Back in time: My boating experience as a beginner, and moving on
>> Croatia motor boat charter in June 1991
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Motor Cruise, 22 – 28 June 1991, from Zadar to its archipelago
An aspiring but imprudent and flawed first motor boat trip, at the start of the Yugoslav Wars.
[I have written this cruise report in hindsight. Much of it is from memory, therefore some details might be inaccurate]
Anne and I had been to the Dalmatian coast around Hvar on a land based holiday in the year before, and liked it a lot.
The original plan for our first boat trip was to join two colleagues from my lab in Vienna, who had done similar trips and been talking fondly of them. We agreed to charter a motor boat to suit the four of us for one week, but unfortunately they backed out closer to the start date, due to worrying news in the media about the risk of an impending war in Yugoslavia.
Anyhow, I am feeling adventurous, and we are keen to proceed on our own, even as beginners.
I had obtained a Croatian boat license ("Küstenpatent") in 1988
To save some money, we want to change the booking to a slightly smaller model for just the two of us, and have another look into the brochure: The Sunturist brochure of 1991 looks oddly 'formal'.
'Luxury' steel cruisers for up to 6 crew are not for us. We turn the page and check out economical smaller boats ...
The choice for crews with no evening dress or saxophone is between several GRP motor boats of 8 to 9.8 meters length.
Those displacement boats are basic but practical and sturdy; they have inboard Diesel engines and allow slow but steady cruising.
Like most first-timers and sun holiday crews, we care mainly about the number of berths, the layout, and the price: We decide to go for a Donat 850 which seems nice on paper; we are looking forward.
It will be the first time I'm in charge of a boat, and I'm eager to prepare myself. I review the notes of the boat course I had attended and then spend a full afternoon with a colleague, who holds a yachtmaster license, quizzing him about his sailing experience in Dalmatia.
Zadar (marina Borik) - Kukljica (Ugljan) - Sali - Telascica (Dugi Otok) - Iz Veli (Iz) - Bozava (Dugi Otok) - Veli Rat/Pantera bay (Dugi Otok) - Zadar.
Total mileage on this trip: about 83nm
The small circles in the green line mark our overnight stops: Zdrelac passage (Ugljan) - Mir cove (Dugi Otok)- Iz Veli harbour - Bozava harbour - Veli Rat/Verunic - Borik marina (Zadar)
Boat: Donat GRP motor boat, length approx. 8.5m (28ft), displacement hull, single inboard diesel engine on shaft drive.
Charter operator: “Sunturist” (Yugoslavia), booking via Krisa GesmbH (Vienna)
Crew: Wilhelm, Anne
June 21, Friday. Journey by car from Vienna to Zadar
Our boat is based in Marina Borik near Zadar.
June 22, Saturday. Marina Borik. Zadar to Ugljan / Pasman passage
Beautiful clear skies and calm weather, a good day for taking the boat over and casting off.
We go through the handover procedure of our boat with our charter operator, and it gets completed without problems.
Instead of an electric fridge the boat has got a large ice box. Handled carefully, this turns out to be practical and efficient, and has got the huge advantage of not running the battery down. The toilet seems to be a DIY modified domestic unit rather than a proper ship's toilet, but it works. The discharge is, of course, direct to sea. All on the boat seems to be simple but is working, and quite adequate for a week's holiday in summerly weather.
Then - as soon as we are ready and trying to leave berth first time - a mooring rope gets in the way. It gets caught in the prop. Oh dear, the boat is hanging on it helplessly without power; that's an embarrassing start. I had not looked out around the boat properly.
A diver is called to free the prop, and I have to pay a fee.
Finally we get out of the marina and head south across the Zadar channel.
Finally having left marina Borik, looking back.
The boat’s naturally aspirated diesel engine appears to run reliably, but it's quite noisy.
After cruising along at 7 knots for an hour or so we arrive at the Zdrelac passage, between the islands of Ugljan and Pasman.
Our plan is to anchor in the wide and protected passage, and stay for the night.
It’s our first anchor manoeuvre, and I am anxious to get it right. The ground is said to be rocky in places.
There are only few boats around, and I anchor near a trawler yacht, and later have a few words with the owner who appears to be an experienced captain.
Anchored in the northwest part of the ample Zdrelac passage, nearer to Ugljan. This is our first night at anchor.
All seems fine, but I’m still a little nervous about the holding of our anchor; the evening is quiet and the night perfectly calm, no problems arise.
June 23, Sunday. To Sali / Dugi Otok, and on to Telascica and Mir cove
A sunny and calm day rises. It's Anne's birthday, but we aren't making a big fuss of it
We motor straight across the Srednji channel towards the island Dugi Otok (Long Island), and have a look around Sali harbour. Sali has not stayed in my memory.
