Our arrival in Montenegro was sort of a homecoming. First of all, our traveling companions, Ken and Roberta on their boat, Sans Souci, had arrived nearly a week ahead of us and were securely moored when we arrived. Ken, by his own admission, is internet-centric, and the first thing he did upon arrival was to assure that he had at least three different internet sources, each one faster than the other. He had his Satellite connection, several local 3G SIM cards, and a lightening fast fiber optic wired dock connection. Whew! I ended up taking one of his SIM cards, which was fine with me. Not super fast, but adequate.
We had been to Montenegro last season also, on the way up to Croatia. Other than being a fun stop, the fuel is 1/4 the price of nearby countries and it gets us out of the EU also. Non EU (European Union) persons are allowed 90 days out of every 180 days. What that means is that after we enter Italy in mid June, we have to exit the EU countries by Mid September. The boat is a different issue. We can keep it in the EU for 18 months straight without incurring the dreaded VAT (Value Added Tax), which can amount to 20% of the boat’s value!
The trick is to exit the EU before the 18 months is up, say, for a week or so and keep the evidence that you did it. By going to Montenegro, a non EU country, we met the requirement and we would then enter Italy with a clean slate.
Porto Montenegro is a beautiful Marina, but expensive. So far, it is the priciest place to stay, but worth it because the fuel is so cheap! The entire complex consists of the marina, 30 or 40 high end shops, a five star hotel and condominiums with prices well north of a million dollars, and a dozen or so restaurants, all on site.
I had an electric issue there. Seabird uses about 30 Euros per day in electricity at European prices, which range from 30 to 40 cents per Kilowatt Hour. For some reason, they must have mis wired my meter and we were using around 70 Euros per day. I tried to explain it to the marina but it fell on deaf ears. Fortunately it was cool outside and we did not need the air conditioning for the first seven days out of the ten we were there. I discovered the problem on the 8th day when we started using the A/C. No refunds!
Montenegro to Brindisi, Italy
Our last day in Montenegro consisted of getting the boat ready and preparing to take on fuel. There is a procedure here to follow. To take on fuel duty free, you must exit the marina and tie up at the adjacent fuel dock, which is purposely gated off from the rest of the marina. Once you have tied up, you can take on fuel, but not leave the area. When you are finished, they escort you over to Customs and Immigration, where you clear out of the country. After you have cleared out, you must leave Montenegro with the boat IMMEDIATELY. No going to another marina, no anchoring. They are very strict about this. The guys at the fuel dock told me about a poor fellow on a yacht who, after taking on duty free fuel, checked out of the country and then left the harbor, only to be spotted by the authorities anchored in a bay 10 miles south, still in Montenegro territory. He was forced to then pay the difference between duty free and retail on the fuel, plus a HUGE fine amounting to many thousands of dollars!
We left soon after fueling and headed toward our next stop, Brindisi, Italy.
For some reason, Ken was given the slow pump for the last 300 gallons or so. We ended up departing two hours late at 6pm for an all night 14 hour crossing. We could not have had a better crossing. The seas were flat calm and we had a nearly full moon so it never got completely dark. We just cherish passages like this. At night, Carol and I alternate at the helm every three hours. Over the years we have learned to leave the helm after the shift, fall asleep almost immediately and wake to the alarm three hours later. It takes a few minutes to shake the cobwebs out, but three hours seems to do the trick as far as rest. Carol normally likes to time it so that her last shift is at sunrise, but on a one night trip, it sometimes does not work. We were arriving at 8 am in Brindisi, so I got the early shift. The bad shift is normally midnight to 3 am, but because of the full moon and calm seas, it was a delight.
Entering a harbor for the first time is always a bit exciting and unnerving at the same time. We have electronic charts, GPS, AIS, Radar, depth finders and all the other toys, but it’s not the same as coming into a harbor that you have been to before. We have found that especially true when cruising outside the USA. First off all, buoys are rare, except in major ports. Somehow, you are just supposed to know where to go. Understanding that, we use a combination of all of the electronic gear and instincts. Add to that the fact that you are tired, you need to be especially attentive. Brindisi was a pleasant surprise. The harbor was clearly marked and we had directions from our agent as to where we were to dock.
