DeDannan in Montenegro
We left the port of Durres in Albania in good weather for the trip north west to Port of Bar, Montenegro, some 55 miles distant, the wind was light from the north @ 8/10 kts, so out with our genneker and we had a grand sail @ up to 6 kts all the way in a flat calm Adriatic Sea. The little port of Ulcinj came into view, it was a nice evening so we decided we would tie up there for the night and head for Bar the next morning to clear in with customs and pay the viginnete (cruising permit) etc when we arrive at the customs quay. Ulcinj is the first port in Montenegro coming from the south, a small port with a town quay and the usual fort at the entrance to the port, pretty little town with lots of tourists, mainly Russian about, we took Alfie for a ramble to do his business and had dinner in one of the tavernas, it was very noticeable that the locals don't like dogs, they would step out of his way as though he was a wolf on the end of the lead, even the kids that usually want to play with him didn't like him, and we didn't see any dogs or cats about, having spent some time in Greece, where there are dogs and cats everywhere, this seemed strange.
The next morning whilst getting ready to push off we had a visit from the harbour master, a stern looking man who doesn't do chat, where have you come from he enquired, port of Durres late last night and now heading for Bar, I replied, have you cleared customs he enquired, no I replied, but going to at bar this morning, stay here and don't go anywhere until police arrive, after a few phone calls as he moved about the dock keeping an eye on us at all times a police man arrived on his motorbike, he explained that we should have went straight to customs in Bar first on entering Croatian waters and that this was now a problem, he would ring his inspector for his advise. The arrival of police drew the attention of some of the locals, they started to gather and just stair at us as though we were strangers from some other planet, one of them was an older Albanian guy living here who was chatty, telling us he was a retired deep sea diver married to a local women, having spent years diving on oil and gas platforms off Scotland he had worked with many Irish men there and and got on well with them, he knew the harbour master and would have a word with him. The police man advised that the inspector was not at all happy about all this, that the immigration man was on his way and he would decide what happens, half hour later an old Banger of a car pulls up and this miserable looking git gets out and walks towards the police and harbour master, a pow wow takes place to the entertainment of the now sizeable crowd who continue to stare at us, it was like the grim reaper himself had arrived, I said to Linda, money will exchange hands here this morning "Ours" and that's for sure. Passports and documents of the boat please, were the first words out of his mouth, where are you from ? what are you doing here ? I am a travel writer writing about sailing in the Adriatic was my reply, who do you write for he enquired, a couple of Irish, British and American sailing magazines, I thought this just might work, he then took the documents off to his car and made a phone call, another pow wow between the assembled officials, our little Albanian friend was translating the discussion on the side, "he doesn't give a f!!! who you write for he tells us" then the reaper comes over to advise that this is a big problem, that he has to take me as captain into custody and that a fine of €2000 per person plus another fee of €38 per person for the police and some other admin charge applies, there was silence from the crowed as he delivered this news to Linda and I from the dock, our jaws dropped as we sat looking at each other, even Alfie looked worried. Please come captain I have to take you into custody, your wife and dog to stay on the boat under supervision of the harbour master, so it was off to the nick for me, I said to Linda, get the safe open and give me whatever cash we have and off to the nick I went.
