Cruising World - - In The Shadow Of The Black Mountain - by jayne koehler

We ar­rived in Sarande, Al­ba­nia, aboard Ao­rangi, our Swan 47, af­ter a four-day, 500-mile pas­sage from Gaeta, Italy. En­try with an agent is manda­tory in Al­ba­nia; in Sarande, that agent is Agim Zholi (ag­imzholi@ya­

Upon ar­rival in Sarande (be care­ful to stay half a mile to port of Punta Fer­ruc­cio and the Bal­adha shoal, which is marked only with a red-ring buoy to port and flash­ing white light at night), we found the agent on the quay to guide us to a berth. We asked to be side-tied

in­stead of Med-moored, which is the nor­mal prac­tice. Even though it was very high sea­son, we had the most pleas­ant of re­cep­tions. Agim’s son and his as­sis­tant helped us tie up, and then came on board for a cold re­fresh­ment. They gave us a wealth of in­for­ma­tion along with a lo­cal map out­lin­ing use­ful places.

They were also help­ful in tak­ing care of ev­ery­thing needed for our ar­rival and de­par­ture. We only re­quired pass­ports and boat reg­is­tra­tion to com­plete for­mal­i­ties. The en­tire cost was 80 eu­ros, in­clud­ing agent fees, berthing for two nights and a tourist tax per per­son. So it was a very eco­nom­i­cal way to get the VAT clock started again. The only draw­back to Sarande is the lack of marine ser­vices. We did find mo­tor oil, but that was about it. So be pre­pared, be­cause you are on your own.

In gen­eral, we found sur­round­ings tidy, and the peo­ple re­served but very pleas­ant. The wa­ter­front came alive at night, with stands and restau­rants, and was buzzing with tourists.

A few notes on what you can en­joy in the sur­round­ing area: We rented an off-road ve­hi­cle for a day for 50 eu­ros (high-sea­son rate) and dis­cov­ered the Lekursi Cas­tle, which pro­vided fab­u­lous views of both the Al­ba­nian and Greek coasts. There is a nice cafe in the re­stored cas­tle, sur­rounded by a huge bal­cony over­look­ing the area.

There are also mil­i­tary bunkers from the less pleas­ant times dot­ting the hill­sides and even beaches — re­minders of how far the coun­try has come.

We then con­tin­ued on to Butrint Na­tional Park, a UNESCO World Her­itage site known for its ar­chae­o­log­i­cal im­por­tance as well as its nat­u­ral beauty. We also vis­ited the Blue Eye Spring, a beau­ti­ful nat­u­ral spring that is a renowned tourist haven and a cool re­prieve from the con­stant heat.

Back in town, we en­joyed a nice din­ner at Ho­tel Palma near the agents’ of­fice, where the three of us had our meal with sev­eral drinks for a mere 35 eu­ros. And the view of the har­bor was lovely.

Al­ba­nia is grow­ing quickly, and things will prob­a­bly change in the fu­ture, but for now it’s a mar­velous coun­try to dis­cover with­out break­ing the bank.

When leav­ing, it’s best to no­tify the agent the evening be­fore be­cause the port po­lice need to for­mal­ize mat­ters with the agent. Upon de­part­ing, it is nec­es­sary to call the au­thor­i­ties on VHF Chan­nel 16. We for­got and were hailed from the dock by a port po­lice­man ask­ing us to con­firm the name of the yacht and how many on board.

Leav­ing Al­ba­nia in the morn­ing and head­ing west, be aware of the fog that de­vel­ops off the coast, mainly around the is­lands off Corfu in the early hours of the day; it lasts un­til af­ter­noon. Jayne Koehler sails and char­ters her Swan 47 Ao­rangi out of Gaeta, Italy, and is happy to hear from cruis­ers com­ing to the area via email: ao­rangi@kjkeu­

Our goal from Bar was the Gulf of Ko­tor, 35 miles to the north­west. But this was not pas­sage­mak­ing. This was day­sail­ing, with the first stop at Sveti (St.) Ste­fan, the site of a re­con­structed 16th-cen­tury ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­ter on a very small is­land con­nected by a cause­way. Sveti Ste­fan was orig­i­nally built with gold bars taken from pi­rates at­tack­ing Ko­tor. It’s now a lux­ury ho­tel but looks for all the world like it prob­a­bly did when pi­rates and raiders roamed these wa­ters.

