BEATING THE "VAT CLOCK" IN ALBANIA
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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: email@example.com.
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).