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ASA in Croatia: Medieval Mysteries This is a story about ASA's 2012 Croatia Flotilla. For more info on upcoming ASA sailing flotillas, click here. Sailors (and tourists of all kinds) have beaten a well-worn...

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ASA in Croatia: The Food of the Gods

Category : Flotillas

croatian flag with ruinsThis blog is about ASA’s 2012 Croatia Flotilla. Dubrovnik to Split, September 2012.

“Every fish should swim three times,” goes a Croatian saying. “First in the sea, then in olive oil, and finally in wine.” The residents of the Dalmatian Coast live by this creed, and their cuisine, a divine fusion of Italian and Greek styles, demonstrates why.

Of all the delicious repasts we ate during the 2012 Croatia flotilla (and there were many), one stands out in my memory, not only as a meal, but as a unique experience that you can only get while sailing.

It began, as so many sailor tales do, with foul weather. We had made a long and exhilarating crossing through spitting rain and heavy seas from the island of Vis toward a town called Milna, where we planned to get a berth in the marina, take a long, hot shower, and open a few bottles of well-deserved local wine. But Neptune had other ideas–the storm had forced so many boats to Milna that the marina was entirely full, and a long string of boats was being turned away. We needed a new course of action, and with nightfall coming, we needed it fast.

I regret that I never set foot in Milna, which is supposed to be a lovely place, but where one door closes, another opens. Jean de Keyser, our skipper and flotilla leader, studied the chart and located a deep, sheltered inlet a few miles away. What a stroke of luck that turned out to be. When we arrived, the rain had abated and there were a number of mooring balls available, which immediately made our lives easier. There was also a young guy fishing from a small skiff. We didn’t know it yet, but this was Leo, and he was catching our dinner.

It was a beautiful, serene little cove of wooded hillsides, but there was nothing there, virtually no sign of civilization, except for a few stone shacks on the hillside, and a sign advertising a restaurant called “Smrceva.” No one traveling by ferry, tour bus, rental car, or even on foot would be likely to find this place. The only reliable access was by sailboat. I was skeptical, but what choice did we have? It was time to dinghy ashore and try our luck.
smrceva view from table
This turned out to be the best decision we made in the entire trip. As the only diners, we were greeted by a young man named Neno and seated in an open stone shelter with a view of the bay through pine trees. It was not a refined place. There was junk piled in the corners, and a family of kittens living in the disused fireplace. Neno explained that they had no menu–they would cook whatever was available and bring it to us one course after another, along with some local brandies and as many liters of wine as we could handle. “Okay,” we said, “bring it on.”

It began with baked scallops on the half-shell, and just kept coming: Risotto, grilled calamari, sauteed potatoes, and finally, the piece de resistance, the grilled fish that Leo had been busily catching when we sailed in. The fish had swum in the sea, it had swum in olive oil, and now it was time for that third and final voyage.
grilling fish
When the meal was over, Neno invited us into the nearby home to see their massive collection of family artifacts. He told us that Marino, the owner, had been a famous soccer star for Yugoslavia in the 1970s, and showed us pictures of him lining up to play Germany and shaking hands with Yugoslavian president Tito. (As he was talking, we could see Marino bustling around outside, keeping the place in order.) They even had us watch TV with them for a few minutes. The local Croatian news was on, and with minimal English they tried to explain the headlines to us through mime. I don’t think any of us understood much, but we appreciated the effort anyway.

It was pitch black as we returned to the dinghy dock, Neno lighting the way with a series of hand lanterns. By the time we were back on board, it was clear to everyone that things had worked out exactly right, and we had just had one of those special experiences available only to the cruising sailor. That’s the adventure of a flotilla–you have a plan, but when circumstances change, and you are forced to improvise, that’s when some of the greatest discoveries are made.

ASA in Croatia: Medieval Mysteries

Category : Flotillas

This is a story about ASA’s 2012 Croatia Flotilla. For more info on upcoming ASA sailing flotillas, click here.

Photo by Doug Motley - Vis, CroatiaSailors (and tourists of all kinds) have beaten a well-worn path through the Mediterranean, particularly in places like Greece, Italy, and Spain. These are the world’s most ancient sailing grounds, and they richly deserve their reputations for beauty and splendor. But Croatia’s a bit different. Having only been open to tourists for about 15 years, following virtually 800 years of war and strife, you might expect the place to be a bit rough around the edges. But it’s actually quite the opposite–Croatia has a vitality, hospitality, and magnificence entirely its own.

You won’t find the bright colors and baroque flourishes of Italy, or the spectacular blinding white domes of Greece. Instead, as one local told me, “In Dalmatia it is all about the details.”