Then we continue towards Katina island, and take the narrow passage between it and Kornat island.
Helmsman at work.
It's traditional chart and compass based navigation, and steering by hand; no GPS, no auto pilot, but there is a depth sounder.
The passage we have to use is Vela Proversa ('Large Proversa' passage). [The more direct route via Mala Proversa, the 'Small Proversa' passage on the north side of Katina island had at that time not yet been blasted open to allow navigation].
In its shallowest part the Vela Proversa passage is said to be only 1.9m deep. Navigating the leading line through the passage, which is marked on stone cones ashore, is a thrilling experience because you know that there are hard rocks in the shallow parts on both sides.
This is the entrance to the Kornati area, where we turn north towards the Telascica bay on Dugi Otok, today's target.
Once inside Telascica, we have the beautiful bay almost to ourselves, and drive up to its head. Then back to Mir cove, where we tie up alongside the public pier for the night. There are only one or two other boats around.
The quiet experience of nature is magical, we truly enjoy the bay.
In the morning we get 'visitors'.
Beautiful morning in Mir cove, tied up alongside
[There were no Nature Park fees and wardens.Today, Telascica with its salt lake is a busy tourists' hotspot. Daily entrance fees are charged, and in season hundreds of day tourists arrive at Mir cove on numerous trip boats which raft up on jetties three and more deep. Multiple rows of mooring buoys are occupied by visiting yachts.]
June 24, Monday. From Telascica to the island of Iz
Mir cove. "Mir" means "peace", and a safe and peaceful haven it was (but, note the guard vessel in the background).
Leaving Telascica we return the way we came, through the Vela Proversa passage, this time going towards the mainland.
Navigation through Vela Provera passage at Katina island (to the right and in the background), looking back. It might look like a wide passage, but you have to keep to a narrow navigation channel, steering on a line marked at both ends by aligning white/black paint marks on rocks ashore.
Once past Katina, we turn northwest and motor towards the island of Iz, leaving Lavdara island to port.
We have chosen the small marina at Veli Iz to stay for this night.
Our first harbour manoeuvre proves to be tricky, despite calm weather conditions.
Our boat has got a single prop on a shaft drive (of course, no bow thruster).
Having read once about prop walk and wash is of no help when asked to handle the actual boat in a real berthing situation in a harbour first time.
Furthermore, the engine noise in the wheelhouse is so intense, that I have no chance to hear what Anne, who is outside on the front deck, desperately tries to tell me, nor do I hear the gesticulating helper/marinaio ashore.
I keep messing up the docking manoeuvre, acting like a deaf fool behind the wheel.
[I had believed that one could learn all you need from a script, and had ignored the importance of practising; all experience I had got at that stage was steering a dinghy with an outboard engine on a couple of occasions.]
Eventually the boat gets into its berthing position, still undamaged, and is tied up.
We get chatting to one of the people who helped, the friendly skipper of a Bavarian sailing yacht. He is cruising with two friends who are co-owners of the boat. I feel I need to talk to him about the difficulties I had with berthing. Of course, I blame it all on the primitive boat and its terrible prop walk. I am only too pleased when he shows empathy; oh no, no, it wasn't my fault, he probably could not have done much better himself... how sweet that sounds to me.
It is our first island harbour, and the boat is tied up safely. In the evening we go out to Iz village together with our new friends to have dinner. It's going to be a good evening, and we have plenty of local wine.
Finally getting back to the boat I go to bed and fall asleep instantly.
Later that night Anne has an accident when leaving the boat to go to the toilet block: She slips off the passarella, and falls down between the boat and the sharp-edged quay wall. Her leg gets wounded badly.
The Bavarian skipper is still around, hears her and is ready to help. He finds the doctor’s house and helps her to the doctor who attends to the wound. It needs stitching and dressing.
"Wilhelm keeps asleep during all that time despite attempts to wake him, like comatose”. So I am told the next morning.
I feel sorry about Anne's accident, but do not see any fault on my side, not even for being unable to help. My view is, that my duty as helmsman and navigator had ended as soon as the boat was tied up ashore, and, that all adults needed to look after themselves in the end.
[That was a regrettable mistake; I had ignored the skipper's duty. He is of course in charge of the safety of his boat and crew at all times, whether under way or moored.
In hindsight, what could have led to the accident, apart from influence of booze and tiredness? During the night the sea level must have fallen. As a consequence, the boat may have moved, its distance and height to the quay changed. Quite possibly it got hazardous to get ashore and back on deck, given the awkward nature of simple passarellas; but a novice may not have enough skills to notice and manage unexpected dangers in the dark.]
25.6. Tuesday. Bozava (Dugi Otok)
Another lovely bright and calm day rises (we have started taking this for granted!).
