You can tell with the splutter of an old diesel engine and the hammering and banging on the docks, Spring is here.
Sunday was a typical Balkans type experience. Amazing scenery and amazing bureaucracy!
We started our day driving back towards Montenegro from Ploče, Croatia where we came across Ston — another medieval town with very intact walls. In fact Ston has the most extensive network of defensive walls still in good condition.
Like most places around here it went from Venetian rule (where the walls were built to guard the valuable salt pans which still operate today), to Austro-Hungarian where they used some of the cut stone from the walls to upgrade buildings. At the end of WWI a decision was made to preserve and restore the remains instead of using them as cheap building materials and so you have modern Ston, a small village today as the salt trade isn’t what it used to be, with massive fortifications guarding it.
One of the delights about travelling around this part of the world is that you really never have to go far — often just a few kilometres — to stumble upon another amazing ruin that was part of the defensive history of the region.
After Ston, we then headed straight to Montenegro and crossed the border — much faster this time as we were exiting Croatia, then it was off to Porto Novi for lunch at Koffein. Besides being a reasonable cafe with decent food, Koffein holds special distinction in my heart as it’s the only place we know of in Montenegro that roasts it’s own fresh coffee on site, so we stocked up with another 1kg of beans to bring back to the boat.
Then it was home to Tivat — a drive that should only take around 30 minutes depending on the ferry crossing but took an hour and a half because of ferry problems.
The ferry operates across the narrows between the two bays. Typically it takes less than 15 minutes to board and cross in your car, while driving around the top bay can take an hour plus.
The history of the ferry dates back to when Montenegro got its independence (2006). At the time the contract to operate the ferry was awarded to a friend of the prime minister (or president, not sure which) and crucially included a clause that the Government would pay for the fuel to operate the ferry.
Fast forward to today and the man who ran the business is by all accounts very wealthy and also well connected to the local mafia. He decides he’d like a bit of extra cash to increases the cost of the ferries, quoting fuel prices as the reason. The prime minister gets wind of it, everyone is upset and so the government tells them that they can’t do this and rescind the operating contract.
While bidding for a new operator is underway, the man in charge decides that as it’s his company and he owns the ferries that the Government can take a running jump and he sells them to an operator in Croatia. Now there are no ferries at all. This all takes place within the space of a few weeks.
The Government found a spare ferry “somewhere” that they are now operating (currently for free) and have purchased another one from somewhere in Scandinavia that’s currently on its way here, but the bottom line is the ferry service is now a complete mess.
The replacement ferry is not the right size for the existing docks — the docks are too low, so the ramps on to the ferry are too high, which means that loading the ferry now takes much longer. Of course instead of 3–4 ferries constantly going back and forward, now there’s the one, so you have to wait while it unloads and then loads, a process which takes longer than ever. Anyway, what was 15 minutes is now over an hour.
We were very happy to be back on Matilda, who is in great shape although was covered with red Saharan dust from storms. We were also touched by the enthusiam with which we were greeted on our return! We have a lovely group of friends here and it was great to catch up again and share stories. The remainder of this week has been incredibly social!
Sunday night we went out for ice cream. Tuesday we were invited on board Craig and Pandy’s boat Distraction for lunch out at a restaurant in Kotor. Wednesday was curry night and we had drinks with Claire and Ollie before hand. Thursday was “ladies lunch” for Karina and then Steve joined us for dinner on Matilda. Friday night we enjoyed dinner with Kate and Iain aboard Intrepid Bear and last night (Saturday night) was my birthday, so we went out to a restaurant with a small group. This morning we’re off to breakfast with Sarah and Peter aboard Flying Fish.
Craig and Pandy have a modern Lagoon 43 Power Cat. It was both the first time we’d been on a catamaran underway and for Karina, the first time she’d been on someone else’s boat underway! We enjoyed sitting up with friends on the fly bridge and being back out on the bay. Lunch was with a great group of people, highly entertaining and the food was very good.
Every time we get out on the water, it makes us look forward more and more towards getting out again on our own. The weather is improving day by day and getting warmer. It still rains, but it’s not as cold and it’s generally much more short lived than previously.
It’s not just us! Most conversations with friends this week have all turned towards looking forward to get back underway. We’ve also noticed that a lot of boats which have been shut up for a while have people coming and working on them, cleaning the insides, starting the engines for the first time in a couple of months and generally starting the process of getting ready.
Wednesday we popped over to Claire and Ollie’s for a drink before curry night and to play test a board game I’ve been working on. I always have to have some project to keep me amused besides the boat and for the last few weeks it’s been developing a board game based around sailing. I’m not sure where it goes from here, other than I’ve got a friend lined up to help with the graphic design side. Perhaps if it works out OK, I’ll put it up on KickStarter or something. Anyway, it’s a lot of fun working onit, the first play test went well, I’ve refined the rules and some of the items further and I’ve also lined up two of the local liveaboard kids to help test it further with me and continue to tweak it.
Thursday was a little quieter — Karina went out for the regular ladies lunch and I spent some time on the computer. With the weather improving we did knock over a few boat chores and we washed Matilda from top to bottom to get rid of the dust. Karina cooked and Steve joined us for dinner.
Friday we were off to Intrepid Bear to have dinner with Kate and Iain, a very delightful risotto and a chocolate orange cheesecake for dessert. We love spending time on other people’s boats and seeing how things work and the differences and challenges compared to Matilda.
Which brings us to Saturday! Which just happens to be my 52nd birthday. I chatted with the kids and my parents in the morning, we had leftovers for lunch and then went to a local Italian place for dinner with a group of friends. Ten of us was the perfect number, although we all found it a bit loud inside with the music which seems to be a feature of every restaurant here, we could all chat and laugh and it was great fun. I really appreciate everyone that came. Sarah wrote several haiku’s, Peter cheated and generated some with ChatGPT and Nat wrote a poem — it was lovely to hear some of the aspects about our lives people enjoy. If I’m honest, even our liveaboard boat friends think we’re both a bit nuts, but they seem to love us for it.
Saturday afternoon I helped Peter and Sarah move their boat Flying Fish to the pump out station and back. They bought it here in Porto Montenegro and haven’t yet moved it as they’ve been waiting for the registration and insurance to be sorted, as of the 1st of March though they are good to start moving about. It’s always fun being on someone else’s boat lending a hand, lots to learn and lots to share.
Which brings me to Sunday! Blog day, breakfast brunch with Sarah and Peter sharing some information on Greece. Then for the rest of the week, coffee catchups sharing info on Greece with Seamus, a jam session on Tuesday with Sean and hopefully Eric (who should be back from the US by then but might be jet lagged still) and who knows what else will unfold. Something always does!