Cruising Stories

The Trifecta in the Maldives

By
Kia
Koropp

Kia Koropp, along with her husband John, and two children Braca, 6 and Ayla, 4, began cruising around the world on their 50-foot sailboat, Atea, in 2011. This is an excerpt from their adventures in the Maldives, an island chain located in South Asia on the Indian Ocean.After two months exploring the glorious Maldives, I've come full circle in appreciating what it has to offer. We'd heard numerous accounts from cruisers before us: Once in the Maldives, we would swim with manta rays, dive with whale sharks and suffocate from the density of fish in the live corals. The bar was set high, but keeping the bar high became a challenge as we discovered that the Maldives' idyllic isles were either submerged under a thin layer of water or dominated by five-star resorts. After a bit of hit and miss, the delights of the Maldives finally unraveled before us.

We tackled the country in a three-pronged approach: one, uninhabited isles; two, remote villages; three, luxury resorts. These three perspectives proved to be the trifecta. The isolated islets offered pristine beauty and an opportunity to experience the rich underwater world. In the sleepy villages, we met fast and dear friends, while the resorts gave us a taste of the ultimate in high-end luxury.

UNINHABITED ISLETS

At first, the list of anchorages in the Maldives' countless isles seemed in nite, but our planning was complicated by the fact that the names were impossible to remember.

Eventually we gave up trying to organize a route and simply drifted northward with a vague agenda. The problem with a strategy based on ambiguity and spontaneity, however, was that the topography didn't lend itself to just hopping around.

The country's countless islands 1,190 to be exact to anyone with a few months to explore by yacht, this offers more than enough options. In fact, it was a bit daunting to start navigating our yacht through the labyrinth. But there are limits, as we soon found out. The depths in the area are great and the drop-offs sheer, so we often found ourselves completely cut off from the islands. The land does not gently slope into deep water but quickly plunges from one to 50 meters on a vertical wall, making anchoring impossible. We passed idyllic isle after idyllic isle, wishing to park and play. It was evident looking through the clear water what made diving in the Maldives so extraordinary, with steep walls layered in coral and striped fish, but we were repeatedly denied access to this wonderland by depths too deep or shores too shallow.

What's more, the bounty of coral reefs make boating feasible only in good light and with reliable charts. Prior to our arrival, John had spent considerable time downloading Google Map images of the region, providing us with visual details of the landscape. I highly recommend this to any yacht destined for these waters.

Journal Entry 1

Huvadhoo Atoll: The light is fading and I stand on the bow trying to spot white sand beneath the surface. We've sailed along the eastern fringe of the atoll for hours now, but it seems the entire eastern side is a sheer drop off. I continue to scout ahead. We shared paths with dolphin and pilot whales, but neither are what we search for. Finally, we concede defeat. John pulls up Google Map images of the area and we search the interior of the atoll for a submerged reef with enough depth to set our anchor. We look through the images for a shade of blue just the right hue: Too light and it is just knee deep, too dark and it is beyond the reach of our anchor windlass. Quickly, we find a spot two miles distant. Half an hour and we see a patch of sand that stands out like a halo. We made it. With the anchor set, we listen to the collective rush of a million little silver fish breaking the surface. In the pastel tinted light of the setting sun, it is the only sound that punctuates the intense quiet that engulfs us. It is intensely serene.

On many occasions we set our sights on a seemingly suitable anchorage only to find there wasn't anything on the surface to explore or anywhere suitable to set our anchor. Our first few anchorages were no more than a submerged reef in the middle of the atoll, cut off from the beautiful islets that surrounded us. At first, this offered seclusion we were keen to avoid, but after realizing the splendor below us, we quickly turned our isolation into an opportunity.

Journal Entry 2

Hadhdhunmathee Atoll: The water is crystal clear and the fans that wave just below the surface beckon us. At low tide, the small circle of reef is the size of a tennis court and breaks the surface at its highest peak at low tide. The tide is high now, however, and we have a 360-degree view of endless blue. The four of us leap off the side deck into the water and snorkel in the breaking morning light. Seconds later we cannot see each other through the density of fish that engulf us. It is like a scene in an animation film, though this isn't an over-exaggeration of the reef.

Live-aboard dive boats offer a great way to explore the area.

