til we are entering the mouth of the river which leads to Porto Montenegro, our destination for the night. As we do a British registered Grand Banks motor cruiser nudges a little ahead of us but it gives us someone to follow.
The scenery is breathtaking with tree covered mountains on all sides. These seem to have villages and purpose built developments dotted around and you can’t seem to see how they access these since they are surrounded by trees with no obvious roads.
We call in to the marina who direct us to the customs dock. One of the problems we have when coming to unfamiliar marinas is knowing how high the pontoon that you will moor to will be. Sometimes they are inches above the water with quite a step down, or they could be dock level. In this case they towered three feet above the deck with strategically placed ladders which whilst useful for climbing the gap, struck as perfect things to scratch the hull of the boat since they sit very proud. We decide to stop about half way along the dock, noting that the motor boat we saw is right at the front. A policewoman came up to us and tells us we have to move right up to behind the motor boat. There doesn’t seem much room between their stern and the next ladder, which I don’t want to go near but Maria steers Mariadz expertly a few metres parallel to the dock until she is closing on the expected berth. A member of Porto Montenegro comes out to help us by taking our lines and then we are sat there and ready to check in.
I grab our papers and am escorted to the group of offices where all of the officials wait for us. First stop the police for a passport and boat papers check. We have our stamps so it is over to the harbour masters office to get our vignette to allow us to travel around Montenegro, we are only expecting to be there a few days so I have to take the week long option. The tourist office allows me to pay the tourist tax before finally speaking to customs to tell them we don’t have much money and little alcohol. It takes a little time, especially as the port staff prepares some papers for us to submit but it is very efficient and costs us a little but nothing for the marina where we are staying the night.
As we are about to leave, I ask the port staff whether we can stop at the fuel berth and fill up our fuel. We didn’t want to do this at Brindisi where it is €2.20 per litre, or €1.65 if we take our cans to the petrol station – several times! In Montenegro, the price is €1.34, much more palatable and the cheapest fuel we have had since Gibraltar last year.
But first we have to get off the customs dock. Coming in was easy, just drive into the cul de sac and park up on the right. Going out would take a bit more though. You can’t just turn the stern off the quay because the bow would slam into the dock. If there is any wind holding you onto the dock then you will need to spring off, once off it is east since it opens up to allow you to turn around in front of the audience of the public swimming pool before heading back out of the marina. There is little wind but we have perfected our little sideways exit and have to do this in astern. So maria turns the wheel hard over to port to take the stern off and then uses the bow thruster to stop the bow going near the dock. Once mariadz is far enough off the dock, she can start to turn to perform the 180 turn to head towards the fuel dock. Performed perfectly. The audience at the pool don’t get to see a disaster and Maria refrains from taking a bow to rapturous applause. Of course now I have about fifteen seconds to change the boat around, moving fenders to the other side and making sure they are touching the water for this very low pontoon. Last is the three lines, bow, mid and stern ready to hold Mariadz in place. The two guys on the fuel deck are very helpful taking lines and making sure we are fine but of course maria has brought her in nice and slowly so there is no drama. 477 litres of fuel later and Mariadz is full up and ready for more fun.
I have now told Maria that we are expected to go into the middle of the marina and take berth C06, quite a long way in. This is of course the first time we have been out, apart from taking her to get her bottom wiped clean (Mariadz not Maria) so it is almost a year since the big voyage from the UK to Italy and confidence is obviously a little low. Maria is now apprehensive about squeezing Mariadz into this berth but we set off. The trick in these situations is to be just fast enough to have total control as going too slow can cause it’s own problems as does hammering around at full throttle! Maria is very comfortable with her boat and starts to bring her in. We are constantly talking in these situations. Staying to the left on approach before swinging Mariadz around to the other side, going into astern and starting to bring her into the double width berth we have been given. maria is doing it brilliantly and it is isn’t long before we are a few metres from the dock with the marina staff waiting patiently. I throw the line, hopelessly, it falls well short of the dock. Gather it up and throw again – same story. The wind is starting to get Mariadz as does going very slowly at this stage so Maria needs to do some corrections to keep Mariadz in the gap and away from the boats on either side. As she brings Mariadz back in, we go with the other line which this time reaches its destination and is looped around and returned to me. I can finally, at the third attempt get the other line ashore and we are now sitting with both stern lines on. I ask for maria to go forward to get the stern steady and then use the bow thruster to control the bow whilst I get the lazy lines for the bow. Our helpful marina staff hand me the lazy lines, which are remarkably clean and I tie them off at a reasonable tension. This is something we have now learnt. Initially have the boat quite a way from the dock, tie on the lazy lines and then use the stern lines to bring her towards the dock providing tension on the lazy lines and making sure she doesn’t move. I go aft to tighten up the stern lines and we are good.
