Open seas | One thousand shades of blue8 min read . Updated: 26 Apr 2012, 11:15 PM IST
Open seas | One thousand shades of blue
Open seas | One thousand shades of blue
The first time I saw the Adriatic Sea, I realized blue can be many different colours. Now I’m about to spend a whole week on the water, watching it shimmer and shine, up close.
Croatia has over 1,000 islands, and with my brother visiting us for a few weeks, we figured the best way to show him the country would be to sail along the coastline. We are starting from the islet of Trogir, a Unesco World Heritage Site, on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. We are meeting the boat and our skipper at the Trogir marina, and we set sail a few hours after lunch.
Wine on the ‘Supernova’
Her name is Supernova. She is pretty, and surprisingly big.
Our skipper, Marko, is a 24-year-old student, and this is his father’s boat. When school is out, Marko works on the boat. He knows these waters and their moods like the back of his hand. He also knows all the important folk along the coast: marina workers, restaurant managers and water-taxi operators.
Marko gives us a quick tour: three bedrooms, two bathrooms, the common area with a kitchenette, the open deck and patio. He shows us where the life jackets are; we ask him where we can store the wine.
He tells us he is allergic to seafood; we promise to cook him some chicken curry.
Before I know it, we’ve pulled away from Trogir. The orange rooftops of the islet are quickly replaced by green mountain tops and fluffy white clouds. Fifteen minutes into the week and we are all by ourselves in the middle of the sea. We open a celebratory bottle of wine—this is the Croatian way, after all. It’s the first in what will soon become a series. A soft breeze is blowing and the wine is doing its thing—it’s exhilarating.
Our first day on the boat is a short 3-hour ride to the island of Brac, right in time for sunset. The sky is a riot of colours—pink, orange and grey; the water makes soft gurgling sounds and church bells ring in the distance. I wonder if the bells will ring through the night, and early into the morning. As I find out later, they do.
Once the sun dips, it gets dark quickly, and the crackle of burning coal can be heard all along the waterfront. We step into a crowded local inn (konoba) for dinner. The chef, a robust man in his late 50s, stands by an open grill, preparing the night’s meal—monkfish and lamb. He spends most of his time chain-smoking, drinking rakija shots, and chatting with everyone in the establishment. From time to time, he flips the fish and meat. The konoba is busy, and the food takes time to come. But when it does, it is perfect, flavoured with the sea, the coal and a wedge of lemon.
Cooking on the boat is an experience. There’s barely any room and the boat keeps bobbing. We work elbow to elbow, and eat the same way. There’s hot coffee, fried eggs, sausages, tomatoes, cheese, and fresh white bread. It sounds like a meal from an Enid Blyton story; it tastes as good.
“We have good wind today. Time to put up the sails," Marko declares. We try and help, but it’s not as easy as it looks, and I keep getting in the way. Eventually, the sails balloon up and as the wind hits the white, it makes a loud whoosh, propelling us towards Palmižana on Sveti Klement island.
“What do you recommend?" I ask Hrvoj, the waiter at Toto’s Beach Restaurant, one of the two restaurants on this side of the island. We are seated in the open courtyard, under the cover of ancient pine trees. The bay is spread out in front of us. “I’ll show you," he says, pointing towards the water; a diver in a blue and yellow wetsuit is making his way across the pebbled beach with an aquarium draped across his arms. There’s a lobster, sea shark, a heap of shells, and an amberjack there. “What would you like, and how would you like it?" Soon the table is full of shells, ravioli, spaghetti and grilled fish; lunch takes us a while.
After you’re stuffed on seafood, it isn’t the best time to take a water taxi and yet, that’s exactly what we do. The motor is loud and the ride is rough, but it’s the best way to reach the busy island of Hvar. Besides, it’s a 10-minute ride; it ends before any bout of seasickness can set in.
Hvar is one of Croatia’s more high-profile islands. In the summer months (May-August), the promenade is lined with private luxury yachts. The likes of Roman Abramovich, Bernie Ecclestone, Beyoncé, Britain’s Prince Harry and the Hiltons can be seen living it up along the waterfront. Hvar is always up for a party. We take in some of this glamour before heading back to the boat for a quiet dinner and a rowdy game of Scrabble.