View of Dubrovnik from City Walls

Old Town Dubrovnik from the city walls.

You will encounter jumbles of cascading orange tile roofs, and walls whose masonry spans 2,000 years: Originally built by the Romans, augmented in the time of Marco Polo, given a few Renaissance touch-ups, and perhaps reinforced by a tradesman yesterday. Immersing yourself in this rich historical tapestry is one of the great pleasures of a visit to Croatia.

So, when it comes to the architecture and culture of the Dalmatian coast, what should you be sure to see? Here were my favorite highlights, discovered on the 2012 ASA Croatia Flotilla.

Dubrovnik City Walls: Nicknamed “the pearl of the Adriatic,” this is Croatia’s most popular tourist destination. And it’s not hard to see why. With a huge, well-preserved “old town” district dating to the 15th century, the streets are pretty much as they were when Dubrovnik was a powerful Mediterranean city-state, rivaling Venice. Walking the city walls is a must, well worth the 70 kuna price (roughly $12). From the battlements you’ll get numerous stunning views of the town and the sea.

korcula street

Typical street in Korcula.

Moreska Sword Dance, Korcula: “You sit here,” the usher said, guiding us to the front row, “maybe you get broken nose. Maybe you lose tooth.”

If you make it to the island city of Korcula, you’ve simply got to see the Moreska Sword Dance—it’s the only place in the world where you can. The performance is elegant, violent, and real—not for the squeamish. Swords clashed and occasionally their broken blades hurtled into the audience, hence the warning (or perhaps invitation?) about getting a broken nose. By nightfall, blood had been spilled by performer and spectator alike, though no one was (seriously) hurt.

The dance recounts the battle between two kings for the love of a beautiful princess, and performing in it is a centuries-old tradition among the youth of Korcula. Shows are held on Mondays, so plan your itinerary accordingly.

Spanjola Fortress, Hvar: Another place for astonishing views. Abandoned for centuries, left “for the fairies to dance in at night,” there’s a spooky thrill to exploring this hilltop fortress. The hike up takes some work, especially on a hot day, but you’ll be glad you did it. From the walls you can see all of Hvar Town, plus the almost tropical-looking Pakleni Islands and the sparkling Adriatic. They’ve got a cafe up there, too, so you can kick back and relax.

Dome in Diocletian's Palace

In Diocletian’s Palace, Split.

Diocletian’s Palace, Split: No trip to the Dalmatian Coast would be complete without this landmark, once the home of Roman emperor Diocletian. It lies at the very heart of Split, and the city has been growing around and inside of it for 1,700 years. The palace is an entire town to itself, and full of oddities from various time periods. There are sphinxes taken from Egypt, fully intact Roman catacombs, ramshackle medieval houses, and the world’s smallest Christian cathedral, in what was once Diocletian’s mausoleum. There are “klappa” singers who perform in the rotunda with the polyphonic voices of angels, frequently reducing their audience to tears.

There’s so much more to see, of course, and more details than I could possibly describe. This should give you a taste, but the rest you’ll just have to see for yourself. Stay tuned to ASA social media for news about our next Croatia flotilla!

Caribbean Getaway Sweepstakes supporting Hands Across the Sea

Category : American Sailing Association

hands across the sea studentsBig news for anyone who loves sailing and wants to help make the world a better place. You can enter to win a Caribbean sailing getaway, and support a great sailing-related charity at the same time!

ASA is joining forces with Sunsail, the world’s largest provider of sailing vacations, to promote literacy in the Caribbean! Please join us in the fight to help improve the lives of children in the world’s most beautiful sailing waters as we partner with Hands Across the Sea, a non-profit founded and operated by sailors that provides much-needed books and literacy resources to over 55,000 kids across the Eastern Caribbean.

We’re thrilled to support this important cause by giving away a 1-week Sunsail bareboat charter in the British Virgin Islands! You’ll have a chance not only to win the vacation of a lifetime, but to change the lives of Caribbean children by making a donation to Hands Across the Sea.

Click here to go to the Sweepstakes page! There you can both enter to win and have the opportunity to donate.

This one minute video explains how your donation helps! (If you can’t see the video, click here to watch it on Youtube.)

As mentioned in the video, ASA’s 2012 St. Martin flotilla made a Hands Across the Sea book drop at a primary school on the Caribbean island of Anguilla this past April. We were so impressed with the impact and value of what Hands was doing, that we decided to continue supporting their mission. We feel it’s important to give something back to the people of the Caribbean, who so generously share their homelands with us.

Please consider making a donation to Hands Across the Sea when you enter the sweepstakes. Everything helps, and makes a real difference in the lives of the children.