On arrival at what reminded me of something you would see in the old films about the Cold War, an old building with bars on the windows, marbled floors, the old cast iron radiators and pipes coming down the walls etc, fifties type office furniture, a guard on the entrance, busy with police coming and going, I was taken to the office of inspector Arben Tagarra, tall handsome guy very well turned out in a very fancy uniform with all the bells and whistles, his office was decorated with all sorts of framed certificates and some very official photos of him, we shook hands and he invited me to have the only other chair in his office, the others were left to stand, he sent for his secretary to take notes, a pretty young police girl who translated for him as he had no English, another serious pow wow took place between the four officials that were gathered in the large office of the inspector, one could see that he was clearly in charge as he would bark at the others if they did not agree with him, I just sat looking, not knowing what they were talking about, it reminded me of sitting in auld Sweeney's office, the head master of Saint Kevin's in finglas when I was in trouble for mitching in the sixties. awaiting and wondering what punishment was forthcoming whilst he and the school inspector were deliberating. Eventually after twenty minutes of argument, during which the inspector would make the odd courteous smile at me as he listened to the grim reaper harping on, his secretary politely advised it was the inspectors decision to reduce the fine to €200 for the reaper, and another €100 to cover the other charges if I pay now, this was a relieve I can tell you, but I didn't make any signs of relieve as they all staired at me, I enquired, what was the alternative to refusing to pay such a ridiculous sum for just visiting their country, that I was going to have to pay a further €225 for a cruising permit in anyway later this morning, the smile on inspector Tagarra's face changed when the pretty young secretary translated this to him, he barked, tell him I will have both he and his wife taken to the prison in Podgorika to await an appointment with a judge in about two weeks time, this put a smile for the first time on the reapers face, he clearly enjoyed the inspectors response,I found myself whistling the auld triangle, then offered to pay the fines and have done with the lot of them, at which point the inspector turfed the lot of us out of his office, he was an important man and had lots of more important business to be getting on with, the secretary advised, she told me the inspector said that as Montenegro wanted to become part of the EU he did not like to go too hard on tourists coming to his country, that he was a most fair and honourable man and he did us a big favour this morning, "favour me arse" I responded as I parted with the cash. Having signed numerous documents, none of which I could understand, with my scribble signature that I have used all my business career for documents that I don't like, I left the station to head back to the port, the police man took me to his motorbike in the car park, I looked at him and said, I don't go on motor bikes without a helmet, (they don't bother with helmets over here) I will walk back to the port I said, you are still in police custody and I have to see you leave the port, get on the bike please, "welcome to Montenegro".
Having been seen off by the police and harbour master we sailed the 18 miles to port of Bar and cleared in with customs there, the vigenette for one month cost €225, they give you what looks like a motor tax disk to display on both sides of the boom, this went well without too much fuss. Bar is a modern town with a large commercial docks, many naval vessels lie in poor condition there, it is the main port for Montenegro, small cargo ships come and go all the time, it has a decent Marina at the entrance to the port, there is a nice Stari Grad (Old Town) a couple of miles away, a citadel, narrow cobbled streets and lots of taverna's etc, there is a fine coastal path lined with palms and jackaranda tree's looking out onto the bay that we used to walk early in the mornings with Alfie, as one passes people over here and give the usual Irish nod or greeting to them, they look at you as if you were "mad" after a few days of this I found myself becoming like them and ignoring people as they passed, this seemed very strange to me, all over the Mediterranean people greet each other in every language, buenos Dias, Bon giorno, Yassas, good morning etc.
I visited a beautiful new mosque under construction, it was well on the way to completion, fantastic artistic work going on, the many domes are guilded in gold, the reflexion of the sun on them at the different times of the day is only fantastic, it is one of the first things that you see sailing into the bay, I was not sure if I would be allowed to enter, not being Muslim, but I was made most welcome when I enquired, although Alfie had to remain outside, no dog they said, I enjoyed looking at the various craftsmen toiling away, wonderful marble floor and decorative works going on, the ceilings are only fantastic, I restored several Catholic and Protestant church's in my day, I always really enjoyed this kind of work, as an apprentice working with my grandad Olin, he did a lot of this work in Ireland and passed some of this onto me, he was a deeply religious man, I would have to genuflect every time I passed the alter when he was about, carrying heavy building materials and tools etc, I spent months working in a convent in stillorgan, a silent order were the nuns covered their face with their veil as we would pass them, one had to whisper, it was like being in solitary confinement as a fourteen year old, visiting this mosque made me think of him, all my brothers and several cousins share some great stories of working with that man when we were young.
I have no doubt that this new mosque will be a great tourist attraction to sailors like myself in the generations to come, they told me they had run out of money to finish the job but would finish it, bit by bit, the Muslims know how to cut their cloth to suit their measure, tis wise men that live by that, as many Irish who have fallen foul of the boom years we had back home could tell you.
We hung about Bar for a week or so, then we headed off to the NW to the bay of Budva in company with Captain Ron, a U.S. Flagged yacht being single handed by a fit sixty seven years old long islander whom we had made friends with, (he liked Linda's cooking) and would often dine and drink my whiskey with us, we got on well, that is, until I happen to say in conversation one evening that one of my cousins Captain christine Doherty headed up the New York anti terrorist unit of the NYPD, this revelation subdued him somewhat, he was not so keen to tell us anymore about his past life living and working in New York as a lawyer and banker.
