Now that we have sailed the entire coastline of Croatia it seems the right time to make some comments about the country, it's people and sailing there. Croatia is a superb sailing ground with an almost limitless list of destinations, stretching from the glitz of Hvar Town to utterly remote bays with not a building in site. The wide choice of islands really does offer great opportunities for sailors and good refuges in bad weather. The sailing is straightforward enough and the charting is generally good. You do need to keep one eye on the weather, especially in Spring and Autumn, but the forecasting is good, especially for the feared Bora winds, which seem to get at least 24 hours notice.
Croatia sometimes gets a bad rap for unfriendliness but we have to say we have found the exact opposite-we have been met with great kindness wherever we have been with people often going out of their way to be helpful to us. Nearly everyone on the coast speaks English. Croatia is more expensive than Greece I think, but is a more developed and westernised country and I'm sure is considerably more expensive in August when the coast is coping with the annual influx of Italians. German and Austrian sailors dominate the northern waters with more Brits down south we found. The main charter areas are around Pula, Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik so the usual rules apply about avoiding marinas on Friday and Saturday nights and watching out for stern-to mooring antics as best one can. Charter boats (in Croatia at least) seem to be getting bigger- 50 foot seems the average size- and that can put more of a strain on some town quay type moorings. Marinas have all been fine, typically €45-55 a night for a 12 metre boat including power and water. Facilities are generally ok and the marinaros helpful. Some town quays are much cheaper, others are edging towards marina prices and there seems to be no logic to some of the pricing. Water and power have been available on all the town quays we visited, but sometimes at extra cost. The annual vignette and lights dues seem to me to be very fair value.
We knew that Croatia was dominated by mooring fields before we arrived and that's part of the deal. Typically we have paid between €20 and €25 a night for moorings. The bugbear for us is that in early season the mooring buoys are often not laid but you can't anchor because the mooring blocks and chains are in place in the best anchorages and you don't want to foul your anchor. That's something that could be a whole lot better. In the southern islands we have noticed a rise in the 'Turkish model', moor here for free but come and eat in my restaurant and we are usually happy to do so, the two of us can eat cheaply for €30-40 so that's in many ways better value than paying €20 just for the mooring. Inevitably this arrangement is very popular with the charter crowd. Every stern-to but one we have used has had lazylines and marinaros on hand. The exception is Cavtat (the southernmost port of entry) which seems to go out of its way to set expectations as low as possible for visitors from the south, whilst ripping off sailors at the same time. We would avoid the place in future.
The food in restaurants is pretty good. It all tends to revolve around fish, steak, pasta and risotto with occasional forays into seafood and lamb. There's always a pizza place in every large village or town. Some the local restaurants haven't worked out that risotto needs risotto rice to work properly but generally the food has been fresh and simply served. Salads can be a bit hit or miss. Our blog highlights the best three places we have eaten in Croatia. If you are going to eat "Peka" - lamb or veal cooked under an iron lid made sure you choose the restaurant with care- we didn't and the results were disappointing. Konzum is the big supermarket chain and they have lots of small supermarkets around the place which are generally very good. We even managed our first trip to Lidl in one place. We haven't really used much in the way of repair services for the boat so I can't really comment on the quality of that but the Volvo servicing we have had done has been thorough and efficient. We had delays getting the boat lifted for pressure washing but that's happened to us in the UK on more than one occasion so it's probably endemic in the world of marinas.
There are two English language pilots- The Thompson Adriatic Pilot and the translation of the Italian 777 Guide to Croatia. We've found that having the two helps although both inevitably need updating and the 777 concentrates on the situations that I imagine one only finds in August. If you are a member of the Cruising Association then their Captain's mate is a good addition, as is the Cruising Wiki
Overall Croatia gets a very big tick in the box from us. The highlight is the diversity of islands we have visited and the welcome we have received.
We have installed 250 watts of solar panels on the bimini using flexible Solbian panels. These panels are only 3 mm thick and zip into the bimini with a velcro cover for the cable runs. Weighing in at only 1.5 kgs the panels don't visually impact the bimini at all and avoid the need to install a goalpost on the stern of the boat. 250 watts should mean that we can be 'off-grid' for at least 10 days in sunny conditions before we need to start the engine to charge the batteries. As we would run out of water/food/clothes before that time then I'm hoping 250 watts will be plenty. They are controlled by two MPPT controllers to boost effectiveness. The fridge is well-insulated and the interior and navigation lights are all LED so there'e not much power drain there. The system is monitored through a Victron 602 controller and so far we have had plenty of power in reserve. That's mainly because we have had access to lots of shore-power and have used the engine a fair bit but I expect that to change and will report back as to how this system performs over time.
So, let's start with the most contentious issue of all. If anything gets sailing folk exercised it's everything to do with anchoring. I have ploughed (geddit) through so many posts and opinions on this subject and have often wasted hours without learning much. In the end I had to make my own decisions, based upon some insight and a little guesswork.
We've gone for a 20kg Rocna with 60m of 8mm chain with a further 30m of 14mm anchorplait to back it up. We went for a Rocna because the alternative Manson wouldn't fit on the anchor roller without modification and that made the decision easy. Without that help, its pretty much impossible to make an informed decision between the two. 10,000 sailors will instantly disagree with this analysis and another 5,000 will demand to know what's wrong with a CQR? The truth is if you are buying a new anchor, a new generation deep-burying one makes the most sense. There, my first opinion expressed with only a mixture of competing facts to back it up.
We've connected the anchor to the chain with a Kong 10-12mm swivel and three links of 10mm chain between the two to allow for maximum articulation of pull (thanks to Vyv Cox for that tip). I would have preferred 9mm chain but that required re-engineering the windlass as Hanse recommend 8mm and build around that. 60m was a judgement call balancing weight and deep eastern Med anchorages. We shall see how that all works and report back. As a kedge/spare we have a Fortress FX23 weighing in at 8kg, 5m of chain and the rest rope. We have an ankoralina 56m tape that we may use as part of this kedge set-up too. We've also fitted a wireless remote control for the windlass as we will mostly be sailing two-up and it's an extra hand when Med mooring. You can buy these on ebay for buttons but if you don't want to break the warranty on your new windlass you get ripped off for the manufacturer's version (in my case Quick). You can tell I'm not over that yet. Anyway that's the set-up and we shall see how it works in the real world.
When putting this adventure together I realised just how difficult it is to find out good information about boats, equipment, locations, electronics, communications, well, just about everything. It's not that there's a shortage of opinions, in fact everyone has an opinion, that's the trouble. Most opinions are expressed forcibly on forums and websites and these opinions often become facts.