60 days in Croatia, 40 free anchorages
The moment we decided that Croatia was our big destination for the 2019 season a cloud of concern formed in the back of our minds. Two aspects were behind it, the famous strong winds known to affect the area and the bad reputation Croatia has amongst some in the sailing community.
The winds we decided we could manage by giving extra attention to the weather forecasts and at some point, we would have to gain more experience dealing with such events than the ones we already had. As for the bad reputation Croatia gained in the last couple of years we decided we needed to get to the bottom of it. It made no sense that such an extensive sailing ground could be so difficult, expensive and conflicting as reported on the forums. When paying attention to most of the reports on the forums we quickly noticed a common denominator, most negative comments were from people that had never sailed in Croatian waters and were just repeating something they heard or read somewhere, always adding something extra or from people that like to sail from marina to marina and just visiting the most popular and crowded places. The account that it was impossible to anchor and that you could only either go into a Marina/Town Quay or to a mooring field and pay exorbitant prices seemed ridiculous but according to the forums Croatia was in the hands of bandits and crooks ready to go into fists action if you tried something different.
All those accounts sounded too bad to be true!
We made up our minds and decided to stick to the original plan.
This plan also included a little interruption on the Croatian escapade to go to Trieste in Italy to collect some items for our boat projects. To suit our schedule we decided to make our way up the coast sailing through the outer islands, wiggling when possible through the National Parks. Our tactic was to sail in the National Parks, enjoy the views of the amazing landscape but avoid the crazy prices charged to visit and to anchor or use mooring balls within their limits. Our trip up the coastline of Croatia started in the middle of June and in a little less than two weeks we were checking out in Umag at the very top of Croatia.
During that journey north, in general, we didn’t cross with the amounts of yachts everyone seems to mention whenever talking about Croatia, one of the Mecca’s of charter boats in the Mediterranean. The only areas where we noticed a bigger volume of vessels was around Kornati, the north of Dugi Otok and near Vrsar. We managed however to every day find a new quiet and protected anchorage.
And although the second half of June can still be considered early in the season the reality was we had seen a lot more charter boats while sailing in the Ionian islands in May.
One week after leaving Umag we returned back to Croatia heading south and ready for the crazy numbers of charters that one could expect in July.
Our journey this time was going to take us through the inner islands if we can describe it that way. A zigzag that should allow us plenty of options when it came the moment of seeking the protection of the ruthless winds of the Northern Adriatic. After all, this is the home of The powerful Bora winds and where The Mighty Sirocco wreaks havoc.
We had left Trieste in Italy ahead of a weather system recently formed but that already showed signs of the power it would pack, the forecast suggested it would trail down south more than just the Gulf of Trieste, so we had to find a protected place in the next few days or go hide in the same anchorage where we had endured the first summer storm (a light Sirocco) of the season just north of Vrsar and wait for the winds to roll in.
We started tracking our way south still keeping the rhythm of one anchorage a day with the occasional exception. Eventually, as we watched the system grow and align to what defines the Bora winds the decision was made our refuge anchorage would have to be Medulin in the South of Istria, the only place in the area we thought we could face the forecasted winds protected from big crashing waves without having to go into a Marina. This was it, we were going to be hit by The Powerful Bora winds, we had already experienced a couple of light Bora events since arriving the Adriatic but this one was going to be reasonably powerful. We prepared ourselves, endured the strong winds and at the end of the day it turned out to be a great learning experience with zero damages to report.
Once all the shenanigans were gone we moved on to explore the inner islands.
Sailing in between all the inner islands would put to the test our light wind sail skills without using the Asymmetrical Spinnaker. Most days the winds were extremely light but with the desire of only covering short distances between anchorages, it proved quite fun although it also meant that we would have to motor quite often at least part of the day to get to next anchorage.
If we were being able to not ruin the budget on mooring buoys or park fees the same could not be said in regards to the fuel budget.
Most of the anchorages would have at best a little restaurant nearby but in such isolated places with so few clients and with touristy prices we choose not enjoy that little pleasure often. The few times we did food was quite boring and bland, with very few exceptions where we managed to try real Croatian cuisine.
Supermarket runs for fresh produce and beer were done weekly and although the veggies and fruit were quite fresh once again the prices seemed a bit higher than usual but because we provision the basics for the entire season whenever we find quality and good prices the inflated cost of food didn’t affect us.
Passing down and anchoring in some of the most famous islands like Krk, Mljet, Korčula was not a problem.
Every anchorage we picked on the chart and then double-checked on Google Maps, Navily and Noforeignland (although most we ended up having to add because they were not there yet) would end up being our anchorage for the night, with the exception of Krk where due to the size of the anchorages we struggled to find a spot in the middle of the many small day-trippers.
On our way south through July and most of August we didn’t cross with the crazy numbers of charters everyone mentions. We did cross with a good amount of very small day-trippers and it was quite funny to share anchorages with them, whenever they anchored too close we just needed to go up to the bow and politely advise they were too close and occasionally explain because they clearly didn’t understand due to their lack of knowledge. All in a very calm conversation resulting many times with them either asking us where did we think they would be better or confirming if the new spot was a good one. Off course there’s always the black sheep but that was a rare occasion.
