After doing minor repairs on the plumbing issues we had on our first journey, my husband and I took another sailing trip on Sailing Vessel RITA down to the Kornati Islands in late June of 2020. We visited many different islands as well as the city of Šibenik and Telašćica, Kornati and Krka National Parks. It was an epic adventure and I highly recommend it to any sailor who hasn’t sailed to the Croatian Islands. This first post is an overview of the many different islands you come into contact with when sailing in the Adriatic.
I’ve yet to be able to take a picture and capture the beauty of our times sailing the Adriatic Sea through these hundreds of Croatian islands. There are over 1100 of them out there and it is truly more than just one picture can portray or encompass, more like a panoramic movie you find yourself sailing through.
Use Your Words
When I’m on the islands themselves, I’ve gotten close to capturing elements of the beauty with close-up photos of sheltered coves and rocky beaches or pictures of the olive groves whose trees twist and turn hemmed in by rocky fences built on the mountainsides. But when we are just simply sailing through the Adriatic and we come upon one island after another, I just can’t seem to capture the whole picture of the beauty and history here. And so like a mom who tells her angry children to use their words to express themselves, I’ll attempt to do just that. (With a few pictures thrown in to help, of course.)
The Rugged Beauty of the Croatian Islands
The islands, like the coastal lands here, are rough and rocky with sharp and jagged limestone or karst cliffs. This white limestone sometimes looks rust as the red soil bleeds out over the rocks. Some of the islands are huge ragged rocks with seagulls swarming around their cliffs with an occasional small green bush or two dotting the landscape.
Some look dragon-like with sharp points and triangular hills that rise and fall like like the scales of a dinosaur. For example, there are three islands in a row in one part of the Adriatic that look like a dinosaur is sitting underwater. They are called the Grebeni Islands, and the stones on each of them look like large fins jutting out of the water.
One island that we sailed by in Telašćica National Park was small, perfectly round and flat like a tall stone pancake that looked like it would be the perfect stage for an epic concert with the cliffs of the park in the background. It’s named appropriately in Croatian Tanjurić, which means “small plate.” Zoom in to see this flat little island right outside the park as we sail by.
Other islands are perfect circles of land with white stone coasts and shaggy tree topped mounds.
Beaucoup Islands, Incredible History
The part that overwhelms me about all of these islands is the fact that there are not hundreds of them, but over a thousand, with many that are currently inhabited or have been in the past. Some in the ancient past. Some in the prehistoric past.
Some islands like Silba have a long beautiful white stone coastline topped with deep green trees and as you get close to the coast the deep blue color of the Adriatic turns a glowing turquoise and the colors pop out against the white limestone. As you sail by you can see the small area that makes up Silba’s old town has terra-cotta topped roofs and stone houses, and a coordinating stone church with a pointed clock tower that rises up from the village.
What’s amazing about Silba is that behind this island as you sail southward from Pula is yet another surprise in the distance, the full panorama of the vast Velebit Mountains that are white and blue from this distance and almost look like an epic mountain painting someone placed as a backdrop for the island. While the pictures look beautiful, they don’t really compare to the actual reality.
An interesting note is that you can sail ten times past the same island and always notice something new depending on the angle you come upon it or the clouds overhead or the level of sunshine the day brings. On cloudy days the islands may look severe and harsh and you might notice the wind blown trees that have grown horizontally because of the rough bura winds that decimate the lands in early spring and fall. On sunny days the sunlight will change the water near the coasts a turquoise blue that will dazzle you and lure you to shelter in an uvala or cove for the night just so you can jump into the beautiful water.
“At sea, I learned how little a person needs, not how much.”
The Island Variety
Some islands you sail by look like long sleeping giants waiting to wake up from an eternal slumber. Some are just oval with white rocks covered with loons or seagulls. On foggy mornings mornings the Velibit Mountains in the distance might look like a grey wall, and when a sailboat appears out of the fog and the sunlight starts its dance on the water, the water looks like sparkling jewels, and it’s truly a surreal vision.
As you pass by the island of Ist you might see a small church, Our Lady of Grace, way up on a mountain and wonder how it got there, who built it and when. The answer could be hundreds or even thousands of years ago depending on which island you happen to be on. On Brijuni island the town you might stumble upon might be from the Byzantine era or the Roman one.
On Viš Island, you would find the remains of a Greek Thermae or thermal springs bathhouse complete with some of the original mosaic tile floors being dusted off by current day archeologists. The Issa Baths date back to the Hellenic times but what is amazing about the island of Vis is recent cultural history is also taking place there today as it is also the place where the second Hollywood blockbuster “Mama Mia” movie was filmed. While our visit to Vis was on a previous charter trip out of Split in 2018, it’s definitely a place we’d like to get back to.
On Mali Lošinj you’ll find the captain’s homes that are reminiscent of the Austrian empire that once ruled there. It’s also home to a special museum with just one main exhibit, an incredible Greek statue that was found at the bottom of the sea at a nearby cove. As you move further down the island chain you’ll see hundreds of olive groves on the hillsides framed by beautiful stone fences or walls.
As we sailed down the Adriatic from our home port in Pula, we passed by places in the sea where we were the only sailboat out there and then other places where we were dodging tiny skiffs, power boats, yachts of the mega rich as well as the large white and blue Jadrolina ferry lines that carry people back and forth to the islands daily. Today we passed by the island of Tovarnjak and admired a beautiful 1938 motor yacht called Bird of Blue that is 31 meters long, flagged from Great Britain. It motors along as we sail, two birds of a different feather enjoying the serenity of the water together.
We’ll reach our first stop in a few hours, but there’s no hurry as the magic of sailing makes the day’s destination a secondary consideration.
Come along with us to the island of Veli Iž. We’ll visit there in the next leg of the trip.
(Stay tuned for Sailing in the Adriatic, Part Two: Visiting the islands of Zapuntel and Veli Iz)