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.

Cruising World - - Front Page - By Spencer Smith

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).

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