There are moments in every journey where you think: I am tired. You make silly mistakes, like shallow stepping onto a dinghy and finding yourself in the water instead of in the boat. You accept ridiculous fates, like assuming that any and every key component of your home aboard will break just as you need it. You dismiss the facts that you are arriving to port with fumes for diesel, gasps of air for water, and only a doomsday prepper’s cabinet for food. We have sailed and motored about seventeen hundred and fifty miles these last months. As our nine-year-old summed up, “Split to Barcelona is a two-hour flight?! It took us three months to get here!” Ahh, yachting.
In some ways, it took coming to Croatia to absorb some of the splendor of these Mediterranean islands. I said upon entry that the Cretans were humorless, that they were polite but perhaps weighted with a bleak history of communism and war, but as we fly out of the country, I think I have spoken abruptly and without even the insight of a few weeks’ observation. Just as NYC is not to Charleston is not to Los Angeles, Dubrovnik is not to Split is not to Vela Luka.
We arrived in Cavtat easily, like yachting easily. Along the way, we picked up a lost fender floating in the sea, lost and retrieved a boat hook, and went swimming (illegally) for some fishing line that would now no longer be someone else’s prop problem. We dropped our anchor off customs and backed Madame Geneva stern to on the dock. Then, after partially clearing in, we motored to the bay on the other side of the peninsula to await the policia in the morning. Anchoring was a frustrating chore as I repeatedly pulled up more and more weed. We finally relocated a skinny section close to shore and found a good hold.
Cavtat is a very pretty town. Cafes line the harbor. Swimming holes are filled with, well, swimmers. Working and pleasure boats compete for space in what almost seemed a lake side resort. Of course, when the winds kicked in in the middle of the night, it was anything but a lake, but with the pine trees and overall pleasantness, there was an air of ease. We hopped the ferry to Dubrovnik because we had heard that that was not to be missed. Cruise ships filled the entrance to the harbor of the walled and castled city. Game of Thrones trinket shops numbered nearly as many as the same fared restaurants. Tourists milled and meandered through the stoned streets and down the tight alleys. Miss it.
We couldn’t miss it entirely though. We had to arrange the pickup of a boat part, which may sound strange to those who lack the experience of internationally locating parts for boats. Rarely can you find what you need. Improvisations are often necessary. When it comes to extremely specific parts, like a Norwegian rubber gasket for the bow thruster, you are at the mercy of a great web of customs, distributors, and no set address. So an exchange like this becomes reality:
We sailed on from Cavtat and went in search of a more serene setting and easily found it on the island of Mjlet. With only a few other boats moored at a distance, the kids jumped off of Madame Geneva and swam to shore and climbed the rocks. The next few days had us buzzing around anchorages and harbors on these islands off of Split. We found isolated bays and charter packed mooring fields. We found quaint picturesque towns and stunning natural pockets of safe waters deep within green forested fingers. We dropped anchor ahead of a massive incoming storm, with intention to relocate to a mooring for the big winds, only to find ourselves in the throws of an incredible lightening storm. We sat in the cockpit as the rain washed over the boat and the wind whipped free a neighbor’s dinghy, that Justin lassoed with throw rope. We watched the hand of light, with fingers spread touch the surrounding mountains and illuminate the masts swinging in the storm.
We met up with our friends (and neighbors), Lisa and Brandon, in a bay across from Hvar. Our attempt to come into Hvar to meet them off the ferry was ill-fated, with weather and a packed harbor. The idea of dropping an anchor and using stern lines to tie up alongside tightly moored boats (still without a bow thruster) was simply not desirable. Our neighbors were quickly introduced to the inconvenience of this life choice, and equally to the splendor. Moored well off from most of the boats, Madame Geneva swung softly in the clear blue water. Crags of white jagged rock split from the sea. We jumped from the boat and swam.
And then, because as we must remember I am tired, I found myself in the unfortunate position of having the throttle of the dinghy lodged firmly into my ribs. How many days have we jumped into Clover (our trusted dinghy) and zipped to and from the boat? Six years of familiarity. Six years of anticipating movement, of leaning forward to cut into any notable waves. Six years of being doused by waves. And yet this day, I hop in and Justin takes off and I simply fly into the throttle. Bruised or busted ribs? Whatever the diagnosis (apparently broke and dislocated 2 ribs), the pain is excruciating, apparently long-lasting, and rather inconvenient as we are wrapping up our journey and days away from needing to break down the boat for her months on the hard.
Not to be deterred, we take our friends to Komiza on the island of Vis. We have many ideas of how to spend our time here but all agreed that we needed to get off the boat and take a walk. In my excitement, I suggest going up the mountain. We decide to walk to the church of St. Nikole and assess from there. Like a fortress, the church sits high along the hillside surrounded by vineyards and groves. Like a fortress, the church has bricked in entries and conspicuously long and narrow embrasures. Seeing these ports for weapons opens your eyes to this seeded and torn history where religion is on the defensive. Sailing through Croatia, with its natural beauty and bounty, it is easy to forget that not even thirty years ago, a war raged through and tore its people into the six countries of Yugoslavia.
We walk on further to get to Tito’s cave. The road overlooks the sinking town and then the much less populated anchorages with pockets of sand that brightly illuminate the sea from this elevation. Brandon and Lisa decide to turn back toward town; we hail a passing taxi for a ride up the hill to the base of the cave. From there, we must climb up the many stairs to the hideouts of the infamous warrior and dictator, Josep Broz Tito. A fighter from WWI, Tito went on to become the leader of the resistance in WWII, a communist revolutionary and eventually a popular dictator. From the top cave, we could follow a trail to the highest point, Mt. Hum, and then back down to the town of Komiza.
We encountered a group of people who had driven to the high point. “Make sure your kids stay on the path,” their guide said. “Yes, we will.” Technically Quinn was on the path, just a different one that the well-travelled and graveled road we were on. We figured he was concerned of a fall from a sheer drop from the jagged, rugged rock with the thorny brush below. “No, they must stay on the path because of the landmines.” Suddenly we were no longer “strolling” down the sharp face of a former Yugoslavic stronghold with its radio towers, hidden caves, and remembrance chapels, we were trekking along a narrow, broken shale switchback with leaves, twigs and snagging vines whipping limbs and faces while we devotedly watched for the trail’s markings. Let’s just say it was easy to keep everyone on the path when the alternative was the click of a land mine.
As we prepared Madame Geneva for her seasons’ slumber, we rented an apartment in old town Split. Far more cosmopolitan though still quite touristed, Split offered old castle walls and churches, narrow alleys and broken fascia, mixed with boutiques and museums. We discussed how even what seems the smallest choice affects our lives in ways unmeasurable. How without Che, there would be no Gherty nor Quinn. How if I had not graduated from college with so much debt, I would have gone into theatre. How differently things would be if Justin continued with music and was part of a rock and roll band. We talked about my time working as an extra on a movie set and how much time it requires to prepare for even a few seconds of film.
How odd then when we awoke on the day of our departure to a band playing in the large square three floors below that we should see the filming of a movie underway. And there in our square, while musicians played and pretended to play, and dancers danced to and without music, we watched as Owen Wilson and Selma Hayek walked and chatted. We sat perched on the window’s ledge, shutters thrown open wide and marveled in that last hour before our long journey home began.
Rarely do we know what lies ahead. We continuously doubt and encourage our decision to live in this fashion. We are exalted. We are humbled. We fear we are Icarus. We sense we are Odysseus. These days have been marked in hours and years, and seemed as such. This adventure is not yet over. But with any great adventure, there is a time for a return home. And now this is that time. But for the then, rarely do we know.