We have had two nights of stupendous stargazing. The air is so clear overhead we can see the Milky Way in detail, and even a few shooting stars within a few moments of gazing upwards. The night air is so warm there is no reason not to lie back and think of heaven. No wonder astronomy started in Greece or Babylon or Egypt. People had thousands of years of warm starry nights and not much else to do except look and worship, and start to think.
The map of Croatia’s coast is wonderfully complicated, with scrumpled mountains on the mainland and thousands of their puppies scattered as islands into the blue blue sea. At this time of year, the rocks show through as golden bones, but there are enough trees to dress it overall in a luxurious looking green. Brac is one of these islands, offering beautiful stone for building – the White House is perhaps the most famous of its outliers, and nearer to home, Diocletian’s palace in Split. We coasted along the south side of Brac (pron. Bratch) to the popular little port of Bol, where we strolled along and had coffee, bought some fruit and veg, and then headed back to the boat. These transfers from ship to shore and back again are in the rubber dinghy… oh dear, all my anxieties come flooding back. I share them with you because for most of my life, all such fears were firmly squashed. ‘Of course it’s easy, get on with it!’ Now, being on the way to old age, I find it’s rather remarkable to experience these ‘silly’ feelings. There is this worry – what if????? What if I fall in? What if it tips over? What if it gets a puncture? What if we are too heavy for it? What if a shark comes up from underneath and bites it, and then us? I am sorry for all the times I chid my children and told them to buck up.
We went to a place our hosts call Carrot Bay. It has an FKK designation, which is apparently German for ‘Nudist Beach’. Indeed we could see quite a few bottoms on the shore. And to emphasise the metaphor, some modern art in the form of two tree stumps painted like slightly creepy fingers pointing upwards, like a pair of hopeful cocks ganging together and on the lookout.
Swimming in the bay was delightful – under the boat and all around us were scatterings of pretty little fish which each had a marking like a big black eye just in front of the tail, presumably acting as a kind of decoy or confusion system to deflect attacks from bigger fish. They sparkled and flipped about all around us as we swam, looking like living rainbows in the clear water. We could see our anchor chain going right down the 40 feet or so to the bottom.
Off again, this time towing my husband in the rubber dinghy behind the yacht. He looked as merry and delighted as any child, and indeed this whole trip is like playtime, in the care of kind and knowledgeable hosts who have the whole thing in hand.
We moored up on the hook in a broad bay leading to the two little towns of Vrboska and (across on the far side) Jelsa. Once again, into that scary dinghy and off across the water to find somewhere to go ashore. The little harbour in the bay was full of schoolchildren larking about, so we went on a bit further and tied up to a stone promontory with a harbour light on it. Walking into the town under the pine trees, we found people picnicking along the rocky shore to our left. Vrboska has canalised its little stream, and has three or four ancient bridges crossing this tiny waterway, and is thus known as ‘the Venice of Brac’. There is also a truly remarkable fortified church on top the town, built to withstand attacks from the Turks and other pirates, during the 16th century. It must be pretty dark inside… we couldn’t get in because the opening times printed in the guidebook turn out to be completely wrong. But it is quite a building.
War has smashed and burned across this place over and over again, and not so long ago. We have been talking about how lucky we are, as a generation, not to have been sent to war ourselves, or to have lived through it as our parents have done. We watched a dozen or so large white yachts backing into the quay, with near-naked men supervising the mooring up while showing off their tans…. This is a fragile thing but it is better than war.
The guys walked back to the dinghy and then came to get Kate and me from the Vrboska quay, and we tootled out across the water back to the Lady Olivia. It was about a mile and a half up the bay back to the yacht. The wash from bigger faster boats was sometimes bigger than the dinghy but we bounced and bucked through all that, and got back. Supper, music from an iPhone, those stars, laughter…. Then sleep.
This morning (Thursday) we have set off early to get south. On our starboard is the long island of Hvar, to port is Brac and behind that the mainland. We have the sea to ourselves. There is not one single other boat in sight, and we can see for miles. The air is soft and misty, the waters as benign-looking and calm as a garden pond. The mountains are shining.