Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Oh Say can you Sea! Celebrating the 4th of July Along the Balkan Coast.

Our starting point. The UNESCO Heritage City of Kotor, Montenegro.
It was time for a break! A week aboard a boat where someone else would set the course, prepare the meals, drop the anchor and refresh the beverages over the 4th of July holiday sounded perfect.

This diversion came about when Michael was searching for an Airbnb boat option in Montenegro. When he couldn't find one he went surfing and up popped Experience Montenegro, a British tour company that specialized in affordable cruising in Montenegro and Croatia. For just a bit more than our Airbnb budget we could spend seven days on a Gullet (a Turkish made boat that sort of looks like a whaling schooner), cruising the Montenegrin and Croatian coastline with a cozy cabin including breakfast, and either lunch or dinner, depending on where we anchored. Ours was "The Jewels of the Adriatic" cruise that began in  Kotor, Montenegro and then made several stops in Croatia including Cavtat, Sipan, Dubrovnik and Herceg Novi, returning to Montenegro via Bigova, Perast and finally back to Kotor. Take a look at some of our stops.

 St. George's Island near Perast, Monetegro - the most beautiful village we visited.
Devouring our daily ice cream while taking in the scenery in Hercig Novi.
Sunset in Bigova reminded me of nights at anchor in the San Juan Islands.
We would be sharing this adventure with three other couples whom we didn't know - but that can be half the fun. Or half the nightmare.

Living in Seattle, surrounded by water, almost any occasion can be celebrated on a boat. Birthdays, anniversaries, office parties, etc. The usual itinerary includes at least a four hour cruise around Puget Sound or through the Ballard Locks into Lake Washington to ogle Bill Gates sprawling estate, and of course lots of alcohol and a fairly predicable buffet. My first reaction when invited to one of these potential all day excursions is to conjure up an immovable commitment. It’s not that I don’t love being on the water - Michael and I happily shared our sailboat boat for twenty years, the problem, at least for me, is mingling in tight quarters with strangers without an opportunity to gracefully back out the door when you’ve had enough.

Du Zamani boat mates, Doug, Jackie, Michael, Wendy and Graham
We could always seek refuge in our very comfortable cabin.
In this case - our boat mates turned out to be more than delightful. Our companions included Graham and Wendy from North Wales and Doug and Jackie from Dorset, England (the other couple had cancelled - which was a blessing) so it was just us two Americans and four Brits! Our two-man crew, Skipper and chef, Mishu and Meri, director, deck hand, navigator, and chief entertainer. They were funny, friendly, laid back and very capable.

Our trusty crew - Mishu, skipper and chef and Meri, everything else!
Meri was great fun and kept us distracted from any challenges.
When we arrived there was some confusion about which of the two boats sitting next to each other in the marina was the one we'd be sailing on. It turned out there was a surplus of guests who booked the "Jewels of the Adriatic" cruise, so a smaller boat was brought in that could accommodate the 8 overflow guests. We were on that boat. An initial side-by-side comparison made our Gullet look a little shabby, but after a week shadowing the bigger boat with their full contingent of 12 on board, we were very happy with Dus Zamani, our "Little Gulet that Could". She wasn't fast, but she was comfortable and certainly not over crowded. We also learned that these boats don't actually sail, which was disappointing, but if we had sailed, I doubt we'd have gone half the distance.

Our boat anchored just off Dubrovnik, one of the best stops on the cruise.
 We almost didn't have the fun of getting to know Doug and Jackie - they had booked the "Highlights of Montenegro" cruise but the company (not the most organized we discovered) failed to inform them that cruise didn't have enough takers and was cancelled - so now they were taking this trip instead. The news was delivered on-board before departure by a over-smiling, bumbler of a company representative who "hoped they were okay with that?" He apologized for the mix-up of course, but the good news was "they would not be charged the extra cost of this unexpected (but lucky them) upgrade". We knew we'd love these two when they shrugged and said "why not? We're on a boat and you lot (that would be the rest of us) don't seem too bad". I don't know many people that would do that. This would be the first of many running jokes about the tour company and how they operate, mostly around over-promising and under delivering. If this inspires you to take a trip like this, there are many companies that provide similar experiences - I wouldn't necessarily recommend ours, but here's the link:  http://www.montenegroholidays.com/gulet-cruises. 