As soon as matters are settled in Iz Veli marina, we are ready to sail towards the small harbour of Bozava on Dugi Otok, together with the Bavarian sailors who have recommended the harbour, only 11nm to go.
Anne has to take it easy, she must be careful not to let her leg, with the bandage, get wet.
Bozava is quiet and laid back. It seems another pleasant place. The unstable political situation is probably doing its own to scare away tourists.
After berthing, we have beer in the harbour side Konoba right by the pier.
That particular 'Mediterranean' feeling, a warm evening under pine trees, with nothing disturbing the peace, is going to last in my memory.
At Bozava; clear water even inside the harbour
The Bavarian skipper, a true captain
Evening is setting in, we are getting ready to go into the village to have dinner.
Bozava harbour pier in the evening sun. Ours is the small motor boat to the left, with its red tender. Next to it lies Carina, the sailing yacht of our Bavarian friends.
26.6. Wednesday. Pantera bay and Veli Rat
We say au revoir to the Bavarians, and move on towards the north tip of Dugi Otok.
A restaurant with jetty in Veli Rat/Cuna cove invites for an overnight stay. Even for a small boat like ours, the water depth is low at this jetty.
Across the impressing large Pantera bay, then passing Veli Rat towards the sheltered shallow Cuna cove.
Over night the water level sinks further, as could have been expected. The boat seems to slightly touch ground in the morning.
Anyhow, the bottom is soft mud, so it does not cause any problem, and we re-float happily once the water rises.
27.6. Thursday. The threat of war is looming large - going back to the base
On my portable multi-band radio we hear news about military movements and boarder closings between Croatia and Slovenia. The war has been closing in, just what we had hoped would not happen so soon.
We do not want to get stuck in the car en route in Croatia or Slovenia, or to be on a road together with tanks and soldiers. So we decide to return to our home marina Borik the same day.
We intend to get ready to leave from Zadar the following morning, one day before the scheduled end of our charter.
So we motor back all the way, past the northwest tips of islands Tun and Sestrunj towards Ugljan and then across the channel to Zadar, and berth in our charter base Marina Borik.
no caption needed
back in Marina Borik
28.6. Friday. Getting out of the way of war: Ferry Zadar – Venice
The most convenient way to escape trouble, and even get a pleasant end of the holiday, seems to take a car ferry to Italy.
We book the Jadrolinija service from Zadar to Venice, and have another beautiful time at sea - of a different kind of sailing.
At Zadar - business as usual, no worries. Sun, beer, cigarettes and happy faces.
Car Ferry Zadar to Venice. Surprisingly in hindsight, there was no problem getting tickets for this service on June 28th
29.6. Saturday. Venice and return to Vienna
Arriving in Venice is always a nice experience. From here we can drive back to Vienna easily.
Costs: Boat charter price (1991): ATS 8600 (Euro 627)
Ferry Zadar-Venice: 2 passengers 1400 Kn (Euro 184), car (Ford Sierra) 1230 Kn (Euro 161)
In summary, we spent a week under the sun, blessed with warm, calm and stable weather, and surrounded by beautiful nature.
We have been to beautiful bays and pleasant small harbours. Together with the friendliness of the local people and modest prices, this has been a nice experience.
However, it could have been much better, had there not been the accident and other troubles which - in hindsight - were related to my utter lack of practical experience and precaution.
Looking back at some of the nice memories from this trip ...
Moored at Bozava (Dugi Otok)
One of nature's highlights - Mir cove / Telascica
NOTES ABOUT MY BOATING IN THE YEARS FOLLOWING 1991
LIVING IN AUSTRIA
In 1992, living in Vienna, I obtain a license for 10m motor boats on inland waters. I join a friend in purchasing a rib to be used on the Danube; but for some reasons it does not fulfil the expectations and is hardly used.
I am not someone who was born with sea legs, but I keep up my interest in getting a full coastal sailing license. I enrol on a training course with the well- known sailing school Hofbauer in Vienna.
Unfortunately, I have a bad experience on my first practice sail training trip in the Adriatic sea in October 1992, starting from Portoroz (Slovenia):
We are on a 47 ft (14.2m) yacht, packed to the gunwales, together with 10 other trainees, and led by an instructor, who I feel is greater as a sailor than as a coach. He is co-owner of that training vessel - an unfortunate conflict of interest. I remember him shouting at a trainee, apparently worried that someone might do harm to his precious personal investment. I may be too shy, but I feel discouraged and rather try to avoid doing tasks on his yacht than exploring and practising them.
What's worse, his decision to cross the notorious Kvarner Bay in stormy weather turns out 'sickening' to most of us - yes, in its literal terrible meaning. The traumatic first time experience leaves me with hardly any confidence in my yachting abilities at all.