When we don’t have the passarelle, we lower the swim platform and put the plank on it. This works fine although it can be a bit awkward if the rib is up in the davits. You are on your hands and knees. We are quite a good distance from the dock and the plank only just reaches. If only we had a brilliant passarelle that plugs into the stern and gives you a safe route down to the dock, now where is that……. Brindisi!
In the end I have to loosen the lazy lines on the bow so that we can get Mariadz closer to the dock after we have lowered the rib and tied her to the side. It takes time but all is done and we are able to see the marina and all its facilities. Whilst at the fuel dock we had asked the locals for somewhere to eat that wasn’t too commercial and touristy. They had given a recommendation and when we went to the marina office to check in with them, they also recommended the same place.
So we set off for a reasonably early dinner, remember we have had relatively little sleep so an early is night is in order. The restaurant of choice was Big Ben, funny name for a Montenegrin restaurant but apparently inspired from the owners time in London when studying and coming up with the idea of the restaurant. There is a wide selection of food from burgers to pasta and pizza but we are keen to have something local and have some great starters and traditional meet mains. Far too much food as usual but washed down with some local wine and not ridiculously expensive, probably half of what we would have spent around the marina for something less authentic. Finally the view across the bay was awesome, a perfect end to a hard day travelling.
We get back to the boat for a quick night cap prior to the sleep we have been imagining that will set us up for the holiday. Early the next morning someone has gone on the catamaran behind us and closest to our heads in the bedroom and started using power tools to bring out parts of the hull. It means we don’t get the restful lie in we were hoping for. It also makes up our minds, we are not normally ones who want to go into marinas, when in England and going out on the boat we much preferred to go and find a nice quiet anchorage.
We also need to catch up with our new Brindisi friends, Mike and Mio, who asked us to bring a new carburettor for their outboard which they had delivered to Brindisi. They have been around Montenegro for about three weeks trying out different anchorages. We have decided to go into the northern bay and anchor in somewhere called morinjsk saliva. A lovely little anchorage which apparently has a lovely fish restaurant which is a short rib ride down a river. We are eating a Barbecue in the evening, however a light fish lunch may be just perfect.
I have explained to the marina why we are leaving earlier than expected which was due to the noise and not the €130 cost for mooring. We are ready to go. Dropping the lazy lines while maria powers forward gently. I then remove the stern line adjacent to the boat we moored next to – there may have been two spaces but we didn’t “park” in the middle of them! That brings mariadz towards the middle of the two berths and gives her some room to manoeuvre. Maria confidently takes Mariadz out of her berth, pulling her rib Connie along behind. It is a short six mile journey to the anchorage in a calm inland waterway at a gentle pace so there was no risk pulling Connie along in the water. There is a channel that separates these two bays which is quite busy with ferries going across regularly so it is a bit like frogger avoiding these but that is the only complexity apart from finding exactly where you want to anchor when you arrive. With huge mountains rising around the water, it is clearly very deep but we have enough chain to choose our own spot and find something that is front of a beach bar. Maybe somewhere for later.
We are anchored and will be meeting Mike and Mio later so decide to get straight off and find this amazing fish restaurant. As mentioned it is up a short river from where we are and there is a little bridge by the side of the beach bar so we head towards that. We are able to get under this with only a little ducking but this does seem quite shallow, then there is a gentle scraping of river bed against Connie’s fibreglass hull. Stopped we have to reverse back out with half of the outboard out of the water to make sure it doesn’t contact the bottom, a much bigger problem. We spin around slowly and sheepishly return under the bridge, maybe we should walk. As we reappear from under the bridge, there is a man standing there. “Restaurant”, “yes” – the river entrance is a hundred metres away tucked around a little outcrop and hence why we didn’t see it. This river is much nicer, it has abridge but with headroom and is much deeper. As we appear from under the bridge there is a fantastic motorhome and caravan site right on the waters edge with people setting up in their own private waterfront gardens. As keep going, it is very picturesque and we can see two more bridges and the beautiful restaurant in front of us.
We haven’t really dressed up so we are not surprised to be put into a quiet corner away from other guests, actually that is pretty much what we wanted. Maria is the food expert but the food was wonderful and whilst not cheap, it was excellent quality with really good service. On our return we quickly catch up with Mike and Mio, who have now arrived, before getting a little rest and doing some boat chores before the evening.
A wonderful evening with our new friends as we barbecued using our lotus grill which hadn’t been used for a while so took some coaxing. It wasn’t too late a night although apparently Mio has a set time she likes to get to bed but she hasn’t met a rule breaker like Maria before!
After a great nights sleep, having tidied up the boat before we went to bed, we get ready to check out from Montenegro to head to Dubrovnik in Croatia. leaving the anchorage, we wave so long to our friends, and head to the offices to check out. It is the same but opposite of the check in procedure and we are again ably assisted by the Porto Montenegro staff, it is worth staying there just for the convenience their help provides. Maria does the same as she had done a few days before and we are in and out quite quickly,
We have now left montenegro to start the rest of our holiday touring the southern islands of Croatia between Dubrovnik and Split.