Esprit was re-launched at Cleopatra Marina in Preveza, Greece on Friday 29th of March 2019. She was looking as good as new after the anti-fouling, ding repairs and hull polishing that was done during our absence.
We motored across to Preveza Marina, a mile away and tied up to one of their new refurbished pontoons for the weekend. Saturday morning was spent buying provisions for the boat for the next three months. The anchor was covered in rust after 4 months of idleness, so I treated it with 3 coats of rust converter in the afternoon, followed up with 2 coats of cold galvanising on the Sunday. We also re-packed all the lockers.
After checking out with immigration at the police, customs and the port police on Monday morning, we set sail in bright sunshine and a light breeze for Paxoi island, 37 nm to the northwest. We anchored in the quaint bay of Mongonisi for a BBQ and celebratory bottle of wine. Two more days of relaxed sailing and overnighting in Platarias and Kalami followed, before crossing from the Ionian Sea to the Adriatic and into Albanian waters where we checked into Albania at Sarande. There was still some snow on the Albanian mountains.
Albania has been settled, invaded and occupied by many nations since the 8th century BC. Albania’s history during the 20th century has continued to be turbulent, with characters like President Zogu, who declared himself King Zog in 1928. At the end of World War 2 in 1945, the Communists under Enver Hoxha came to power. Hoxha ruled Albania with an iron fist until his death in 1985. Under his dictatorship 700,000 concrete bunkers were built along the coast and minefields were laid offshore, in case the country was invaded.
Popular movement of disaffection and protest finally led to the election in 1992 of Sali Berisha of the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, he lost the next election to the Socialist Party (the former Communist Party with a new name). Finally, in 2005 the Democratic Party under Sali Berisha came back to power, shaking off the shackles of Communism. The country is gradually improving despite many problems.
Old systems persevere and the government bureaucracy requires sailors to employ agents at considerable expense at every harbour, to obtain entry and exit permits. Hopefully, this will change in time, bringing more sailors to Albania and growing their tourism industry. After employing Agim Zholi as our agent to do all the paperwork, we were free to go ashore and caught a bus to visit the historic site of Butrint which has been inhabited since the 8th century BC.
Butrint, a UNESCO world heritage site, offers a remarkable journey through the ages of history and its structures bear testimony to the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman cultures and civilizations which occupied this place at some time in history. Most of these monuments have been discovered by the Italian archaeologist Luigi Ugolini who excavated the site from 1928 to 1939.
After a pleasant afternoon walking through the site, we returned by bus, collected the approved documents from our agent and got back to the boat just as the rains came down for the night.
The following day we set off in bright sunshine for the 20 nm passage to anchor at Palermos. This wide bay is separated in two by a peninsula, which is dominated by one of Ali Pasha’s castles which was built around 1807 to ensure his protection against the French attacks coming from Corfu. This castle, being relatively new, is still in excellent condition, despite it having been used as a storage facility for fuel and armaments during the communist regime. We anchored off the peninsula for the night, after our visit to the castle.
The weather prediction for Sunday indicated freshening southerlies, so we set off early and had a fast, cold and wet sail sail to Vlore, 38 nm to the northwest. At this point, the distance to the east coast of Italy is only 39 nm and this narrow gap creates a venturi effect on the wind. We anchored in the lee of a north facing bay and by 6 pm the wind was pumping at 30 knots with the rain bucketing down, requiring a close watch on our anchor. I was also developing a persistent and irritating cough.
There was no point in sitting out the heavy winds and rain the next morning, so we set off for Durres, the main Albanian harbour further north, covering the 56 nm passage at an average speed of 7 knots. We were totally drenched and freezing cold due to the continuous rain following us from the south. We anchored off the harbour wall and consumed a few calming brandies. I woke up the next morning with a serious cold – my first cold in 3 years of sailing!
Our new agent in Durres, Ilir Gjergji took care of the paperwork in the record time 0f 2.5 h and pointed us to a chemist for medications, supermarket and fruit and veg shops. It turns out I had contracted an upper respiratory tract infection, which could potentially turn into pneumonia. So, a 5-day course of antibiotics was called for, plus Bisolvon to clear mucus from the chest. The next four days was a blur of continuous coughing and very little sleep.
On Wednesday the 10th April (our wedding anniversary) we departed Durres, Albania for Bar in Montenegro. It wasn’t the best anniversary we have had, what with me down below under a duvet, suffering coughing fits and Annie above in the pouring rain and wind, sailing the boat singlehandedly for 55 nm to Bar.
Over the past few decades this area has experienced considerable turbulence, from major earthquakes in 1979 which devastated Kotor and Budva, to the knock-on effects of the wars in Croatia and Kosovo in 1991-1992, when the former Yugoslavia fell apart.
Bar is the principal port of Montenegro. The city is modern, having largely been rebuilt after the second world war. The officials at the harbour master’s office and the police were pleasant and helpful. We paid EU60 for a two-week vignette – cruising permit. Despite advice to the contrary, the marina is smart and clean with water and electricity included in the steep EU71.50 daily berthing fee.
Annie had by now, also picked up a cold, so rather than duelling banjos, we had duelling phlegm and snot coughing fits. After two days, we headed north to Sveti Stefan, where we anchored off this beautiful little island for another two days of recovery.
Suitably refreshed, we motored to Budva, a large holiday town and anchored off the marina in the bay. The old town in Budva has been well restored and we enjoyed walking through the narrow streets and up the fortifications. Budva justified a two-day visit before we sailed on.
Next stop was the Bay of Kotor, just south of the border with Croatia. This extensive waterway is a cruising paradise and we spent the next 9 days exploring all the little bays and villages along the shore. If you only have a week for cruising in Albania and Montenegro, come and spend it here. Another plus was, we could buy duty free diesel at Porto Montenegro marina before departure to Croatia. At EU0.67/l, we filled Esprit’s tank as well as our 10 x 20l jerry cans.
I attach some of our photos of the beautiful Bay of Kotor – untitled, as most of the place names are unpronounceable. From beautiful mountains, to small islands with churches and even a baby christening.
As a farewell gift, we were sent a dust storm from Egypt, the day before we left Porto Montenegro, This covered the boat in dust before a light drizzle turned the dust into mud. Amazing to see that the southerlies can carry dust this far up the Adriatic sea, but evidently it is not unusual. At least we had the opportunity to wash the boat down in the marina before we set sail for Croatia.
We will report again from Croatia.