We Need a Time Out

With two adult children, our days of ‘time-outs’ are behind us … or so we thought! Right now, we most definitely need a time out … of the Schengen. ‘What’s Schengen’, you ask? Schengen is an immigration agreement among many (but not all) of the countries of the European Union (and some non-EU countries, just to confuse things). It is the rule of law that governs, among other things, how much time a person NOT from one of these countries (like us, being from the US) can remain in the countries which are part of this agreement. We, as US citizens with US passports, are only allowed to be in the Schengen area for 90 days out of the last 180 days. Last summer, we got extended-stay tourist visas from France and this allowed us to spend almost five contiguous months in France and other Schengen countries. Montenegro and Croatia are not part of Schengen (though Croatia is part of the EU and Montenegro is hoping to be part of the EU soon).  Because we wanted to visit both of these countries this summer, we decided to count our days carefully and stay under the 90 day Schengen limit. Getting visas is a lot of work that we hoped to avoid for this summer! The second half of our summer plans have us spending two months in Greece (a member of Schengen). Add to that the three weeks we have already been in Italy and we’re needing to be careful with each day! Therefore, we NEED this ‘time out’ and it needs to start soon!

With the strong winds having abated, it was time to leave the comfort of the marina at Santa Maria di Leuca and round the heel of Italy. This turn took us from the Ionian Sea into the Adriatic Sea and helped articulate how much distance we will have covered upon arriving in Montenegro! Just two weeks earlier, we departed on Sea Rose from where she wintered in the Tyrrhenian Sea (center, west coast of Italy). But I’m getting ahead of myself – first we need to cover the 169 miles from the bottom of Italy’s boot to the Gulf of Kotor and the Montenegrin customs and immigration dock!

The night before a significant passage, I often sleep poorly. I try to solve problems that do not need immediate solving and as a result I am less than 100% when what I need to be is 100% on and ready! I think this is why Tom let me sleep in beyond our agreed to departure time. It was 9 am as we stowed the last fender and dock line and motored out into what had just days before been a furious, boiling sea. This morning was not calm but it was very manageable and the winds were light, which allowed us to take some wonderful and long looks at the coastline of this country we had come to know so well. The featured photo of this post shows the breakwater enclosing the marina and the proud lighthouse that puts an exclamation point on Italy’s heel!

Beautiful cliffs with intriguing caves line the southeastern edge of the heel and we sat mesmerized as we motored close to shore, awaiting the winds that would push us onward later in the day.

Beautiful caves along southwestern edge of the ‘Heel’ of Italy!

Once the wind picked up enough, we deployed our ‘Code Zero’ sail which is a large fore sail made of light fabric that is good for light-wind days. We had decent speed and this carried us to and beyond the town of Otrano, where we would have a straight-shot across the Adriatic Sea and into the Bay of Kotor. With our original distance/time calculations, we thought we could spend the night on anchor along Italy’s coast and leave early the next morning to arrive before nightfall. With this thought in mind, we found a nice bay called Torre del Orso and dropped our anchor. We had some wine and cheese and shared favorite memories of our time in Italy – both this year so far and the many weeks we spent in Italy the previous summer.

Torre del Orso – Our afternoon ‘rest stop’ before crossing to Montenegro

As we recalculated the remaining distance, we realized we needed to leave in the evening and do an overnight sail to have a shot at arriving during daylight hours. This evening was as good as any to do the crossing – especially since we had already checked out of Italy. First, we allowed ourselves to indulge in a two-hour nap; we agreed to a six pm departure and a three-hour watch schedule for the overnight hours. Ok, hurry up and sleep!

Location of our ‘Rest Stop’ and our intended route to Montenegro

Tom took the first watch (from 6-9 pm) while I tried to fall back asleep after helping us out of the anchorage. The seas were rough from so many days of high winds so I slept little. In between watching the heavy ship traffic, Tom snapped this great shot of our last Italian sunset for a while!

Our last Italian sunset … for a while!