We arrived in the bay of Budva late in the evening and both dropped anchor off the beach in 10 meters of water, the marina here is mad expensive, €130 per night plus taxes etc, they even charge €13 to tie the dinghy up to the town quay for up to six hours, there is nowhere else to tie up without being aggressively chased off by local fishermen etc, it's ridiculous to think sailors cannot go ashore without paying, if you pull up on the beach you face confiscation of your dinghy and fines.
We spent a few days hanging about the old walled town, very nice to visit with lots of good food and drinking emporiums that are not too expensive and the grub is good, we had the best Chinese meal ever there and not a chinaman to be seen. We hired a car and visited the capital city of Podgorika, some two hours drive away, the city is modern in terms of buildings, lots of shopping malls scattered all over, one needs a car to shop here, cloths and the like are very expensive, yet the working wage is very small by Irish standards, we didn't hang about too long and headed off for the old capital city of Cetinje, now that was much more interesting, a very nice town where the president used to live, it's now the current presidents summer home, a fine building over looking a park and monastery that was a buzz of activity on the day with bishops and dignitaries arriving for a conference, the town suffered terrible battle damage during the conflict here during 91 to 95 when this region became a terrible war zone where people who lived along side each other became mortal enemies over night in a dispute over borders, although, we could feel no tension at all during our time here.
Captain Ron upped anchor to head NW for Croatia where he was going to do some charter work with some Americans, he only came down to Montenegro to take delivery of lots of chandlery that he had ordered from the U.S., you pay no VAT in Montenegro as they are outside the EU, he was a mad character and we were sorry to see him leave, you meet great people along the way and in a flash they are gone never to be seen again.
We took off for the bay of Kotor some thirty miles to the NW in fresh conditions, the wind as usual was on the nose @ 25kts for most of the journey, one needs a good engine down here or be prepared to spend all day tacking up and down the coast to windward, we arrived at the heavily fortified entrance to the fjord that dates back to Venetian times beefed up with pill box's that are now abandoned since the break up of Yugoslavia, fast craft Penns built into the cliffs as you past the island of Momula with one of Ali Pasha's forts guarding the entrance. We tied up to the town quay in the port of Herzog Novi, right in the centre of the town, the disco music screams through the port holes till the early hours of the morning, then at 08.00 a pleasure boat plays thump music through a load speaker all day till 18.00 when the tourists head off to the hotels for dinner, but it's a nice place to see all the same, one gets used to sleeping soundly with all sorts of noise living on a boat, the wind howling through the rigging, the waves bashing off the hull, ropes creeking all night, anchor chain groaning, I have often woke up being thrown around the bed in the early hours of the morning on anchor wondering were we dragging, only to convince myself that were not, one gets used to anything after a while.
A few days here in Herzog Novi was enough and off we set east through the fjord past the old shipyard of Bijela, a huge yard that was state owned before the breakup of the Balkans, many fine battle ships of the Russian navy, patrol boats and merchant and cruise .ships were made here, it lies almost derelict now doing some repair work. The scenery as you sail through this area is something special, and as the great Percy French wrote, were the mountains sweep down to the sea, of course he was referring to carlingford lough, I couldn't help singing a bar or two of the mountains of mourne as we sailed through.
We arrived in the afternoon at the town quay of Perast, this is a beautiful old town, well preserved with many fine villa's that were built by wealthy sea captains that transported goods all over the world, the home to a naval college that once had the sons of Russian zsars and admirals as students, such was the reputation of this college, and what a beautiful place to study, the islands of Saint Nicolas and Saint Mary of the rocks (main photo) are only a stone throw away from the town, man made by the locals many years ago after a fisherman pulled up a relique of the Virgin mother on the shoal bank on which the islands lie, they are home to two church's and a museum that are worth a visit, lots of weddings of wealthy couples take place here I am told, we could only stay on the quay until 10.00 the next morning in order to make way for the numerous pleasure boats that bring the passengers from the many cruise boats that dock further up in the fjord at Kotor.