Journal Entry 3

Felidhe Atoll: While John dives, the kids and I snorkel alongside a mammoth moray eel. It's large, outstretched body gracefully navigates the nooks of the reef. Eventually he catches his meal.North Ari Atoll: Never before have I watched a reef shark hunt. I hover on the wall, pulling in shallow steady breaths on my regulator hose, and watch the shark directly below me. In a flash it sinks his head into a hole in the reef and retracts it wildly, thrashing its head like a dog with a bone. He caught his meal and I caught my breath.Rasdhoo Atoll: I've often been a pest to the fish but rarely have the fish been a pest to me. Today's dive was brimming with sh life, so thick that at times it was impossible to focus.

INHABITED ISLANDS

We'd been told our trip highlights would come from the water and not from the land, that the locals were indifferent to visitors and that we should expect a cold eye and frozen glare when going ashore.Regardless, we ventured into villages with eyes wide open and were quickly reminded that what you hear is often not what you get. The warmth we found from the villagers was a defining feature of our trip. We were hosted and we hosted, our social customs and theirs traded like much-valued secrets. We learned to accept a type of hospitality very different from our own: guests are fed first and hosts second. We were offered coconuts from trees and guidance in the streets. The kids have been invited on play dates and picnics.

In many countries I have visited, I've found a social barrier that is hard to bridge, no matter how generous the gestures, but I never felt this in my interactions with the Maldivians. Most of the time, we experienced warmth and inclusion and I treasure what this added to our trip.

The pace of life in the Maldives is slow, a result of both the afternoon heat and a lack of industry. The coral-brick homes are surrounded by compound walls, set on neat sandy streets.

Journal Entry 4

Kolhumadulu Atoll: The four of us are seated at the table, with a cat underneath, a bird in a cage behind me and a parrot presented on an outstretched finger. Mother, sister and sister-in-law clatter about busily at the stove, the two daughters deliver plates piled high with local fare. At the end of the meal my contribution, a flan, is served to us. So far, no one else has eaten. We are introduced to visitors that appear in the doorway, a steady stream of neighborly curiosity. At the end of the evening we are presented a package, a gift of pre-purchased treats and an odd assortment of vegetables from the garden, and they escort us back to our dinghy.

The population of 373,000 is spread across 200 inhabited islands, with 50 percent of the citizens residing in the densely populated capital, Malé. The city is constructed one meter above sea level with half of its land base coming from the dredged sand of nearby islets.

It is incredible to think that the natural geography of the entire archipelago is lower than our aft deck.

We sit on our perch like little seabirds and look down at the islands that surround us.

RESORTS

We wormed our way into the grace of a few sympathetic resort managers and paid our way in meals and cocktails, salons and shops, without having to pay for a room. We shared the facilities with Chinese, German, English and Russian tourists, the bulk of foreign visitors to the Maldives. Couples steeped in love held hands and wandered down the beach or lounged on decks hanging over the reefs. The Maldives is ranked as the world's most desired honeymoon destination --- thus the luxury resorts.

Journal Entry 5

Baa Atoll: Dinghy ashore, a hand on the scruff of the neck and a complimentary golf-cart ride to reception, where we get told to take a room or beat it. Regardless, I'm dogged in my fruitless pursuit of five-star luxury. Once more we are herded to reception, but before the golf cart can pull up for our return trip to the dinghy, I grab the kids and wander off to watch the shark feeding. Soon we have a fake guest room, an open tab and all amenities at our disposal. We spend the next few days living resort-style, hand-in-hand (when not hand-on-cocktail) and Cupid-struck.

Tourism has boomed in the Maldives since 1972. For almost 30 years, multinationals had exclusive rights on tourist development, with minimum revenue going to the local economy. The vast majority of resorts consisted of an exclusive hotel on its own island, managed by foreigners and with no contact with the local community. Tourists were restricted to the resorts, and cruisers were banned from anchoring off any populated islands. The authorities did not welcome independent travelers. In recent years, the government has eased restrictions, legalizing tourism development on a local level. Guest- houses, cafes, dive shops and souvenir shops burgeoned throughout the local villages, and more than a million tourists currently visit the country each year. Still, particularly in the south where tourism has been slower to develop, a foreigner can still be seen as an anomaly.

Journal Entry 6

Foammulah Atoll: We are in the southern atolls and we've not seen a single foreigner since our arrival two weeks prior. We've passed a few scattered resorts, but rarely stray from dive boat or resort. We've been at anchor for four days now, arriving mere hours before a big storm. We finally leave the boat for a much- needed leg stretch and play on the tiny islet where we are anchored. On the nearby main island, I see four bodies marching in line out to sea, arm- in-arm, heading our way. The water is deep in places, the current strong. They drag one another along. As they near I make out four women in full dress. I wade out to greet them, smiling as they puff from the exertion.