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it looked to me like we were supposed to tie up against a rough ferry boat pier. We contacted our agent again, and he confirmed it: the beat up, crappy looking pier was our home for a few days. Finding a spot on the pier where we would fit was not easy. There were old black truck tires with steel cables sticking out and long bolts, which I presume held some kind of cleat at one time. Either way, I didn’t want to be rubbing against them so I found a space with less hazards sticking out and we wedged ourselves in.
The whole area looked abandoned and kind of unsafe. At least we thought so until I saw the sign on the building “Stazione Di Polizia”. I don’t speak Italian, but I assume it meant Police Station, which made us feel A LOT safer.
Our agent arrived shortly after we did and assisted us with the clearing in process. After he finished with our paperwork, all the officials started arriving. Ken and I were still inside the boat when all of a sudden he blurted out “I think we have problems”. I looked out the window of his boat and smiled. I could see why he was worried. The agent and the officials we apparently yelling at each other, flailing their arms into the air and pointing at us. See, I come from an Italian family. It’s how they communicate. I grew up with it. There was nothing wrong, but Ken did not really believe me until the agent came back on to the boat and said “Everything is fine. You are all set”. We then asked the question of “How much per day for the berth”. His answer was good news. “It is free, no charge”. Well, we liked that, even though there was no electricity on the dock or water. We both have generators and large fresh water tanks, so we were all set.
Brindisi, contrary to what we had been expecting, was a nice town with a beautiful boardwalk, lots of stores and restaurants and friendly people. Carol and I like to walk and found the town very interesting. It had lots of small alley-like streets, unchanged for hundreds or even thousands of years, with shops which looked like they had been there forever. We even found the beginning of the Appian Way, a road that connected Brindisi to Rome, the construction beginning by the Romans in the year 312 BC. It was named after Appius Claudius Caecus, a Roman Censor. It was one of many that the Romans built all over the near empire, all of which terminated in Rome, hence the expression, “All roads lead to Rome”.
As much as we liked the people and the cruising in Croatia, we did not find the food all that tasteful. We would generally order salads or Pizza, to be safe. We expected much more from Italy and we were not disappointed. The four of us all love Italian food and we ended up eating out almost every night. Pizza, Pastas, Caprese Salads and wine. And then there was the Gelato. I could see the pounds adding to my waistline already!
After a week in Brindisi we headed south west toward Sicily. We made two quick stops along the way at Santa Maria de Leuca and Crotone, one being on the heel of the boot and the other on the toe.
The pier that we were at in Crotone was a new low for us. The high pier made it difficult to get on and off of the boat and the town was old, kind of torn up and waiting to die. We really wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.
After one night, the weather window looked fair, so we departed for Sicily mid day.
Crotone, Italy to Siracusa, Sicily
The trip started out just fine. It was an overnighter and we had a good forecast. In reality, it did not turn out so good. By nightfall, it started to get very choppy. I don’t mind rough weather and I don’t mind cruising at night, but I HATE cruising at night in rough weather. First of all, being that it is dark, the visibility is poor and you rely more on your instruments like GPS, AIS and Radar. The radar just does not perform as well in rough weather. Plus, you cannot see the really big waves that hit you periodically. It was getting steadily worse with the seas slamming into us nearly head on every few seconds. I was not worried about our safety as we have a great boat under us. We have been in far worse conditions. I just knew it would be a long night with no sleep possible. I talked to Ken on the radio and we decided that with the direction of the wind, it was possible that if we headed toward shore and hugged the coast, we might get some protection from the seas. We changed our course to steer about 30 degrees to the starboard and held that course for about 45 minutes. What a relief to see that the rough conditions were lessening slightly! We continued toward land until the conditions improved considerably and then headed back toward our course. We had added about three hours to our trip, but it was well worth it. Eventually, the seas had dropped from 10-12 ft to less than 2 feet, making our passage enjoyable.
We arrived in Siracusa, Sicily in early morning in calm seas. It was a big, well protected harbor and we dropped anchor immediately. The first order of business was to get some sleep! And we did………