It had been been a long, cold isolated winter in Pula because of Covid-19, and we were anxious to get away from our apartment where we, like many others in Croatia, had spent the last two months locked down. As soon as the restrictions were lifted and cases had gone down to just a handful in May, we decided to plan a sailing trip on our 34-foot sailboat “Rita.”
Since sailing is somewhat a solitary activity with plenty of water and sea air surrounding you, it was deemed by the Croatian government to be a safe activity and actually encouraged after the major crisis had passed. It was the last week in May, but surprisingly chilly when we embarked from Marina Veruda in Pješćana Uvala.
Mike had met a couple from Austria on our pier just a few days before our journey that would be heading out right after us for six weeks. As experienced Adriatic sailors they shared a number of spots worth visiting as we planned to make our way to Dugi Otok and Telašćica National Park. They even gave Mike an informative book about all the harbors along the Adriatic coast and islands. This trip was going to be just a trial run for a longer one we had planned for the end of June to sail south down the Adriatic coast to the Kornati islands, the coastal town of Šibenik and to Krka National Park.
Our plan for the first trip was to go for 8 to 10 days and visit Croatia’s version of Long Island known as Dugi Otok, where Telašćica National Park was located. Dugi Otok literally means Long Island in Croatian, and it lives up to its name as it is 45 kilometers (30 miles) in length and the 7th largest island in the Adriatic Sea.
Making New Friends
Andy and Kathy, who kept their sailboat at our marina, were really the first sailors we had spoken with since the Covid 19 had hit Europe in February. The piers at Marina Veruda had been virtually empty for months as most of the boat owners hail from Germany, Austria, Italy and Slovenia. The couple was from Tyrol in Austria, a ski resort town which had been hit somewhat hard by the virus by virtue of its being an international ski destination. Both had taken a test clearing them so they could travel, and they were glad to be in Croatia. They would have to take another one to get back into Austria on the standing restrictions when they left, which meant a 14 day quarantine for them if they didn’t test. At this time, only property and boat owners from other countries were allowed to visit Croatia as well as those with special exemptions, like long term visas, etc.
We were just emerging out of the apartment in a more deliberate, but careful manner, agreeing to meet with friends who we knew had been holed up and taking the restrictions seriously, but still it felt weirdly liberating to be able to talk to people from another country about their experiences in the post coronavirus world.
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
― Henry Miller
Mike and I discussed as we set sail that it’d be nice to make some connections with people on this sailing trip as the last one we went on we tried to dodge people instead of making friends. For example on one trip to Mali Lošinj with our friends James and Carolyn, there were two boats on either side of us filled with German men, eight on each boat and they invited us over for drinks and apologized in advance for the techno music that was to play loudly all night. We kindly declined their invitation, but they didn’t disappoint with the music. It was a long, loud night and morning. Really long.
The Mali Lošinj harbor at that time in late May of 2018 had been completely full, with multitudes of sailboats and motor yachts from all over the region: Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Poland, France, Italy, etc. The pier had a lively party feel and while exciting, we weren’t into late nights and staying up drinking till all hours of the morning. We were happy just to have a macchiato, explore the island and visit a delicious restaurant or two.
But things felt different now after the lockdown. Life had changed a lot since that trip in many ways. Human encounters seemed not only more dangerous because of the virus, but they felt more precious as well. And also a curiosity existed in us on how others had dealt with the isolation involved in quarantines and minimizing human contact.
Heading Out to Sea
On this trip we were headed back to Mali Lošinj because it’s a beautiful island and the town boasts beautiful Austrio-Hungarian architecture besides the delicious seafood restaurants. In addition, because it is about a 6 to 8 hour sail from Pula, it’s a good stopping point on the way to Dugi Otok, which is much further down the Adriatic coastline.
We had a particularly robust sail all the way to the island with 18 -20 knot winds and I was surprised at how cold it was. I mean the end of May in my hometown in Louisiana is normally fairly warm and here I was buried in a padded windbreaker and jeans and sorry I hadn’t brought a knit cap for my head. The boat stayed heeled over most of the way and we had trouble doing anything besides sailing at this point.
We had seen a dark grey thundercloud skirting the shoreline as we sailed, but out at sea, the winds were strong, but there were no storms to hinder us. Unfortunately, as we turned to head into the island channel a storm hit us with 28-30 knots (nautical miles per hour) sustained winds and gale force wind gusts at 45 knots. In the small channel we were in, a motor yacht pulled right next to us preventing us from turning to windward to get the mainsail completely down. Fortunately we had taken down the jib a little while earlier, but having the mainsail up and not being able to turn into the wind meant trouble. As Mike tried to pull it down as I steered the boat, the sail got stuck and flailed wildly as the winds shook and rattled our poor “Rita.”