There is no conclusion to this story, for it is not yet concluded. We are on our way to India but will be returning to the Maldives soon for another shot at the trifecta. After all, of 1,190 islets, we've still a few yet to see.

Related Articles
Chartering Canal Du Midi
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Canal Du Midi bike trebes

The scenic Canal du Midi in southern France is a must for boaters! Cruising this 300-year-old waterway, you will savor the slow easy French pace, passing medieval villages, country farms and vineyards in the heart of the Languedoc wine region. Le Boat, the largest charter boat operation in Europe, offers surprisingly affordable, entry- level charters to this canal (and hundreds of other waterways). This historic passage is easy to navigate, scenic, fun and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Boating at a mellow 5 kilometers an hour aboard your vessel of 30-45 feet, the big excitement is passing through the lock system every few kilometers and arriving in ancient villages as your daily destination on your personal private cruise ship.

Don’t expect a luxury yacht holiday, however, because you are the crew and captain, you will be driving the boat or donning gloves to handle the dock lines in each “écluse” (lock). But it’s entertaining and affords a sense of freedom by chartering your own boat and navigating these centuries-old canals. Le Boat provides itineraries of how far you should voyage each day, but it’s truly up to you.

Our weeklong voyage started in Castelnaudary, a small, pretty village. Le Boat’s base in Castelnaudary is in the Grand Basin with a lovely view of the cathedral and village across the waterway, just a short walk over an old stone bridge to town. We could also see the majestic Pyrenees Mountains to our southwest along the French-Spanish border.

Greg on the Canal

Our first night, after our swift check in and orientation aboard our 40’ Horizon, we strolled to town, enjoyed local Languedoc wine and dinner at the Maison du Cassoulet sampling the specialty dish of slow-cooked white beans, tender pork and duck. Traditional “cassoulet” was a staple historically, especially in meager winters. Wow is it yummy and filling!

While returning over the old stone bridge back to our boat within the fleet, twinkling lights of the village reflected in the canal. We were excited to embark the next morning after a quiet comfy night’s sleep in the berth of our Horizon — Le Boat’s most modern vessel, equipped with a head, shower and full galley kitchen.

Before bed, I read about the fascinating history of the Canal du Midi. It was initially commissioned in 1516 by King Francis who hired Leonardo DaVinci to survey and create the route. Canal construction didn’t commence until 1667 and was completed in 1694, connecting 240 kilometers from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean with aqueducts, bridges and 91 locks to overcome the 620 feet height change in water level.

Designed as a trade route to shorten the otherwise long passage around the Iberian Peninsula, it’s also called the “Canal des Deux Mers” or canal of two seas. This vital trade route for two centuries is now a meandering waterway for pleasure boaters as well as bicyclists riding the tow paths paralleling the canal.

On the first morning, our first lock was the most dramatic, departing Castelnaudary via a series of four locks that descend 9.5 meters in consecutive rushes of water. Captain Greg (my husband) and I established our duties: he’d drive into the narrow stone chamber (thankful for bow thrusters) while I secured lines to the lock shore, ready to adjust as the water floods out.

Canal Du Midi Boat Locks

We traveled in tandem with two other boats, a Swiss family and a German couple. All were experienced boaters, so we developed an efficient rhythm of entering the locks sequentially, tying up, descending and exiting in order.

We cruised 15 locks by noon, then tied to a canal bank for the daily lunchtime lock closure of 12-1:00 p.m. We’d provisioned in Castelnaudary for the perfect picnic of flaky croissants, local ham and cheese, and a glass of Languedoc rosé on our boat’s top sun deck.

When the “Eclusier” (lock operator) returned to open the lock for us, we cruised the canal again with the occasional excitement of encountering oncoming boats in the narrow canal. Some boat captains were better at steering than others.

Our first day, we clocked 19 locks, 26 kilometers from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. We chose to stay overnight in Villesèque, a lovely anchorage with a few other boats tied to the shores. There was no marina, but we could walk to the tiny village over a charming stone bridge to see the church and the Sully elm tree planted in the square, among the last elms still alive in France.

We toasted to our first boat day with wine and cheese on our top deck, and invited over our boat neighbors, a delightful South African couple who proved Le Boat’s international appeal. He’d never boated before, but Le Boat states that you need no prior boating experience.

