Island hopping in Croatia

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Croatia – the undiscovered cruising playground of the Mediterranean. Cruising Croatia means visiting some of the hundreds of unspoiled islands off the Adriatic coast of Croatia – a paradise for sun-seekers and sea-worshipers.

Island-hopping in the Adriatic in a comfortable sailing yacht with all the amenities of modern living is a dream vacation you will not forget in a hurry. Cruising Croatia that I have in mind is about the outer islands, off the beaten track, still-untouched by today’s hordes of tourists…

I offer you the islands of Brioni, Dugi otok, Kornati, Vis, Lastovo, Brac, Korcula, Mljet and many, many more…

The Kornati Archipelago

So what’s so special about Kornati Islands? Visually, they are quite startling – like ships of stone in the Adriatic. The islands have been declared a national park and are uninhabited, except of course in summer when local fishermen open their konobas to cater to the culinary whims of visiting yachties like you and me.

There are no cars, no noise, no light pollution, no nightlife no mass tourism… just goats, fig and olive trees, fields of fragrant sage and glorious silence.

So if you’re looking for sprawling sandy beaches, do not come to Kornati. If you’re craving exciting nite-life, give Kornati a miss. If you want to go shopping for Gucci handbags and Armani neck ties, you’re in the wrong neck of the woods.

You want to do some adrenaline-pumping flat water sailing? Kornati is your first choice. You want to chill out, sipping your bevanda from a tall glass and listening to the silence of a Kornati sunset? You have come to the right place. You want to go hiking over the stark limestone landscape amid the fragrant fields of sage? Kornati is the place for you.

But there must be a downside to Kornati as well. Indeed there is: the park’s entrance fee is rather steep: 20 EUR to 50 EUR per day per boat, depending on whether you bought you admission ticket outside the park or inside.

Ther are no cars, no noise, no light pollution, no nightlife no mass tourism. Check out my video about cruising Kornati.

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One of the highlights of Cruising Croatia – satellite’s view of Kornati Islands

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Getting there

Your best bet is to fly into the Zadar airport on a low-cost flight from any of the major European airports and charter your sailboat at the Marina Dalmacija Bibinje – Sukosan, better known simply as Marina Sukosan.

When you take possession of the boat, be on the lookout for a warning sign that tells you not to sail under the bridge connecting the islands of Ugljan and Pasman that sit inconveniently right between Marina Sukosan and Kornati islands.

If you spot the sign, it means that the mast of your yacht is too high for the bridge and you’ll have to sail either around Ugljan or Pasman, depending on the direction of the wind. In either case the sail from Marina Sukosan to Kornati will take you about 5 hours.

If it’s getting late in the day, don’t go directly to Kornati but stop over in Sali on Dugi otok, the gateway to the Kornati National Park and a great place to stock up on food and drink and chill out in a quaint little bar called Maritimo right on the waterfront.

If daylight is not a problem, head straight for Telascica, a deep land-locked bay that has also been declared a national park. Make sure you get there late in the evening when the park rangers are already in the bar and won’t come to collect. Motor to the deepest end of the land-locked bay and tie to one of the many moorings along the shore.

On your way from Sali to Telascica or Kornati you’ll have to negotiate the straits of Mala Proversa which should be no problem. Just make sure you take the sails down in time and motor through the well-marked straits at 5 kn as the current can be quite strong.

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The straits of Mala Proversa

But there is also an option: Vela Proversa on the south side of the island of Katina. It’s not as easy to negotiate, but it’s much more exciting…

As you approach the straits, look out for the alignment markings on the hillside above the shore. Manoeuver your boat in a position where you see the two markings perfectly aligned (see photo below) and then proceed through the straits.

Are you looking for an adrenaline rush? Then take the Vela Proversa route to Kornati. As you line up with the sight markings, your depth sounder will start beeping as you enter the straits, but don’t worry. If the draft of your boat is not much more than two meters, you’ll be OK.

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Alignement marks in Vela Proversa

If you decided to spend the night in Telascica, you may want to cast off very early and avoid paying the National Park entrance fee. If the park rangers show up in their inflatable dinghy before you leave, you’re out of luck.

They’ll collect 8 EUR per person per day, but must also collect your trash, so make sure you have it ready, neatly packaged in a plastic bag.

