Friday, June 15, 2018

MONTENEGRO

June 14th, a nice day of actual sailing for a change from motoring that ushered us into the country of Montenegro and into the Port of Bar. Maybe a sign of better cruising?

The town was tidy and had a pleasant shore-front presence with a gorgeous mountain backdrop.

Bar nestled against the mountains

We tied up right in front of the Harbour Police and Customs offices (N42°05.875' E019°05.376') where we were instructed to go a short distance to the Harbour Master and then return for passport stamps etc. (all without an agent). With only a modest cruising permit fee, we were good to explore Montenegro for 1 month.

After spending a rare night at a Marina (N42°05.841' E019°05.276'), it was off to downtown Bar to get a SIM card and data so that we could have internet while in Montenegro. We signed up with M-Tel and what a deal! For only 5 Euro ($7.50 CAD), we got a SIM card AND got 10 gigs data for free! Things are definitely looking up so far for Montenegro!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Durrës and Shëngjin

June 12th was a long day of motoring (10.5 hours) up the Albanian coast from Orikum to Durrës, the second to last port. It is the country's largest port where the big commercial inner harbour is sheltered behind breakwaters. It services large freighters and ferries and it's not set up for cruising yachts. So we tied up alongside the high concrete pier under the shadow of old towering Ganz cranes and tried to avoid smudging our hull on the hefty black tire bumpers (N41°18.287' E019°27.117').

There was a faceoff between Chanty sitting on the dodger and 3 large dockyard dogs that wanted a feline dinner. Apparently the large silos next to the cranes housed wheat so we were wary of rats about. Maybe Chanty could earn her passage fare!

Sharing with ships

Albania requires cruisers to do formal check ins at each main port that they stop at and an agent is required for paperwork. In Durrës, it was fast and efficient and all done on the boat. However the fees vary port to port and agent to agent so it can get expensive. Durrës cost us about $125 CAD.

However our agent was happy to relate some interesting history sparked by Jordan's many questions. Albania's lengthy communist control came to an end in the early 1990s. During that regime's control, their defensive military built 700,000 bunkers in tiers that line from the coast all the way up the mountains. The coastal waters were scattered with minefields and even though there were endeavours to eliminate them, our OpenCPN charts warn of areas of possible existence.

Durrës was simply a safe overnight mooring, so with no real interest there, we moved on in the morning for about 8 hours to Shëngjin, our last Albanian stop and official check-out port.

Shëngjin is also a commercial port. A little grimy with noticeably more rubbish, both in the water and on land. We tied up again to the concrete wall along with other commercial vessels where the agent greeted us (N41°48.399' E019°35.277'). He checked us in at his "office cafe" where Jordan was refreshed with a local beer. His service was not only a check in to this port but also a country check out as next stop was Montenegro the next day.

Dirty digs

Our short walk to town took us past smelly trash bins and along an unkempt street of general dinginess. The beach area in front of town was better, but this place, with no architectural or planning merits, will never make Conde Nast's Gold List (a travel magazine with lists of best)!

However it was nice to see a sand beach instead of the usual pebble beaches we have seen so far in the Med. The last sand we saw was in Egypt - the Europeans should have stolen some sand from there along with the artifacts!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Moving north

Around these parts, it seems it's either calm or winds that blow from the north with an unpleasant chop and there are not a lot of bays or islands to tuck into along Albania's coast so there were some 50+ nautical mile days.

While at a protected spot, we watched the weather and then headed out when it called for light and variable breezes with motor and sail. Not unlike our days heading up the Red Sea. But at least here, safe spots seemed to be closer together.

After leaving Saranda, for the next few days we continued to move north up the coast, stopping the first night in a semi-protected anchorage at Qeparo Village (June 7th N40°03.005' E019°48.814'), and around the corner the next night at the much better protected Bay of Palermos (N40°03.194' E019°47.920').

We found a tight little cove in the south part of the Bay and anchored behind fish farm pens with a stern line to the shore. (The navy was kicking out a couple of other boats from the north part of the Bay.)

Stern line to shore

We took the dinghy ashore to visit the Ali Pasha Castle and another of many of his forts that he built to secure his hold on the territories in these areas about a couple hundred years ago. This one is still in excellent condition and used even up until the end of World War II.

The pirates' perspective

From Ali's perch

Strong winds were predicted in 2 days so we made a long day's run north with a breeze on the nose and short steep chop. We were headed for a protected cove we saw on our charts in the south end of the big Bay of Vlorë (N40°21.322' E019°24.388').