The sea is throwing up
An hour later, we are still clutching the railings. The rain is coming down now and the water is rising higher. Despite the rainproof jacket, I am soaked to the bone. My mind goes back to our first day on Supernova—where did he say those orange life vests were stored?
I feel the impact of each wave that crashes into us. The thud throws me off the bench for a microsecond before I am flung back down. It reminds me of a rickshaw ride in post-monsoon Mumbai, but this is slightly scarier. The lashing goes on till we pull into the Kut marina, on the island of Vis. I feel battered, the rest look equally shaken.
We know this island. It’s Croatia’s cricket island, where we’ve spent many hot summers chasing cricket balls and tallying scores. We abandon the boat, practically flying across the yellow walkway, for dry, firm land, and savour that first moment of realization: Nothing is swaying, nothing is lurching, and no one needs to throw up.
Flip-flops from Albania
Things have calmed down again. Yesterday’s mood swings have been brushed away—the sky is as blue as the water, and all the other elements are behaving as well. We let the sails out and continue with Day 4 in the direction of Korcula.
We see more boats around today than we have over the last three days. Yesterday’s weather must have derailed a few routes and hijacked a few itineraries. “Lots of traffic this morning; we might have trouble parking at the marina," Marko warns us.
Unlike the state of the water, Korcula is in perfect order. This walled town, also known as Little Dubrovnik, is all tiny cobbled alleyways and stone structures, colliding and crossing like an unwound spool of yarn. There are restaurants, cafés, boutiques, galleries, hotels and museums embedded into the walls.
Sitting by the waterfront for dinner, we watch fishing boats come in and out. We watch the cruise lines anchor for the night. We watch little children dangle strings into the water, hoping to catch fish. We watch the maintenance crew complete the clean-up just as the sun sinks in.
Everything is beautiful again.
We are making an early start to get away from yesterday’s crowds. It’s not yet 8am when the walls of Korcula fall behind us, growing smaller and smaller until once again, it’s just us and the sea. The day is spent under the sun, with books, music and sunscreen. Hours pass in this calm—the day is serene, perfect.
Lost in our own worlds, we jolt back only when a loud splash demands our attention. There are no other boats around us. There is no movement. We stare at the water, slightly puzzled. Then we hear it again, but this time behind us.
“Dolphins!" everyone shouts at once.
There are four of them—young, pale grey and full of energy. They are playing what looks like a game of dolphin tag. They leap in and out of the water around the boat, not bothered by our presence—they make as much noise as we do, and our voices ring out in the open sea. This stretch back to Brac is known for dolphin-spotting, but they don’t always hang around for so long.
“Do you want to follow them or keep to the course?"
“Follow them, of course." And we do, for the next 20 minutes, till they pull away and disappear into the blue horizon.
On a dinghy to Bol
Supernova is anchored off the town of Bol on Brac island. Right now, it’s the only boat around. That means only one thing: The beach is all ours. We hop on to the dinghy and make for the shore.
Zlatni Rat is one of Croatia’s most popular beaches. It has one interesting feature: The beach line keeps shifting depending on the winds and the tides. In a few months, it will be a challenge to get from the beach bar to the water without stepping on sunbathing bodies. But for now, it’s just us, a bunch of French pensioners, and the guy running the beach bar.
We spend the whole day on the beach. The water is clear and the temperature perfect. I can see the seabed all the way through, pebbled with white limestone. We follow a simple routine today: swim, lounge, repeat.
Back to reality, sort of
Before we know it, the week is over and we are heading back to Trogir. We pack our bags—making sure to collect all the chargers, books and board games. We tidy up the boat, sorting out the recycling from the other waste. We pack our bags and head out to the deck to soak up some sun before this journey comes to an end.
Slowly the open sea gives way to the orange rooftops and the crowded marina. We tether the boat for one last time, and walk across the yellow plank to dry land. We say our goodbyes to Marko and head back into the Unesco-protected walls of Trogir.
The sound of splashing water lingers on.
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