We an­chored to the south of the is­land, near a po­lice boat on guard duty. The cheer­ful of­fi­cers said they were guard­ing “the big bosses” on the is­land. When we said how much we liked Mon­tene­gro, one replied, “Of course! Why not?” and added, “I have a cousin in the Chicago po­lice.” Our younger crew swam ashore to the pris­tine beach while the older crew napped aboard.

The next day, pass­ing the beaches of Budva (party cen­tral, aka the Adri­atic Riviera), we en­tered the jewel of Mon­tene­gro: the Gulf of Ko­tor, a nearly land­locked fjord with 5,000-foot-tall moun­tains com­ing right down to the wa­ter. The sea is bright-blue, and the moun­tains of­ten dark and some­times brood­ing, hence the name Mon­tene­gro, or “black moun­tain.”

Our next stop was Porto Mon­tene­gro, a five-star ma­rina in Ti­vat re­cently de­vel­oped on the site of an old navy base. The word “deluxe” hardly does jus­tice to Porto Mon­tene­gro. The berths are pris­tine, the staff ac­com­plished and English-speak­ing, the prices sky-high. There are restau­rants, ho­tels, trendy bou­tiques, a chan­dlery and a laun­dro­mat (our laun­dry bill ap­proached the re­place­ment cost of the clothes they washed). Spec­tac­u­lar su­pery­achts of the 150-foot-plus va­ri­ety are based there, said to be owned by Rus­sian mil­lion­aires.

We left Scar­let for the high-sea­son sum­mer months on the hard at the Navar boat­yard a mile or so away — the Porto Mon­tene­gro staff made the ar­range­ments when I ex­plained to them that keep­ing the boat in the wa­ter at their fa­cil­ity, un­used dur­ing the high sea­son, was a bud­get buster. As usual, they were happy to oblige.

We re­turned to Scar­let in Oc­to­ber to con­tinue our cruise through Mon­tene­gro and north to Croa­tia. Al­though the Gulf of Ko­tor is only 10 miles from the en­trance to the head of the bay at Ko­tor, it is well worth spend­ing some time there. There are mari­nas at Herceg-novi, an old sea cap­tains’ town; Ti­vat (Porto Mon­tene­gro); Perast; and Ko­tor, with its 15th-cen­tury de­fen­sive wall climb­ing the cliffs in back of the town. There are lots of an­chor­ages — some marked on the charts, some not — and it’s pos­si­ble to pull up to the jet­ties in front of water­side bars and restau­rants for a meal. Pro­ceed slowly. If the jetty is not suit­able, you will be waved away.

The ar­chi­tec­ture is Vene­tian, mark­ing that city’s long im­por­tance to the area, with white­washed build­ings and red-tile roofs. Much of the shore­line has walk­ing trails to stretch your legs.

But mostly, sail­ing in Mon­tene­gro is about the scenery: black moun­tains plung­ing to the sea, warm blue wa­ter and lovely build­ings. His­tory is present ev­ery­where, both re­cent and from many cen­turies past. Much of that his­tory is vi­o­lent, in­volv­ing pi­rates, Turk­ish raiders, two world wars and the re­cent Balkan con­flict. I couldn’t help but ad­mire the per­sis­tence and good hu­mor of the Mon­tene­grins. And maybe, I got the feel­ing when sail­ing there, their best time is com­ing now.

Spencer Smith has been cruis­ing the Caribbean, At­lantic is­lands and the Mediter­ranean since 2010 (see “Com­muter Cruis­ing,” Fe­bru­ary 2016). His War­wick 47,

Scar­let, is crewed by friends, rel­a­tives and col­lege-age re­cruits new to sail­ing.

There is no lack of sight­see­ing at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing the Lekursi Cas­tle, which af­fords ar­rest­ing, com­mand­ing views of the coasts of both Al­ba­nia and Greece (right).

We took a stroll to get a bet­ter van­tage point of the har­bor of Ko­tor, which was mel­low and un­crowded in the off­sea­son (op­po­site). I’ve kept my 47-foot sloop, Scar­let, in Europe for sev­eral years (be­low).

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