Okay, I admit it, I panicked. I went into “deer in the headlights” mode while trying to steer the boat into the wind as we attempted to get the mainsail down. It’s a furling mainsail, so the angle of the boat has to be just right to pull it into the compartment in the mast where it stays furled. It clanged loudly as it flapped about viciously. The waves were knocking us all around, and Mike was yelling at me to do something, but my brain had checked out. I steered this way and that, but the wind and the beating sail were just too much and kept flipping us around and I wound up steering us in circles.
Finally after what seemed like hours but was probably more like minutes, I was able to get the boat into the wind at the correct angle, and Mike quickly pulled in the mainsail. We were able to move through the violent waves with a little more control, but we were still bouncing around furiously. I have to admit I was a bit freaked out. Shaking really. I’m not well seasoned for bad weather, and I imagined my incompetence had caused some major damage to the mainsail or mast. (It hadn’t.) We got trounced about for a while heading into the channel that lead into Mali Lošinj, and then, suddenly, the storm disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.
It was time to prepare to dock at Mali Lošinj’s main harbor, and I was still shaking when we motored up to it. It was such a strange site at the harbor as the piers were almost empty. The marineros (dock attendants) guided us to a pier with just two other boats, both sailboats. Where was everyone? The giant crowds of people who rock the pier in late spring through the summer were nowhere to be found. I was dumbfounded by the emptiness of the harbor, although there were a few people out and about on the square. Still, what had the corona done to this thriving tourist destination?
Mike and I immediately went down below after we tied up. We did a “post-mortem” and talked about what we did wrong in the gale situation. We both had made mistakes, me definitely more so, but the Captain didn’t judge me too harshly saying we should have taken both of our sails down long before we had gotten to that point in the water. Then like good sailors, we had some grog, and I probably was a little heavy handed when I poured the rum. Okay, I definitely over poured but we didn’t really notice. Whoops.
We then stumbled on the deck in search of a good restaurant for dinner as our stomachs were completely empty because we had had such a vigorous sail all day that we hadn’t stopped for a second to eat. We walked by a German-flagged boat and said hello to the crew, a couple from a town outside of Frankfurt. They responded warmly and we stopped and had a long conversation with them about the coronavirus, our brisk sail, and the situation in the USA and in Germany. They seemed really kind and very friendly and kind of “in the same boat” as us with wanting to kindle friendships after the lockdown. So kind that they invited us to come to their boat after our dinner for a drink and told us of a nice restaurant to go which had a great seafood dinner. The restaurant we had been to previously when we visited was closed because of the virus.
So we went to the restaurant they recommended and ate and drank a lot of wine with dinner. The dinner was a delicious seafood platter grilled and fresh. After we finished we were both exhausted and full (and a little tipsy, I might add.) It was 10ish and I told Mike there was no way we could go to that couple’s boat in the shape we were in and at that late hour. He agreed. I was sad we would probably not see them again as they had told us they were leaving early the following morning. We had blown a possible friendship on our trip.
Our exhaustion caused us to sleep late the next morning and Mike stayed on the boat while I decided to go have a look around the island and see if I could find a knit cap to keep me warm at sea. We had already decided to stay another night in port just to take the trip slow and enjoy the unusually quiet pace of the island. I walked past a museum touting it had only one item exhibited in it (read my upcoming post about the Museum of Apoxyomenos) and it peaked my interest. I decided to go in by myself as I knew that this wasn’t something Mike would like.
So imagine my surprise when I am returning down our pier and see Mike sitting on the German couple’s boat with the sailing book that Andy had given him, chatting with them like they are long lost BFFs. It was 1 p.m. and the couple was still at the dock. I climbed aboard their boat, and we had another long chat as I apologized for our “no show” the previous night. They understood completely and were anxious to give us recommendations on other places we should visit on this journey.
Franz and Eva-Maria were leaving soon as they had met the other people on the only other boat on our pier that night. They were heading out to meet them at a cove in a few hours. Mike and I decided to stay put in Mali Lošinj as previously decided, but all four of us thought it would be fun to meet up the following night at a beautiful nearby island called Silba, instead of our original plan which was to make our way much further south towards Dugi Otok. Our priorities had changed because of this virus and it warmed my heart that we had made a connection with such a sweet couple.
We’d spend a lot more time with our new friends in the coming month.
“There are secret opportunities set inside every failure.”
To be continued…..
(Our adventures in our next destinations, including the islands of Silba and Zverinac, Dugi Otok will follow in the next installment of Heading Out to Sea After the Coronavirus in Croatia, Part Two)