We set off to for the Starigrad (Old Town) of Kotor and tied up in the small Marina there, a beautiful old walled city full of tavernas, expensive cloth's shops, a very interesting naval museum that's worth a visit, great insight into the naval past of this area and the fine ships that were built here since God was a boy, several church's and lots to see. We spent a week here rambling about, we hired a car and went inland to visit a couple of villages and towns off the beaten track, there is not much going on here outside of tourism, the towns up in the mountains are sparsely populated, but the scenery is really fantastic. There were three and sometimes four cruise liners a day docking here, thousands of tourists with there pockets full all spending money and getting ripped off, they see the tourist here as something to be screwed, one price for the locals, another for the tourist. The huge motor boats that take up the town quay here are something to see, some of these boats have upwards of twenty staff, wearing one colour uniform during the day and changing to a different colour at night, constant cleaning going on all day long, Madre Di Dio, the show boating is unbelievable, they buy everyone, agents reserving seats in tavernas and the bars, police, customs everyone running around like tow-rags after them for their money, beautiful floral displays being delivered daily, tons of fancy water and booze being loaded, if only Ireland had this kind of weather, can you imagine the business that could be done with the great Irish hospitality that we are so good at, that is very much lacking here.
We spent a week or so here in Kotor, but we needed to make tracks as our son Eoin and his girlfriend Ciara Barker, daughter of HYC member Bernard, were coming to meet us in Split in a couple of weeks time, I went to customs to clear out of Montenegro, this is usually a simple procedure of having your passport stamped and signing a form or two and you must leave Montenegrin waters ASAP by the shortest route, it turned out that the police in Ulsinj when they arrested us didn't stamp our passports and this was now a big problem, two hours of phone calls to the police at Ulsinj it took to get sorted, it some how became my fault, they didn't forget to relieve me of €300 in fines mind, I was reminded by the police woman dealing with this that we were technically still illegals in their country, I told her, I didn't give a dam what we are, we are happy to leave and not come back, and before you ask, said I, we are not paying any more fines for your incompetence, the passports were stamped and off we went.
It was late in the evening by the time we got away, we decided to anchor off the town of Denovici, a small village close to the entrance to the fjord, we weren't going ashore, just going to have dinner and hit the sack for an early start the next morning for the port of Cavtat in Croatia, it was a flat calm night anchored close to a couple of local boats when we went to bed, well the wind got up at about 03.30 from the NE, (the Bora) it blew at 35kts in no time at all, the rigging on DeDanann was singing a tune like tubular bells when I got up to investigate, I looked out the port hole of the toilet, only to see the name of the fishing boat, Carpe Dieme, about three feet away, I rubbed my eyes as I was half asleep, I couldn't believe how close we were to this large fishing boat, so up on the deck dressed in only boxer shorts I went, the wind was howling as I started the engine and took in some slack off the anchor chain, I sat on anchor watch and brewed up some tea until the dawn, then decided to up anchor and get underway, as we hauled in the anchor it snagged on an old mooring line and some nylon fish nets, DeDanann slide back perilously close to Carpe Dieme, narrowly missing her bow sprite as she passed until DeDanann came to a halt, I ran up and started cutting away the mess that was wrapped all over the anchor and chain, thank god for a very good opinal boat knife I keep to hand as I hacked away at getting free, Linda had the engine running forward at full tilt as we broke free, then the prop snagged the same line and we were held fast again, still perilously close to Carpe Dieme, we somehow with a bit of forward and reverse cut loose and off we went under powered, I just knew we had line wrapped around the prop, but we had enough propulsion to get going on our way until we could get sails up and kill the engine, we could anchor off again when the wind died down. Just as we got sailing and feeling safe again, I checked the anchor switch to see that it was in tight, Madre Di Dio, the anchor came undone, it and 100 meters of chain went into the sea in a minute, the panic to get sails in as the anchor dug in, in 48 meters of water as we were under sail in 35 kts of wind, the gypsy wheel had come loose with all the rough hauling earlier, in the panic to get away, I hadn't tied off the anchor to the windlass, as I always do, I had to get my tool bag out and tighten up the gypsy as DeDanann jumped up and down in the waves, in anyway, we finally got it back in, and set off on our way again, "what a morning" I went down and got dressed and came up and had some breakfast as we came out of the fjord and back into the Adriatic for the long slog to windward in a lumpy sea to the port of Cavtat, Croatia.
We had a bad start coming in to Montenegro, and we had a bad leaving, to be honest, we didn't really enjoy our visit here, it is a country that is blessed with the most wonderful scenery , I may very well be prejudiced by our experience with the police there, but we both found the locals everywhere here to be an unfriendly and inhospitable lot, we don't think we'll be back, as we came out of the fjord and back into the Adriatic Sea, I found myself wondering should we run South back to Greece, or North to Croatia ?