Sailing Vessel Fides in Croatia

Almost every summer weekend of my childhood, my family spent time on a sailboat.  For me and my brothers, it’s the time that brings back the fondest memories.  I shared that with James a long time ago. Then, about three years ago, we took a Hobie cat out while on an island vacation… and James was hooked.  We started watching YouTube sailing videos nightly (thanks Sailing Zatara!) and worked our way through the ASA courses.  The culmination of these three years was this bareboat charter in Croatia. The goal was simple: to safely sail our vessel from location to location and have some fun along the way.  We needed everyone’s help! James as skipper, me as his first mate, Goose on dock lines, Manji on fenders, and Bingo as the dish cleaner.  It took a full day’s work just to live life, but everyone was so content!

We started our journey to Croatia with a very early morning (4am) bus ride from Slovenia to Pula, Croatia.  It was a rough, three hour ride in the back of a very crowded, hot bus. And, a Manji who managed to get motion sickness for much of the ride.  He was a trooper and earned himself a Sprite at one of the pit stops. Only then he managed to reproduce it for us not a few minutes later! When we arrived in Pula, all the kids earned a canister of Pringles which settled Manji’s queasy tummy. 

We took a short cab ride to the ACI Marina Pomer and waited for Dream Yacht Charters (DYC) to check us in. Pomer is where we met our floating home for the next two weeks, sailing vessel Fides.  She was a 40’ Elan Impression with a brown mainsail cover and two orange steering wheels. And we didn’t know it then but she was the perfect boat for us. Fides was the Latin goddess of faith and trust and what an apropos name. We needed both faith and trust in each other to survive (and enjoy!) our first multiday charter.

One of the benefits of sailing in Croatia with kids is their experience with all the different aspects of boat life.  Here, our kids are trying to snap some minnows on the dock, using a bucket.

The base manager, Davor, helped us plan our route north along the Istrian Peninsula. He also suggested we depart the marina as soon as possible since there was a bora headed our way.  The bora is a cold wind that blows from the mountains, across the Adriatic. The main issue is that boras cause very high winds and rough seas.  With this being our first charter and, of course, the kids on board, we wanted to play it safe. So, we decided to head out first thing the following morning.  That night, we slept in the marina and are glad that we did.  The boat was rocking all night and the wind was howling! We woke up the next morning with Manji exclaiming, “Hooray! We made it through the night!”

Saturday morning, we sailed 20 nautical miles (NM) to the Pula marina north of Pomer.  As we rounded the peninsula and headed north, we met 3’ to 4’ swells and gusts in the mid-twenties!  James and I took classes and chartered in Charleston, SC and we were excited to test all that knowledge! It was thrilling to sail those waters!

On the first day of sailing in Croatia with our kids, James was at the helm and Kate the first mate, was class by.  This photo was taken as we left from Pomer and were on the way to the ACI Marina in Pula

Upon arriving at the Pula marina, I said a big prayer as we prepared to dock.  As any boater knows, docking is intimidating.  You are parking the boat beside other expensive vessels and you often have a very attentive audience.  In Croatia, all marinas require Mediterranean mooring. Med mooring is where you dock your boat in reverse. You then attach two stern lines. Next, you grab two slime lines (aptly named for the slime accumulated on the ropes) and secure the bow.  I’ll spare you the suspense…we made it through the two weeks without any mishaps (Yay!). 

Pula was a perfect small Croatian town with typical cobblestone streets, plenty of gelatarias and loads of souvenir shops.  It was a quaint place for our first stop.  We had a few more food items to gather while we were there. And, we learned one of our first lessons in provisioning—always do research to find the biggest grocery! Manji and I headed out to provision and ended up walking to three grocery stores to find what we needed!

The following morning, we departed Pula and headed North. The plan was to continue our sail north to an anchorage just outside of Vestar (15NM).  The skies were finally clearing as the bora had pushed through the previous evening.  Like all good plans, reality is often different! We attempted to anchor at what we thought was our home for the night.  Pick an anchor point, wait until the boat stops moving forward, and begin to lower the anchor. We tried seven, yes, 7!!!, times to anchor but we couldn’t get it to hold.  It was easy to blame it on the sandy and seagrass bottom, but really it was our inexperience that caused it.

Thankfully, we found an amazing mooring field not too far away. We were thrilled to spend that evening swimming, snorkeling, and taking the dinghy over to a small island. And perhaps the best part was enjoying the security of a mooring ball!