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Treacherous Reef between Veli Kornat and Lavrnaka

A word of caution when sailing through Kornati. There are innumerable tiny islands and semi-submerged reefs, which do not present any navigational problems, if you keep a constant lookout and stay well away from the shore. The only exception is the submerged reef between the islands of Veli Kornat and Lavrnaka (43 degrees 50′ 23″N – 15 degrees 14′ 34″E).

I once tried to “landscape” the bottom of the Adriatic at that location with the keel of my yacht, but escaped unscathed. So stay away from the above location.

Perhaps a piece of advice about sailing in Kornati. When plotting your route on a chart, make sure there are no little plus signs (+) too close to the route as they indicate treacherous reefs just below the water surface, which are very difficult to spot.

Let’s take Kornati one island a time

Lavrnaka

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You can reach the island of Lavrnaka after a two-hour sail from Telascica. It is said that there are no beaches in Kornati, which is almost true.

There is in fact a very nice pebble beach on the west side of Lavrnaka where you can drop anchor (the holding is good) and spend the night. The swimming area is protected and snorkeling is also good.

Take your dinghy ashore and walk to the other side of the island. There you’ll find two konobas offering grilled seafood and the usual meat dishes.

Take the rocky path to the top of the island and enjoy a breathtaking panorama of the seascape and pick all the sage you can carry, so you can use it in your Mediterranean culinary masterpiece.

If the swell makes the anchorage on the west side uncomfortable, just sail around the island and drop anchor in the bay on the east side.

Mana

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Only a fifteen-minute sail south-east of Lavrnaka is the interesting island of Mana. It has two things to offer: a deserted movie set and a unique natural free climbing wall.

Ancho in the shallow bay on the north-western side of the island and take a short hike to the movie set. The movie As the Sea Rages was shot here in 1959, starring Maria Shell and Cliff Robertson.

Tired of sightseeing? Just weigh anchor and sail to the south side and approach the rock face below the movie set. If you have any free climbers on board, they will certainly enjoy this spot.

All you need is a pair of shorts and some sturdy footwear – no helmet, no ropes, no safety equipment. When you get tired, just drop off the wall and safely plop into the warm waters of the Adriatic.

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Piskera

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The island of Piskera is located only an hour’s sail from Mana and boasts the only marina in the Kornati archipelago. It may not have much to offer in the way of creature comforts, but it does provide the basics: 120 berths, limited power and water supply, restaurant, a tiny grocery store, showers, post office but no fuel.

The nearest gas station is at Zaglav on Dugi otok 12 nm away.

If you want to use your mobile, you’ll have to climb to the top of the island to get good reception. Yes, Kornati is one of the few remote areas of Europe.

The daily cost of a berth for a 12-meter boat is 54 EUR with absolutely nothing included. If you don’t feel like shelling out all that money for an overnight stay in a marina …

… you can always go next door to Lavsa, where you can tie you boat to a mooring, which will cost you 10 EUR per day.

Zakan

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I like Zakan. It’s one of my favorite places in Kornati. The docks are very sturdy and the water is crystal clear. You can dive right off the dock and enjoy an afternoon swim.

The park rangers usually don’t come so far south to collect the fee, so you may get away staying the night without paying the fee.

Just before sunset, walk to the top of the island to enjoy the breathtaking panorama of the Kornati archipelago. The island boasts a large konoba, but don’t expect any Croatian smiles as you order your meal.

For even more peace and quiet, anchor in the shallows of Kameni Zakan, only half a mile due south of Zakan.

Smokvica

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Smokvica is another remote island of Kornati where park rangers don’t usually venture. There is room for about seven boats at the dock, but you can always drop your anchor in the bay and run a line to shore.

So what’s so special about this place? In may mind it’s the local atmosphere and the culinary delights of the only konoba on the island. Their grilled seafood dishes are absolutely succulent.

Don’t stay overnight unless you are absolutely sure that the south-east wind called jugo will not start blowing during the night. In that case your exit strategy is to motor to the safe anchorage of Kameni Zakan.

Veli Kornat

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If the Kornati archipelago every became a sovereign state, Vrulje would certainly become its capital city. It features a coastguard outpost, several konobas, a grocery store, mooring-buoys for a dozen yachts, and loads of local atmosphere.

Even though the village of Vrulje numbers 50 houses, it is not a permanent settlement. The locals seasonally engage in the cultivation of olives, fishing, sheep herding and tourism.