On Day 2 we cruised under sunny early October skies, loving the canopy of iconic Plane trees that drape some of the river. Unfortunately, much of the 40,000 Plane trees along the 240- kilometer stretch are diseased. Over 25% have the blight and are systematically being cut and burned, a huge undertaking. In parts of the river, trees are being removed, and replanting different species is underway, but it will take time to reestablish the majestic trees.

Carcassonne de la Citi

We arrived midday at the marina of Carcassonne and docked our boat well-positioned for exploring the city, with views of the waterfront park and tour boats coming and going across the Aude River.

Carcassonne exceeded my expectations, and I know now why it’s the second most visited tourist attraction in France (#1 is the Eiffel Tower). La Cité is a massive, fortified castle with 52 spiraling turrets and imposing double walls of rampart circling 3 kilometers perched above a medieval village.

We immediately rode our bikes, provided by our Le Boat charter, up to the fairytale citadel. You can also ride le Petite Train for 7 Euro. Crossing the castle drawbridge, we stepped in to La Cité and the 13th century. Be sure to pay to enter and appreciate the scale of the ramparts and the view of Carcassonne’s lower city and the Pyrenees to the west. Then stroll the maze of medieval cobblestone streets filled with shops and cafés. Lunch at Comte Roger was a chic culinary treat. A real luxury would be to stay at the five-star Hôtel de la Cité for an elegant evening in the illuminated castle.

Back in Carcassonne’s village, we found the grand pedestrian plazas marked by statues and fountains, boutiques, bakeries and casual bistros. It’s a fun city to explore on foot, with provisions aplenty for boaters.

A SIP OR TWO AT LOCAL VINEYARDS

Greg and Heather at Chateau du Pennautier

The next morning, after fresh pain au chocolat, we hopped on our bikes to cycle to wineries. Greg guided us with his iPhone’s Komoot app, which maps out recommended hiking and biking routes. Château Auzais (est. 1872) was a wonderful tour and tasting. Our guide described the Occitanie wine’s bouquet as the convergence of Atlantic winds melding with the Mediterranean, as we sipped our favorite wine aptly named “La Cité des Ventes.”

Château de Pennautier was another fantastic estate. The gorgeous 1620 castle was home to the financier of the Canal du Midi construction — the same architect who designed Versailles. The château’s authentic furniture is gorgeous. Reserve an interior castle tour or just stroll the beautiful gardens. From here, we visited the sister winery and restaurant for a lovely lunch and wine tasting of Pennautier’s whites, rosés and reds.

We planned to boat the next day to Trèbes from Carcassonne but biked instead. The tow paths along the canal are ideal, in fact you can cycle faster than you can boat. We waved to fellow charter boats as we breezed by vineyards, farms, locks and bridges. Our return into Carcassonne provided stunning views of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites at once — La Cité Castle and Canal du Midi.

Heather biking in the winery

Our return trip from Carcassonne to Castelnaudary only took a day through 24 locks and 30 kilometers with our now well-orchestrated rhythm of navigating locks. Our timing was good for the opening of most locks, and we traveled solo, as mid-October is end of the season the lock keeper told me. Summer is very busy on the canal, with boats in a queue for their turn in locks, and busier marinas.

As for the voyage, I recommend you plan one-way (for an upcharge) for the adventure of all new places along your voyage. The round trip had us retracing our passage, viewing previous scenery. We prefer the excitement of not knowing what’s around the next river bend and discovering new villages.

Also ascending the locks, going upriver, is more difficult. Captain Greg would let me off on a dock before the lock, I’d walk ahead and retrieve his tossed lines to secure the boat, we’d adjust during the rush of cascading water, then I’d board our boat when it came to the top of the full lock.

We felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment, having completed our week with success (i.e. no one fell in, no damage to boat). Our final day was leisurely aboard the boat, walking Castelnaudary’s village to a delightful bakery, to the cathedral and up the hill to the windmill, a wonderful 17th century Moulin with splendid views of Black Mountain and the French countryside. We biked along the canal, then relaxed on our boat’s sun deck viewing the Spanish peaks where we planned to ski in winter.

Our check out was quick but thorough. Le Boat’s fleet varies in age, so I was happy we’d opted for the newer spacious Horizon model. Funny, other couples posed for selfies by our boat preferring our more sophisticated-looking vessel for their posts. Some of the older boats are a bit banged up from lock passages, a testament to the “no license or experience required” policy of Le Boat.

We’re already browsing Le Boat’s itineraries: Italy, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, England, the Netherlands or Canada for our next charter adventure.

