On 28 May we checked out of Croatia for the last time, finally closing the chapter on our eleven years of family sailing holidays in familiar territory. We knew that we had only scratched the surface of the stunning central and southern Adriatic coastline, it’s many rugged islands and National Park, but now it was time to move on and broaden our cruising experiences.

We had been anchored in the peaceful bay of Cavtat since our friends had gone home, catching up on essential maintenance, cleaning and stocking up with supplies ready for our journey south to Montenegro. On the morning of our departure we had to move to Cavtat main town to tie up on the Customs “Q” Dock, ready to check out of Croatia. For this we had to visit the Port authority with our official boat papers, so that they could check that we had paid all of our Tourist Taxes and that the boat we were taking out of the country was actually ours! This was followed by a visit to the Police with passports and our crew list for final check out. As we slipped the quay and headed out of the bay we both looked back and it felt like rather a momentous occasion, lowering the Croatian flag later in the day signified the beginning of the next chapter of our sailing adventure proper.

Our sail to Montenegro took us south along the coastline from Croatia and into the 28km of fjord-like inland waterway towards the Bay of Kotor. With breathtaking scenery of the Orjen mountains to the west, and the Lovćen mountains to the east, we sailed into Porto Montenegro, Tivat early afternoon. Once again we had to make our way to the Customs Pier before going alongside, to check into the country and pay for our Sailing Permit and Tourist Taxes.

Porto Montenegro is a really good and efficient place to clear customs but also boasts the most amazing ‘super yacht’ marina. Our boat was dwarfed by the majority of yachts and cruisers alongside and our stay there was an experience in mingling with ‘sailing royalty’ it seemed. The vast array of posh restaurants and shops around the marina offered plenty of opportunities to part with your cash but a short walk around the coast proved fruitful for a more modest dining budget! The contrast between the old town and the marina development was astounding and it was deep in the heart of the old town that we managed to find a well hidden local plumbing shop, where we were able to buy some much needed parts for a repair to our washing machine. In the words of many live-aboards, ‘cruising life is defined as a life of fixing your boat in exotic places’ and since we left our base marina, our ‘things to fix’ list has been growing steadily!

Our next port of call was Kotor and for me, my favourite place so far. Kotor is a bustling town, very popular with Cruise Liners and tourists generally. The tiny marina sits on the edge of the town and hosts the most spectacular view of Kotor Fort. The town itself is a ‘medieval maize’ of museums, churches, restaurants and shops threaded with winding cobbled alleyways.

At night the old town and fort are impressively lit, giving a magical view of this beautiful place.

We stayed overnight in Kotor and got up bright and early before it got too hot, to climb the track to the top of the fort. The view from the top was certainly well worth the exertion of the climb….

We spent our final night at anchor back in Tivat and on 1 June after 4 days in Montenegro, we had a perfect weather window so we got up early once again, checked out at the Customs pier in Tivat and made our way back out to the Adriatic to sail across to Bari in Italy. We charted our course and the crossing was estimated to take around 24 hours. If the weather held true we figured we would have a decent sail and planned to take shifts after dark, to break up the monotony of the night sail. Sailing at night is precarious and tiring, especially when having to cross shipping lanes, keeping your eyes fixed on the sea and into the darkness checking for navigational lights of ships and tankers and dodging small fishing boats. Our radar normally gives us a good picture of other shipping traffic, but was struggling with interference and wasn’t working properly…. A flask of good, strong coffee and a bar of Cadbury’s (from our deep, emergency store) helped to get us through the night. The trip across ended up being very comfortable, the sea state was reasonably calm, weather was warm and sunny and we had five different pods of dolphins swimming and playing around the boat at different times during the crossing. One pod stayed with us for a good thirty minutes during the night and it was very peaceful to sit in the cockpit, under sail with dolphins squeaking in the darkness.

We witnessed a beautiful sunset and sunrise and along with our dolphin escorts, the most memorable part of the journey for me was watching the moon climb into the sky from the sea. I was totally in awe. It made me realize just how easy it is to track through life at high speed, rushing through each day and not taking time to stop and take in such simple every day events that can take your breath away….

Our Italian courtesy flag was raised early morning and we arrived in Bari for breakfast after our 24 hour crossing. We were both shattered but relieved that our first night crossing together in a while, had passed so peacefully. It was the first of many to come, but good to figure out the routine with us as a two-man crew without the kids to help. More Customs and Police and then off to bed to sleep like the dead for the best part of the day…… I’m amazed at how much I have been sleeping and the quality of my sleep since we left home and it’s good to wake up without the stressed feeling of restless sleep. The sea air and the gradual unwinding process are obviously beginning to make an impact!

We decided to stay put in Bari for a few days and get some more jobs done and yes, out came the sewing machine once again to put the final touches to our sun hood, which now supports additional flexible solar panels. Our boat now resembles a solar panel farm but this will help us enormously in preserving our battery power, when away from port power supply. It’s amazing how power-hungry devices like laptops, phones, fridge, freezer and lights are and their usage puts a substantial strain on the boat, it really brings home just how much our consciousness has had to change since we left home.

We also gave ourselves some decent time off from the boat maintenance to explore the local area around the marina and wandered down to the seafront. In the evening the whole seafront comes alive with locals sitting in groups along the sea wall and in deck chairs with picnic tables, sharing wine, beer and pizza from the various take out vans in the street. It was quite an impressive sight and obviously a regular get-together for many of the locals. The views out over the water were stunning as the sun went down, an amazing place to host a family gathering I thought!

During our stay in Bari we took a bus ride into the Old Town to soak up some of the local atmosphere. Bari is a Port city, the capital of the Italian region of Puglia and is very typical of many of the fortress-protected coastline towns and cities of the region with its stunning churches, architecture and cobbled alleyways. I was profoundly aware of the smell of clean washing hanging in the air as we walked around the old town, which comes from the many washing lines hanging above the streets from the myriad of apartments, stacked high above the shops and pavement cafes. We spent the day exploring the modern city, the old town and took the opportunity to experience some local Italian cuisine, wine and of course – Gelato, a fine reward for our hard work on the boat since we arrived in Italy.

A visit to the local supermarket before we left had me in total awe, with the perfect name of ‘Eately’, it was an amazing indoor market  (Waitrose eat your heart out!) displaying a vast array of local produce and offering an opportunity for some naughty indulgence in fresh fruit, vegetables, pasta, cheese and wine. For me it was a bit of an ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ experience and anyone who has read that book (forget the film), will have some idea of what I mean! There’s something rather special about Italian food and you just have to open yourself up to the taste sensations of food that is prepared and cooked with true love and enjoyment in mind.

From Bari we travelled south along the eastern coastline towards Monopoli, taking shelter in a marina when the weather threw up an un-predicted Force 7 Gale. We arrived with water seeping into the engine room and more work for Damian. We managed an evening in Monopoli, but thankfully Damian managed to sort out the leak and we decided to push on again to Brindisi the next day,  in preparation for our next big hop to Corfu. We plan to explore inland Italy next year when we sail up the west coast next spring.

At this point we have been away from home for almost 2 months and we can’t believe how fast the time is flying by. The unwinding process continues and the enormity of this lifestyle change, feels less profound as time moves on. It is strange to be out on the boat and realize that we are not on holiday, that this is our life for now and it is okay to take our time,  to allow each day to unfold and to enjoy all that we are fortunate enough to experience. There are days when we are both fully aware that boating life is not all lazing around in the sunshine but we deal with challenges as they arise and continually remind ourselves of how lucky we are to have this time.

Next stop Corfu and onto the Greek Islands…..