Goose and Manji loved being able to swim several times a time.  Here, in Vestar, they were enjoying the swim platform after successfully mooring.  This is by far one of the best parts of sailing in Croatia with kids.

Also, Vestar was home to mistakes #3 and #4. First, we got in the dinghy with our life jackets on.  James and I were wearing Type V PFDs which are very thin and water activated.  We approached our destination on the dinghy and I hopped out in what I thought was shallow water. The goal was simply to bring the dinghy to shore but what happened? It was deeper than I thought and the whole PFD instantly inflated! Rookie mistake…and quite the entertainment for the rest of our crew.

We had a good laugh and then James turned around to go back and pick up the boys. What happened next? The outboard engine on our dinghy didn’t start! It was a very finicky motor and he ended up flooding the engine.  We paddled back to Fides and found both boys in tears thinking we wouldn’t be able to make it back! Everyone recovered after a gorgeous sunset. To cap it off, we spent that night lying on the deck and looking at stars, all snuggled together as a family.  It’s a moment we’ll all remember for years!

Tuesday, we sailed 8.5 NM to Vrsar marina, where we spent two nights.  The town is picturesque and we spent the time exploring, catching up on laundry and school, and going for swims at several of the beautiful beaches.  Vrsar was probably our favorite stop along the way, with a short 15m walk to the top of hill with beautiful views over the marina and sea.

We continued Thursday to Novigrad (14 NM) where we purchased a fishing rod for Goose! He worked hard on the boat as a crew member, hoisting sails, moving fenders, and throwing dock lines so we thought he’d enjoy an attempt at catching us some dinner! He wasn’t successful but it provided hours of entertainment and the hope of catching a big one!

Our family after we successfully docked at the seawall in Novigrad, Croatia

After our Friday journey sent us up to the Slovenia border and then back down to a mooring field in Umag (22 NM), it was hard to believe we had sailed the full Western Istrian coast and it was time to head south. We stopped at an anchorage and after watching videos to remedy our terrible experience from anchoring previously, we finally experienced success! Along with swimming, we also spent the entire two hours at anchor on careful watch to make sure we weren’t drifting 😊. 

 One of our stops along the way south was the town of Rovinj (19 NM), where we made a quick stop to fix Goose’s fishing reel, which had lost a part to the sea! In doing so, we had to attempt the most challenging docking experience along this whole trip—a Mediterranean mooring against a sea wall with a mooring ball to attach the bow.  It didn’t help that the sea state was very, very choppy.  It was no easy feat, but we managed to dock and then Goose and I ran through town to the local fishing shop to grab the necessary supplies while the rest of the crew remained on the boat.

We made it safely back and realized we needed to celebrate our successful docking experience, so Manji and I ran back through town, grabbed five ice cream cones, and returned to the boat with a melting mess but happy crewmates! It was terrifying and we had never been so happy to pull out of a harbor!

We spent two more nights at Vestar (19 NM) where we had moored the first time, enjoying more snorkeling and swimming.  There was a very different vibe our second week there as it was the beginning of October and the restaurants on the mainland were preparing to close for the season. You could also sense the end of the season with fewer boats in the harbor. 

Before our final push back to Pomer, we spent one night on the island of Brijuni, a national park, and the bora had returned! We left for Brijuni early in the hope of missing some treacherous wind and we did, for the most part, but we did meet some healthy gusts just as we were docking.  Fortunately, we were one of only two boats in the harbor!  We finally docked only to realize that our rear fender had disappeared (the only thing preventing us from crashing into a wall)!  We looked up and saw it floating out in the harbor.  Thankfully, the wind was so strong that it blew it straight back to the shore and we were able to reattach it like nothing had happened!

James picking up our stern ball fender after it somehow disconnected from the boat

Brijuni Island has a very interesting history.  It was tainted with malaria at one point and was once the summer home of former Yugoslovian President Tito. Did I mention the zoo, fossilized dinosaur footprints along the shoreline, monastery ruins, and golf course? The island had so much to see and we enjoyed a gorgeous bike ride around the entire place.

Manji measuring his foot compared to a dinosaur's footprint in Brijuni National Park

We then had one more night in Pula (16 NM) and then back to Pomer (19 NM) to end our sailing journey.  Our final docking at the home port put us beside a boat filled with four musicians from Germany who happened to bring their brass instruments and accordions on board. We were serenaded by our neighbors on that last night and it was the best sendoff we could have imagined after an epic two weeks!

Spending two weeks on Fides was an incredible experience for our family. From self reliance to dependence on one another to focusing on the essence of life, we had a blast and are already looking forward to our next charter!

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