Monday, 5 September 2011


NB had a really poor signal all day so this is being posted a bit late.
V exciting – I was helmsman for the last run of the day yesterday, tacking us across towards the Ston Channel, and then through the teeny tiny gap at the eastern end of the peninsular. The miracle of sailing a boat as nearly as possible into the direction of the wind blowing against it is apparently a fairly modern discovery. Before that presumably boats had to wait till the wind blew in the direction they wanted to go. Can that be true? The wind twitches about, so you have to keep a constant eye on the sails, to keep them filled with air. I had vaguely imagined it is the wind pushing on the sails which pushes the boat along, and that is true with the wind behind you, but when you are sailing into the wind, it’s more complicated – it’s the creation of a curved surface, like the wings of a bird or a plane, which creates differing air pressures on either side of the fabric, and it’s that which makes a kind of ‘lift’ and thus the forward motion. It is also the foresail which does most of the work. I thought, sailing boats could only have been invented once women were involved, because it would be women who spun the threads to make the cloth to make the sails.
It was another quiet day with the sun brilliantly constant, a mist to calm the heat down, a warm wind to soothe us, and hardly another boat in sight. Where are they all? The gang of schoolkids we saw sploshing in the little bay near Vrboska seem like a distant memory – their hilarity and high spirits were perhaps an end-of-holiday party spirit, and now most people have returned to work.
The landscape changes subtly as we move southwards. The island of Mljet is a National Park and so its bony flanks are quite luxuriantly clad in brush and forest, with trees clustered in the valleys where soil has managed to accumulate. In contrast most of the hillsides are pretty rocky and bare, with thin striated scrapes of greenery clinging on at the lower levels where the layers of karst rock have allowed enough soil or moisture to give them a footing. One of the books on board says all these slopes were finely wooded in ancient days till the Venetians plundered them for timber. Once the trees had gone, the soil washed away. I am slightly surprised by the general lack of wildlife – the cicadas in the woods, the little gulls in the some of the ports, a few bats at Korcula, the dozen or so varieties of fish we have seen, some butterflies and a couple of very large bees… but that’s it.
The sea itself has been wonderfully well-behaved – especially considering how vile it was last time we were aboard this boat, when the waves came right over the cockpit and I thought we were going to drown. Most of the voyage yesterday was across calm quiet blueness, with a few white horses, and the depth sounder showed about 50 metres. The amazing thing – yet again – was how one moment we were going quietly along a broad empty channel, with these sloping pine-covered rocky slopes on either side, and then, on the port side, reaching a little point, we could see an angular little bay crammed with big white plastic boats, a cluster of caiques and dinghies, and three or four houses/restaurants down at the water’s edge. This is where we backed in, with a chaotic set of instructions from a man on the quay. Our skipper took us in so neatly into the tiny space reserved for us – not once, but twice, as the capitano on shore told us to go away the first time, so we leapt smartly out again, and then when other people shouted at him that we had reserved our space, he beckoned us in again. The Chermans on their huge white plastic box to one side were full of admiration for our captain. Another interesting/useless fact… it is the Chermans and French who make the best sailing boats nowadays, while the English and Italians make these ugly great pleasure palaces - the white plastic boxes styled like trainer-shoes. All of our neighbours here are English-built and horrible they are… probably v comfortable etc but I will just stay boat-snobby and say they are horrible. One of them has a crew dancing attendance on the three owners or leasers. I think our sailing boat is vastly superior.
We ate at one of the restos – it’s called Gastro Mare and the owner, a Croat, spent some time in Norway perfecting his art before coming home to open up his own place. We had a little bonne bouche including slivers of fine local mountain ham, then a scallop, then a sliver of foie gras, then the delicious local dentex fish with vegetables, and then a doublet of desserts: one being a constructed apfel strudel with pan-fried pastry, the other being a chocolate and almond biscuit topped with whipped cream and finely grated pecorino cheese, with local sage honey to pour over it. Nice.
During the hot night, I woke up to try to look at the stars, but it was difficult with the quayside lights so near. Across the little bay, some young people were arguing in one of the other houses – in Cherman, I think… again the sounds carry so clearly across water. This was 4am.
Cumulative tiredness is catching up with me. Sleep is always a bit fitful on a boat. The air is quite humid and very hot at night, esp when you have to have the hatches closed against the showers of rain which can arrive very suddenly. Dreams are vivid. I sometimes plan what I want to write and then tiredness washes my great ideas away. Ho hum. Today we will go up the channel into Ston itself and after that I have no idea of the plans except we are booked into a really grand resto for the evening. Only two days left. Time is moving past, all the time, like the waves around us, rocking the boat one way or the other. Kate rang her family yesterday and reported that the weather in England is autumnal. When I was trying to pack to come here, as usual I found it really hard to imagine hot weather. Bah!

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