As I came up to the cockpit in darkness to take my first watch (9 pm to midnight) we discussed a potential sail change. The winds were quite high and we were heading nearly down-wind so we decided it was safest for us to take the main sail down and run with just the jib. As we headed into the wind to roll up the main, I realized how big the waves were and I had to do some mindfulness meditation to calm myself down enough to allow Tom to go down for some much-needed sleep. I don’t love overnights – sure, sometimes they are amazing when the seas are kind, the wind is just enough and you get to experience a moon-rise or other special moment. Tonight, however, in addition to the big seas and high winds, there was lightning in the distance and I can only describe my mental state as agitated. More mindfulness exercises …

I kept a close eye on the lightning and dark clouds and watched our radar for signs of an approaching squall. Sure enough, around 11:15 pm I noticed several things in quick succession:

  1. The wind had shifted and decreased about 5 minutes earlier (calm before the storm)
  2. The wind now was beginning to build
  3. The radar showed a large blob heading toward us. The consistency of the blob led me to read this as a rain storm, especially since it was in the direction of the continued lightning.

My heart skipped a beat as I prepared to reef the jib (reefing a sail reduces the amount of canvas or sail exposed and, therefore, reduces your risk should wind speed suddenly increase). Fast approaching squalls can bring strong, erratic winds so you need to be ready to adjust sails as needed … and quickly. As the storm blob approached on the radar, I watched the wind speed — as measured by the anemometer on the top of our mast — climb. Seconds ago it was 15 mph, now it read 22, 23, 25 … 30 … how high would the wind be mid-squall? With darkness, my thoughts always go toward the bleak and I thought, ‘ … masts break in crazy-high wind shifts as you have tons of sail flying this way and that’. I quickly reefed our only raised sail and we weathered the squall just fine. After it passed, conditions calmed considerably and I turned the helm over to my sweet, though groggy and unaware husband while I went in search of my pillow!

We both experienced a lot of ship traffic throughout the night … cargo ships, lots of passenger ferries, cruise ships, fishing boats of every size, you name it! Tons of boats going in and out of the busy port city of Brindisi, Italy to transit up and down the Adriatic. Following this heavy boat traffic actually helps you stay focused during nighttime watch hours so it isn’t unwelcome.

My second watch (3 – 6 am) was much better. The moon added texture around 3:30 am, then the sun added even more beginning around 5:15 am. The true gift, however, was the pod of dolphins that joined me for a full 45 minutes! I love these creatures and any anxiety or agitation I might have dissipates with their arrival near our bow. With a new calm and a smile, thanks to my special gray friends, I again sought out my pillow. My sleep was deep and renewing and I happily re-took the helm at 9 am. The code zero was up and we were moving along at 6.5 knots.

Our nighttime crossing was behind us; we would arrive in Montenegro before nightfall, with any luck! The rest of the day passed quickly and, sure enough, we pulled into the Bay of Kotor around 3:15 pm. We easily found the customs dock and secured Sea Rose alongside. After twenty minutes and a fair bit of paperwork, we were legally cleared in to Montenegro! We made a bee-line for the closest anchorage that would assure a good night’s sleep and within an hour we were anchored off the small island of Stradioti in a darling man-made swim area which used to be associated with a summer camp! Here are the two other boats sharing this special little ‘pool’ with Sea Rose for the night.

First anchorage in Gulf of Kotor – Sveti Marko

We had dinner and light’s out by 9 pm – we were both exhausted. We both slept deeply and were slow to rise in the morning. We were so happy to be in Montenegro and only 30 or so miles from where we would meet Tom’s brother and his family in a week’s time.

Here are the distances we covered since leaving Gaeta, Italy just 16 days prior:

Gaeta to Ischia (near Naples)                                     35
Ischia to Procida to Sorrento to Stromboli                         160
Stromboli to Panarea to Vulcano to Milazzo on Sicily        49
Milazzo on Sicily to Croton (bottom of boot)           159
Crotone to Santa Maria di Leuca (tip of heel)               72
Santa Maria di Leuca to Kotor (yesterday’s passage)      169

Total:  644 nautical miles!

No wonder we were wiped out. We average a speed of 6 mph on Sea Rose – that’s over 100 hours of travel in just over two weeks!

As we looked at our options for exploration in Montenegro, we realized there was a lot to see and do right in the Gulf of Kotor. Sailing here feels like being on a lake in the mountains! See the map below and the sights we took in as we navigated into the various bodies of water that make up this wonderland.

Route of exploration in Gulf of Kotor

The small opening and very high surrounding mountains give you a protected feeling. Sure, high mountains and hot temperatures can produce some pretty crazy winds; but, the shore is never too far away so waves don’t have an opportunity to build over a long fetch and the days are not yet all that hot.