When we pulled up to the cove, we saw it was filled with fish farm pens and almost the whole cove was roped off. We jockeyed around the pens to the lee side of an old dilapidated concrete pier with menacing old broken rusty rebar sticking out like porcupine quills. To keep us off and the nose into the wind, we ran a line from the bow to the pier and we again ran a line to the shore right behind us and tied off on a tree.

We were snug as a plug to wait out the coming north winds. It was a quiet 2 days (except for the herd of cows - each with a bell that gave the sound of wind chimes as they moved about munching grass - and the bleating goats). Jordan did some cockpit painting.

Porcupine pier

On June 11th, we moved over to the Orikum Marina (N40°20.338' E019°28.404') about 3.5 nautical miles east and entering over depths of 2.8 m (we draw 1.8 m) where we Med-moored. Poor Sea Turtle needed a bath to wash off all the salt and some stainless scrubbing, not to the mention the crew. The Marina was easy to distinguish with its red castle-like buildings.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Touring around

With the couple that we met from BC, we rented a car from our agent to tour areas around Saranda (Albania). We crossed a rickety cable ferry to see the Venetian Triangle Castle, which is as exactly as it says - a castle in a triangular shape. Wasn't much to see but we walked around the small perimeter and peered in the open windows. Wished we had a drone!

Cable ferry

Venetian Triangle Castle

Next was the adjacent ancient town of Butrint. It was a naturally near perfect site for the ancients as it is located at the end of a lake with a contiguous fertile delta. The channel to the ocean allowed shallow draft ships from far and wide access to it.

Delta

The Romans developed most of this site, then others that came later added to it. There was a well-defined amphitheater and many other ruins.

Ancient amphitheater

We drove into the foothills to the most unusual natural phenomenon called the Blue Eye. It was surreal to see a small spring of sparkling clear blue water come bubbling right out of the ground, up from a deep abyss that has never been explored past 50 metres deep, flowing at 7.5 cubic m/sec. It is always only 10°C but the cold water didn't stop people from getting in or diving from up above.

Blue Eye

Bubbling Blue Eye (4-sec video)

We crossed over a mountain pass via a narrow road with hairpin turns into an interior fertile valley to the City of Gjirokastra where the main attraction now is the old Gjirokastra Castle. Perched on a promontory on the side of the hill, we had to wind our way on narrow streets through a charming Old Town to get to the gate.

Modern Gjirokastra below

Cool arches

It was interesting to see rock roofs on many houses and on areas of the castle. Heavy! The castle was used right up to the end of the Second World War.

Rock roof

Clock Tower

Saturday, June 02, 2018

ALBANIA

Leaving Corfu Greece at 12 noon May 31st, we laid anchor in Saranda Albania 3 hours later (N39°52.331' E020°00.578'). Albania requires an agent to check you in and out of the country. While we were still in Corfu, we contacted an agent in Albania that others had recommended (Saranda Summer Tours and Sailing) and they met us on arrival.

While we stayed for a number of days in Saranda, they were always available with helpful info. For boaters wishing to contact:

(http://www.sarandasummertours.com/shipping-agent) or (sarandasts@yahoo.com)

Saranda (aka Sarande)

Many cruisers and in fact many foreigners bypass Albania as a place to visit. Up until 1991, they were a communist country and closed to visitors. But now they are making progress towards the standards of the rest of Europe.

Their currency is the Lekë and is the preferred method of payment (currently $1 Canadian = 83 Lekë). Most, but not everyone, accepts the Euro in Albania. English is taught in schools so communication was almost always understood and people were helpful and friendly.

Saranda was a pleasant port where you can either anchor or Med-moor at the many city piers. The waterfront has an esplanade where, come evening, many would stroll in comfortable temperatures and dilly dally with friends and neighbours.

Many ferries visit Saranda. There is a small fleet of fast hydrofoils shuttling passengers to and from Corfu. When up to speed, the hull is lifted out of the water by the underwater wings and it then zooms along at 32 knots!

Hydrofoil

When we tied up at the pier, we noticed a Canadian flag on a beautifully outfitted and maintained older classic sailboat of over 15 m (50 ft). Right away we introduced ourselves to Kaspar and Trisha and it turned out that their home port was Victoria, actually Brentwood Bay where Jordan grew up, and we had a lot of friends or acquaintances in common.

They have been sailing Starfire, their 60-year old ship, for a couple of decades chalking up well over 100,000 nautical miles (they lost count many years ago) to some of the most intrepid countries. They must have saltwater in their veins!

Starfire