Closer to Istria and Krk the majority of the day-trippers were Austrian and German families, from Zadar heading South it was mostly Croatian families and very few foreign-flagged boats. Closer to Dubrovnik quite a few Italians and some French-flagged vessels, and in here yes we saw a bigger number of charter boats but still nothing overwhelming or annoying when compared to our previous year in the Balearics.
The most funny thing was that the entire day people would take photos of Ella, our Golden Retriever, swimming from the back of the boat as if they had never seen a dog and then later in the day, after we closed the swim platform and exposed our transom with the home port decals people would get all excited because not only we have a cool dog we are also Australians!
That ensured us a really good night with some locals on their boats and people simply coming to say hi to us.
All in all sailing in Croatia was a positive experience and although we noticed it is indeed more expensive than for example Greece (the cruising permit is almost double of Greece and not even compared to the Montenegro one, the other only two places in the Mediterranean where a cruising permit is mandatory) we also didn’t felt like we didn’t have options. We always found a good anchorage, most times our first choice of stop and although they weren’t always beautiful the big majority were indeed beautiful and empty during the night.
But we like the off the beaten track and avoid the most popular places.
Sure, one can argue that we didn’t visit the National Parks properly only sailing past them, but we explored other places equally pretty without the additional costs.
We didn’t visit the majority of the historical cities because we feel we can come back during the offseason and truly enjoy those places without the extreme summer heat and the usual crowds of people. Exploring the islands and its anchorages is something you can only do by boat and in nice weather so we focused on that instead.
Given the current reputation of Croatia as a problematic place to anchor we think it’s worth sharing the places, we anchored without being hassled and for free.
Many other free anchorages were left to explore and we believe despite all the online conversations saying the contrary, it is possible to sail an entire season in Croatia on a budget (the big hit will be the cruising permit) without difficulties.
Below anchorages are listed from North to South and not following the actual route we visited them.
***The below coordinates are for reference only and although these were taken once we finished the anchoring process, these are not be used as Waypoints and do not exempt anyone using them of their assessment regarding safety conditions and presence of underwater dangers.***
1. Umag - Istria 45º25’865N 013º30’918E
2. Uvala Busuja - Istria 45º15’705N 013º34’641E
3. Uvala Funtana / Cavata - Istria 45º09’377N 013º36’280E & 45º09’274N 013º36’118E
4. Uvala Pulari - Istria 45º03’546N 013º40’128E
5. Luka Sveti Juraj - Krk 45º01’038N 014º31’789E
6. Luka Kuj - Istria 44º49’189N 013º58’745E
7. Uvala Paltana - Istria 44º49’131N 013º52’044E
8. Medulin - Istria 44º49’030N 013º55’154E
9. Kamporska Draga - Rab 44º47’401N 014º42’218E
10. Uvala Polje - Istria 44º47’126N 013º54’309E
11. Uvala Planka - Rab 44º46’284N 014º40’684E
12. Uvala Mulobedanj - Pag 44º39’363N 014º45’947E
13. South of Sip Islet - Olib 44º24’953N 014º45’377E
14. Uvala Juzna Slatina - Olib 44º20’517N 014º48’009E
15. Uvala Siroka - Ist 44º16’167N 014º46’023E & 44º15’966N 014º46’597E
16. Uvala Przine - Molat 44º13’321N 014º52’704E
17. Uvala Muline - Ugljan 44º08’374N 015º04’161E
18. Uvala Maestrala - Zadar 44º07’487N 015º13’313E
19. Uvala Velika Sabusa - Ugljan 44º01’515N 015º14’024E
20. Uvala Zmanscica - Dugi Otok 43º58’375N 015º07’133
21. Uvala Sveti Ante - Pasman 43º56’025N 015º20’893E
22. Northwest of Zizanj 43º53’229N 015º25’413E
23. Hramina - Murter 43º49’474N 015º35’256E
24. East of Ostrica - Kaprije 43º41’591N 015º42’897E
25. Uvala Vela Nozdra - Kaprije 43º41’175N 015º43’564E
26. Uvala Stupica Mala - Zirje 43º38’041N 015º42’503E
27. Stupin 43º32’412N 015º58’693E
28. Uvala Vela Rina - Drvenik Mali 43º26’643N 016º04’783E
29. Uvala Solinska - Drvenik Veli 43º26’096N 016º08’833E
30. West of Uvala Bobovisce - Brac 43º21’125N 016º27’177E
31. Luka Soline - Sveti Klement 43º09’272N 016º21’895E
32. Uvala Stari Stani - Sveti Klement 43º09’441N 016º22’813E
33. Uvala Tufera - Scedro 43º05’551N 016º40’322E
34. Uvala Kneza - Korčula 42º58’575N 017º02’724E
35. Kanal Jezenica - Korčula 42º56’564N 017º09’393E
36. Uvala Raciste - Korčula 42º55’834N 017º09’814E
37. Luka Slano 42º47’188N 017º53’221E
38. Luka Saplunara - Mljet 42º41’977N 017º44’245E
39. Uvala Sunj - Lopud 42º40’737N 017º53’221E
40. Cavtat 42º35’085N 018º13’235E