Two happy Senior Nomads!
This was very close to a clothing optional excursion. Lucky we had these handsome men aboard!
A challenge that could have caused mutiny was the food. You know I love to cook and some of my happiest memories are from puttering in the galley on Butterscotch, so I had visions of being served freshly caught fish on the grill, juicy fruit, light salads, and interesting Mediterranean specialties all prepared by someone else while I was deep into a book. That was not to be the case. Our poor skipper and harried cook, Mishu did his best - but the daily menus were set by the dreary tour company in England and the provisions were already on board. We knew we were in trouble with the first breakfast - fleshy pink hot dogs, hard boiled eggs, mystery white cheese and slabs of white bread, all washed down with a mysterious "orange" juice. Or on other days bright "pink" juice.

The happy passengers enjoying lunch together. And look at all those clothes!
 Most of the meals were heavy and felt a bit institutional. I mean, who serves a hot soup course, followed by pork chops and mashed potatoes for lunch in 90 degree weather? In a fit of defiance Mishu bought ingredients out of his own pocket and made us Black Risotto from Cuttlefish ink that is one of his specialties - and made sure we had fresh watermelon for the 4th of July. Otherwise, we bought our own fruit and snacks onshore and enjoyed dinner or lunch on our own. I did take over the galley one afternoon to make Strawberry and Blueberry Shortcake for a 4th of July celebration.
Eventually I did share the watermelon.
Doing the best I can to make shortcakes from what was in the larder.
The final results for all to share and a rousing rendition of our national anthem. 
The wine and beer seemed to be in endless supply, along with soft drinks and water, so the six of us were relaxed and sun-dazed, and merrily went along with whatever was brought to the table and wherever we were taken.
Mishu extracting ink from a cuttlefish for his special black risotto.
Mishu's fingers were stained for two days - but it was worth it.
The final results: Cuttlefish Ink Risotto. A memorable dish.
One final challenge. We usually anchored out and Meri would take us to shore in two batches in the dinghy and then collect us when we were done dining and exploring. That worked well until the dinghy motor died a shuddering death. From then on we had to use our big sister ship's tender when we could - or we'd raft along side the bigger ship and crawl over both decks to shore. 

The yellow boat was the larger sister on the same cruise from the same company.
We encountered many mega-yachts on this trip. Here's a harbor blocker at 150'.
In the end,  not having a dinghy turned out to be a good thing - the "rats on the ship" as we called ourselves, convinced the crew to skip a couple of stops that required going ashore so we could spend more time in tranquil bays where we could swim and relax.
Having a fine day in the sun as we slowly make our way back down the coast.
The water was cold and refreshing. Unfortunately, the snorkelers in the group saw more junk than fish.
Doug and Graham toasting to whatever might be appropriate at the time.
After and hour of fishing this was my reward. He went directly in the soup pot.
I don't need to go too much deeper - especially since most of our daily journal entries included notes like: Read most of the day, napped, Played dominoes and card games, ate too much (even though dinner was weird). Caught a small fish. Went ashore in (insert stunning coastal village here), ate ice cream. Or ... don't remember. Who could ask for more? And again, the good news is we loved the people we shared these languid seven days with and hope to visit them in the future. 

Domino dominating the game table. Graham apparently doesn't like his hand.
Personally, we shall not seek independence from these particular Brits.
Thanks for following along,

Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads


  1. You were indeed very fortunate to have such a great contingent of people on your boat. What could have been simply awful turned out to be wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing these adventures with me, and I do look forward to getting together with my favorite Nomads when you alight in Seattle one of these days. :-)

  2. How very fun!!!! We spent several weeks in this area of the globe last year and loved it! I really liked your description of the tour company (not very organized!)- as long as you have a sense of humor and can be flexible, this is a very charming part of their culture. We took a tour of the monestaries of Montenegro (such an awesome country!)- but we also did not know that our tour was cancelled- so we were put on a bus with 50 Russians- and us:-). the guide spoke Russian and english- he would talk for 30 minutes in Russian and 3 minutes in English- LOL! No idea what we missed! but the tour actually went to more places than we expected. We also became aware of the huge cultural difference between Russians and Americans (they never spoke, but if this was a bus of Americans, we would all be Facebook friends after 10 mintues!), but their quiet devotion was so evident when visiting the Orthodox monestaries- so impressive! And when it was over, many in VERY broken English said thank you and have good travels. Missed a wholelot of thei hstory, but teh experience was incredible! So I say be flexible- it works out for the best!

  3. That was an awesome cruise tour along the Montenegrin and Croatian coastline! It seems you got the full package: a cozy cabin, meals, and a Turkish boat. Boat tours can be quite fun, especially when you get to meet new people or even new friends. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Cheers!

    Kent Garner @ Whites Marine Center

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