While our watch was working on our sail from Makarska to Trogir, I was reading the cruising book as per my normal routine while doing the navigation portion of my shift, to learn more about our destination city. The book said the best and most usual approach is from the W, because that is where the marina is, and that the bridge connecting E and W no longer raises to allow boat traffic. When I checked on the charts, I noticed that we were scheduled to approach Trogir from the NE, so when I informed the captain of this oversight I saved us an extra 3 hours sail, as we would have had to backtrack and then circle around the large island. It also made the next leg of our journey, onward to Sibenik shorter, as it was more direct from the NE side of the bridge. It was a good feeling to actually be that helpful while on my watch, so that was pleasing.
Coming into the port was dramatic. Just as we entered the narrowing of the approach to the harbour, the captain lost the use of one of the props. We were sitting dead in the water for a suspended period of tenseness, while the wind steadily pushed us farther into the harbour towards outcoming boats, and some that were anchored in the approach area. It was nerve racking; without both props, we would lose half of our maneuverability, making docking nearly impossible. We circled around with our one prop, and radioed another large ship sitting in the harbour approach to ask if we could use his inflatable as a push boat. Thankfully, they complied readily.
The British crew member came to our rescue like James Bond, racing ahead to recon the docking location, and then racing back in time to help push our bow in towards our point of destination. We were due to dock alongside a touring yacht which was already in our spot, and though the docking went amazing well, considering the circumstances, there was a slight lag in the communication between the steering of our large boat and the aid needed by the small inflatable, so we came in a bit fast, and with a little too much angle towards the shore. Our bowsprit was just above the height of the nice wooden railing of the other boat, and as it passed over left a long scratch in the shiny veneer. Fortunately though, this gave them something to push against, and they helped redirect our boat so that it landed alongside. Apart from the frustration of the crew on the other boat not understanding our urgent English commands regarding the order of the ropes and the complex directions relative to securing them, we otherwise came alongside without too much hassle. One of our highly competent crew members was quick to refinish the place in the railing that had been scraped, and found out that the boat was due to be refinished soon anyway, so the scratch was a minor issue.
Trogir is a tiny island between the mainland city and a larger island, with bridges on both sides connecting them. As with most of these ports, the old city is on this peninsula, and boasts amazing history, with the entire island being covered with cobblestone streets, ornate stone buildings and narrow streets open only to foot passengers. There was an amazing church in the main square from the 12th century. It was huge, and filled with different forms of art built right into the church: red stone basins for water, sculptures, motifs on walls and ceilings, ornately carved mahogany wood. The ceilings were high and vaulted, and it had a three story clock tower. It had an immense feeling to it, and I tried to imagine how much more impressive it would have been back when it was built, as it must have dwarfed everything around it.
Unfortunately, the old city was crawling with tourists: sunburns carrying credit cards and cameras, and sporting bad fashion. It was hard during the day time to get any sense of the surroundings due to the sheer numbers of people, but later in the day, when the crowds thinned, you could find yourself quite alone for periods of time in some of the back streets, and then there was a really neat atmosphere.
On the waterfront where we were moored, there is a strip of expensive restaurants, vendors booths with the same old trinkets we have seen everywhere, and buskers with the same schtick (marionettes that play music, accompanied by a small ghetto blaster, for example). In the evening we are treated to the battle of the bands, as clubs on both sides of the water blast their respective music, which carries easily over the water. It’s a bit much, over all, though just around the corner there is a lovely breezy bit of green space with a magical tree that has grown into and back out of the earth a few times, creating a fun climbing sculpture.
Sibenik however, presented a wonderful experience. As a larger city, it was a little less overwhelmed with tourism and more plugged into the purpose of the country. There was a sizeable old town, with some amazing monuments, including the largest all stone cathedral in the country, the Cathedral of St. James, which I didn’t enter, cheaply refusing to pay the minor fee. There was also the hilltop St. Ana Fortress, which we snuck into from the graveyard that was also perched high overlooking the city and the harbour below. In the morning, we enjoyed coffee on an outdoor patio restaurant beside an herb garden, which we later discovered was the medieval garden of St. Lawrence’s monastery, and one of the up and coming sites in the city.
The coastline here is very convoluted and interesting. There was a boat taxi to a beach on an island, past a fortress in the Sibenski Canal that departed from right beside the boat. My new Lonely Planet guidebook, which I procured with the help of two Croatian friends who are visiting the boat, tells me that this is the fortress of St. Nikolas, which endures from the 15th century, when the city was under Venetian rule.
But by far the most spectacular thing we did in this area was the Krka National Park. We had a spectacular last minute escape from the boat in the early hours of the morning after a late night, and barely made it to the bus. We were greatly aided by a Croatian girl, whose grandfather lived near the park and she was baptized in the church in what was now a national park, so this place held a special place in her life and she was happy to share it with us.
The bus took us to a small town at a place where the river starts to widen, and near to the sea. While we waited for her to gather information about the park, we had a nice swim in the mixed salt and fresh water of the estuary, my first fresh water swim since arriving in Europe in late May. We took a really nice ride in a riverboat to get to the park, and after she orchestrated a great group rate for us, we were in!
The main attraction of the park is a series of waterfalls which are formed by “Tufa”; mineral formations from the water that then collect enough soil for plants to grow on them, making a cascading series of waterfalls which move around green tufts growing magically right in the middle of the falls. There was quite an extensive series of pools and falls, with the nicest swimming I’ve had in my time here at the bottom, with perfect temperature fresh water, and in the flow and spray from the special cleansing energy of the falls.
There was a beautiful boardwalk around the lip of the falls through a green and shady forest. There were numerous pools with groups of fish suspended Zen-like in the current, with only the slightest movement to keep them in line with the sweet spot that allowed the current to slip around their smooth bodies with the least amount of effort on their part. There was also the reconstruction area of a hydroelectric dam that was the second of it’s kind to be built in history (the first being American), it was the first to actually be operational, and powering the town and surrounding area with electricity.
A real highlight of this already amazing experience was the historic display of traditional use of this area for milling flour. There were 6 or 7 buildings showing different aspects of traditional life, with people dressed in period costumes showing us how they worked. There was a blacksmith’s bellows, an old stone house set up to show how the people would have cooked and lived, and then information on the fishing and farming of the areas. The flour mills were the most amazing though, with large stone wheels being turned by the water, routed under the floor of the building. Then next door was a giant washing machine made of two huge timber hammers driven by a waterwheel, with the water flowing through the room and past the clothes to flush them clean, and a gorgeous cave-like natural bathing room, with water flowing through different pools and out by a river along the wall. I was really impressed by the authenticity of the displays, and how un-commercial they looked, and loved that all were operational with people demonstrating their function. It was very interesting.