MONTENEGRO DIARY: NEW ADVENTURES, OLD WORLD CHARM
The tiny, alluring nation of Montenegro is not only a refuge for sailors avoiding the European Union’s value-added tax, it’s also a compact, rewarding cruising ground in its own right.
Every once in a while, like the cold, menacing bora wind, rumors circulate around the sailing community in the Mediterranean that the tax authorities are cracking down on foreign yachts that have overstayed their time in the European Union. When the rumors swirl around the bars and marinas, the non-e.u. boats — mostly from the United Kingdom and America — think about spending some time outside of the E.U. The E.U. regulations stipulate that foreign yachts may stay only 18 months before they are liable for the VAT, which can be up to 25 percent of the value of the boat.
Scarlet, our Alan Warwick-designed 47-foot sloop, was in Gaeta, Italy, near Naples, when the rumors began to get intense: customs officials were “seen” writing down boat names and hailing ports; someone knew someone who was presented with a staggering VAT bill. Or maybe they just had to leave that port under cover of night. It wasn’t clear. …
Scarlet had been out of the E.U. in Tangier, Morocco, that amazing, totally foreign port, and so was tax-compliant for now, but since we were moving east anyway, a non-e.u. destination seemed like a good idea. Turkey was too far; the North African ports had security concerns; Albania was too mysterious (see “Beating the ‘VAT Clock’ in Albania,” p. 62). So Montenegro, some 650 nautical miles away, became the choice.
Cetting from Gaeta to Montenegro was no hardship. We called in the Italian ports of Ischia, Salerno, Amalfi, Mount Etna and Otranto at the country’s heel — all highlights of the west coast of Italy. We enjoyed light wind and beautiful harbors with great food. And in late May, we were still ahead of the busy high season.
In southern Italy, we began to see the response to the immigration crisis: increased military patrol boats, police boat drive-bys taking Scarlet’s name and hailing port, large rescue vessels headed southeast to the migration routes.
Departing Otranto for Montenegro, we got our first taste of immigration controls: Crew lists, boat documents, passports, last port and next destination needed to be produced and inspected. “Wait here while we review this,” was a constant refrain. The Italian immigration officer looked a long time at our U.S. documentation papers, and finally said, “OK, have a good voyage,” and we left for Montenegro. We were to hear more about our documentation papers soon enough.
Our first port of call in Montenegro was Bar. We chose Bar not because it was supposed to be the most scenic port in Montenegro (it isn’t), but because it was the closest to our path from southern Italy. When calling in Montenegro, you are supposed to enter at the first port of entry you reach. This advice is often disregarded, but since we had been warned that officials in Montenegro were sticklers for regulations, we decided to enter at Bar.
Bar has a busy, if dusty, marina. It also has an active downtown with restaurants, bars, shops, farmers markets and a magnificent new promenade along the waterfront for strollers of all ages, kids on bikes and swimmers walking to the beaches. By the way, farmers markets are the best place to buy food in Montenegro. We found vegetables, fruit, sausage, bread, cheese and even homemade moonshine. The vendors were glad to see tourists.
Bar also introduced us to the intricacies of Montenegrin customs and harbor police. The first stop was at the police station, then on to customs, and finally to the harbor master. There we were greeted by a large, serious-looking officer who asked for our passports, boat papers, insurance policy and crew list. The first hurdle was
The prodigious “black mountains” for which the country of Montenegro was named loom above the town of Perast on the Gulf of Kotor.
The author relished his time in Montenegro (below). Wooden fishing boats are still used, often rowed and sometimes sailed and motored (bottom). On Sveti Stefan, a deluxe hotel has been constructed in the manner of a centuries-old local town (right).