The jewel of the Gulf of Kotor is certainly the ancient, walled town of Kotor itself and we were all rested up and ready for it! We raised anchor and headed out. It was hard to give attention to our charts and navigation as we gaped at the beautiful, steep mountainsides around us. As we approached the narrow straight called “Prolaz Verige”, our focus was required. We saw significant boat traffic in both directions and regular car ferries crossing the straight perpendicular to our intended path. With the high mountains on both sides, the potential for strong tunneling of wind existed; needless to say, our senses were now acutely tuned!

Prolaz Verige – narrow straight

The fortified town of Kotor has become a popular destination for cruise ships. We tried to time our visit when one wouldn’t be there, but this was difficult. Instead, we used the times that they were in port to do projects on the boat or to provision in grocery stores that the ship patrons would have little use for. In this way, we experienced the amazing town of Kotor in relatively uncrowded states! We loved it so much, we stayed for three nights – which if you follow our adventures is definitely saying something!

Once anchored off Kotor, we were eager to go ashore. In addition to the walls around the town at sea level, the protective fortification goes way up onto the mountainsides behind the town. Visitors can hike up these walls to the fort at the top and the views from there are nothing less than stunning – well worth the effort it takes to ascend the hundreds of steep steps.

Climbing the steep ramparts of Kotor’s fortification

At night, they light up the hillside fortress walls. Breathtaking.

Kotor fortifications lit at night

We walked the narrow streets of Kotor many times during our visit and each time we saw something new … a clock-tower we had missed previously, a tiny square with quaint cafes, an ancient archway. Wow, what a place.

Overlooking Kotor from hilltop fort
Beautiful town of Kotor far below!

As I write this blog post, we are nearly done with our second summer of exploration in the Mediterranean and Kotor always comes to mind when I’m asked about very special places we’ve visited. Add Montenegro to your travel bucket list – it is an amazing place with very kind people.

As our time in Montenegro was limited, we had to move on from the town of Kotor. Next stop, Perest and the off-lying islet hosting the heavily visited ‘Our Lady of the Rocks’ chapel! Turns out that the very long town quay in front of Perest is reserved for day tripper boats taking visitors out to the nearby island. So, instead of bringing Sea Rose onto the dock, we picked Risan as our home for the night. Then we took our dinghy over to see the chapel and then on to the town of Perest for a walk around this beautiful seaside charmer.

Town of Perest

According to legend, the islet was made over the centuries by local seamen who kept an ancient oath after finding the icon of Madonna and Child on the rock in the sea[2] on July 22, 1452.[3] Upon returning from each successful voyage, they laid a rock in the Bay. Over time, the islet gradually emerged from the sea.[4] The custom of throwing rocks into the sea is alive even today. Every year on the sunset of July 22, an event (called fašinada in the local dialect) takes place. Local residents take their boats and throw rocks into the sea, widening the surface of the island. Learn more!

Our Lady of the Rocks chapel

As our time to meet up with Tom’s brother and family was quickly approaching, we would need to say ‘good-bye, for now’ to Montenegro and make our way up to southern Croatia. We needed water and fuel and, of course, we also needed to check out of Montenegro. The marina in Tivat seemed like a good option for our last night in country as a customs dock was adjacent to the marina. Once on the dock, we washed the boat down and filled our water tanks and generally cleaned up the boat.

We had heard that this marina caters to super yachts. With our work behind us, and the need to stretch our legs evident, we decided to walk the various docks and see these yachts for ourselves. Yup, it’s true. These are mobile palaces often owned by a prince from Saudi Arabia or a Russian Oligarch  … their power needs are probably off the charts.

We happily walked back to Sea Rose and turned in for the night! No staff to order around, no captain wanting to give an updated weather report … just Tom and I – perfectly ‘right-sized’!

In the morning, we navigated over to the fuel dock and were instructed that boats of our size are expected to use the dock ‘out back’. If you want to use the front dock to fuel, you actually need a reservation! I’m sure there are super-powered pumps that are equipped to quickly fill the huge tanks that these giants are likely to have. It’s a different world, for sure.

With fuel tanks full, we tied Sea Rose up to the customs dock to check out. Paperwork stamped, we navigated back through the Gulf of Kotor and out into the Adriatic. We turned right (north!) and headed toward Cavtat, Croatia and the ‘Q’ dock (quarantine) to repeat the paperwork process for this new country.

Leaving the Gulf of Kotor and heading northwest toward Croatian waters!

Thanks, Montenegro, for the hospitality and incredible scenery. We’ll be back!

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