I start dreading the thought of having to do such a trip ever again, whether for training and exam purposes or else. In fact, despite having passed the shore-based exam in 1993, I never went back on one of their yachts. I have never again - touch wood! - been seasick after that; but crossing the Kvarner still commands huge respect to this day.
In early August 1993 I join two friends of a friend of mine for two weeks sailing in the northern Dalmatian islands. My target is to gather experience at sea, needed to qualify for the practical exam. They own a 33ft (10m) yacht based in Pula, and turn out to be nice guys and bold, but rather care-free, sailors.
I like several aspects of this trip, which takes us to places such as Losinj, Iz, the Kornati islands, Telascica, Zut, Murter and Silba, further on to Rab, Krk and Cres. But, I am neither proficient nor at ease being crew, and not much of an asset on board I am afraid.
We do 422 miles in two weeks, and two extensive night trips. I admit that I am far less sporting than they are, and not fond of 'racing' the yacht all day, including struggling with the spinnaker.
More importantly, however, I remember feeling uncomfortable facing the numerous 'challenges' and 'near-misses' that keep arising regularly during this trip.
I start taking it for granted, that dealing daily with unfortunate incidents and (near) accidents is what proper yachting is all about.
'Sudden and unforeseeable' weather hazards forcing emergency escapes seem to be just normal and inevitable.
How would I ever be able to cope with all that hassle and threat if I was in charge of the boat? Very well then, so much for yachting.
In summer 1994 I move to England, and have got other things on my mind than sailing; I miss deadlines to progress and complete the Austrian license.
Later in 1998, having moved to a house in Kew by the tidal river Thames, with a handy pontoon nearby, the desire to have one's own small boat emerges.
LIVING IN ENGLAND
Anyhow, two years on, in May 1996, I grasp the opportunity to join a two weeks' sailing trip through the Cycladic Islands with friends from Vienna. We are five calm guys on a comfortable 41ft (12.5m) yacht. This time it's about relaxed cruising and exploring interesting sites; it's a pleasant hassle-free trip, we are blessed with good weather and having a good time. I am grateful to our skilled skipper and his experienced friends.
I also participate in a couple of sailing weekends on the English south coast with business friends, which go well.
These positive experiences rekindle my interest to become involved with yachting once more: Anyhow, I have realized that I loathe being just 'non-confident' crew, but there is no effortless approach open to me if I wanted to be skipper.
Later in 1996, I decide to turn the page on my previous learning experience, and to take up the Royal Yachting Association RYA training scheme from scratch: I enrol in a remote learning course, and book practical sailing training weekends with Southern Sailing out of Southampton. Those are on smaller sea boats, with a maximum of 4 trainees to one friendly coach.
To me, this brings about the 'turn of the tide'; here, in the tidal Atlantic waters off the English south coast, sailing is a down-to-earth activity. There is not a bit of the unnecessarily stressful and unnerving style of the earlier Austrian training experience. I feel comfortable with taking on all those jobs at hand on a yacht, start enjoying it and being at ease, even on a simple yacht in British late autumn weather... with the ETA at the pub in good time for the last orders.
I further do practical sail training out of Gibraltar in the following year.
I get Jane interested, and we start looking on the used boat market. By end of October I buy our first little motor cruiser, an older Sealine 255 of 26ft (8m), to be kept on the river Thames.
Slowly we are getting to grips with handling a twin outdrive motor boat.
In April 2000 Jane and I go on a week's RYA practical motor yacht coaching in Gomera/Canary islands. My intention is to extend my coastal skipper license from sail to motor, and Jane is going to acquire competent crew skills.
With a relaxed mature skipper trainer on a private charter yacht, under - for Gomera - unusual and extremely stormy weather conditions, this is a valuable experience for both of us.
I convince Jane, who has never been to Croatia, that Dalmatia is a nice cruising ground and quite different from the Canaries.
In June 2000 we embark on our first charter trip in post-war Croatia.
At that stage, we are in our early days of practical Med cruising experience, and are exploring. However, I am no longer a novice to yachting.
There is still a long way to go before we will be aware of the best kind of boat for us, and be confident in all Med manoeuvres.
But I know what I am doing, we are well and safe, and are enjoying it as we go.
This trip of 2000 will mark the start of a series of annual charter trips, where we will be trying out different motor yachts.
This experience eventually helps decision making when it's time to think about our own boat for the Med.
Meanwhile in the UK, later in 2000, our small Sealine is taken from London to the south coast, where it reveals its severe limitations in prevailing wind and seas.
I replace it with a larger more seaworthy craft, a 33ft (10m) Fairline Targa with twin Diesel engines.
'Ileana' at Brixham (Devon)
We base the boat in Southampton, which is fairly easy to reach from London, and are going to have a few good seasons cruising the Solent and nearby south coast.
Jane & 'Harry' at Weymouth, and Yarmouth (Isle of Wight)
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