PHOTOS BY GREG BURKE

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Croatia's Coastline & Wine
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Croatia's Castles | April Winship

“WOW!” WAS ALL I COULD COME UP WITH when my neighbor asked, “So, how was Croatia?” I simply ran out of adjectives to express the beauty and allure of this country. With its unique combination of history, culture, cuisine, friendly locals, rugged mountains, long coastline and crystalline blue waters, not to mention hosting a world-class boating scene, it’s easy to see how Croatia is becoming a popular destination with something to excite everyone.

If you are looking for history, then exploring one of the many Croatian UNESCO World Heritage Sites will quench your passion for the past. Transport yourself back to the 4th century AD with a stroll through the remnants of a Roman emperor’s palace. Wander through one of the best-preserved Roman coliseums in the world, and you can almost hear gladiators’ swords clashing against wooden shields.

Croatia’s story is woven together with charming medieval hill towns where regal bell towers seem to pierce the heavens. Climb the ancient tower’s stone steps spiraling to the top and be rewarded with breathtaking vistas. Look straight down past the windows with a line of colorful laundry fluttering in the breeze and on to the delightfully twisty cobblestone streets just wide enough for a donkey cart to pass. Now, centuries later these lanes are lined with enticing artisan shops, gelato stands, and tucked into every bend, a little sidewalk café begging to be discovered.

Ruins of castles and fortresses dot not only the coastline but many of the islands. Standing guard, their thick limestone walls once provided safe haven to the residents within, and now only serve as a testament of a more turbulent time. Walk along the massive stone fortifications and peer down into the moat, and one can almost feel the thunder of horse hooves as knights ride across the drawbridge.

Surround yourself in the art of the ages by stepping inside Croatia’s sacred churches and splendid cathedrals, the architecture spanning the Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque periods.

Seaside Towns in Croatia | April Winship

Although it is possible to stay in a Hilton-style hotel or rent a Mediterranean villa by the sea, you have other options. We chose to immerse ourselves in the medieval world by staying in the heart of the old town centers in family-run studio apartments. Sleeping under a roof that dated back 600 years enriched our Croatia experience while also supporting a local family business. These cozy apartments are refurbished to modern standards and are as comfortable as any four-star hotel.

If you’re a nature lover, Croatia boasts eight national parks. One can hike a lake rim and descent onto a series of wooden boardwalks meandering among turquoise waterfalls giving a unique on-the-water view of Mother Nature’s power or try backpacking through an island forest. However, you do not have to go to a national park to be enveloped in nature, as Croatia is a wonderland anywhere you turn.

If you’re into adrenaline sports, Croatia can provide all you need from bungee jumping to zip lining. For those leaning toward adventure with less heart stopping action, cycling, paddleboarding, sea kayaking or snorkeling are popular choices. My favorite jaunt was an all-day off-road dune buggy ride with a final stop at a local winery for a tour and tasting.

Croatia has a long history in winemaking, and wine tourism is becoming increasingly popular. Croatia cuisine reflects the flavors of central Europe, Italy and the Mediterranean. The coast of the Adriatic Sea is famous for its fish and seafood dishes while the inland menu features hearty meat platters. Sharing a border with Italy, it’s not unusual to be enticed with handmade pasta or even pizza.

Wrapped around all these sensory experiences is the Croatian people. Perhaps it’s due to the mild Mediterranean climate that the locals exude, a version of a “malo po malo” or “little by little” attitude that entices us fast-paced city dwellers to slow down and take in life. Pausing for a wine spritzer or cappuccino at a sidewalk café could last hours, and it’s not only quite all right...it’s expected. As a local told us; “There’s no such thing as coffee to-go in Croatia.”

CRUISING CROATIA’S DRAMATIC SHORELINE

This small country is touted as the number one sailing destination in Europe, and with good reason. Rivaling the West Coast of the United States in length, Croatia’s shores are lined with protected ports and marinas that support a wide range of options for visiting the more than 1,200 islands. So, it’s no wonder that each year many visitors opt to explore Croatia by water.

Croatia's Coastline | April Winship

If your taste leans toward a traditional cruise line, you will find an ample supply of lavish cruise ships capable of hosting more than 3,000 guests making overnight stops at the most popular ports of call.

For those seeking a more intimate experience, it’s increasingly popular to book a cabin on a 20 to 40 passenger luxury yacht. Croatia specializes in these small ship cruise lines, because they can explore tiny islands with hidden coves and access regions of the coast larger ships can’t navigate. Becoming your mobile boutique hotel, these opulent yachts boast the finest service, cuisine, spacious teak sundecks and even jacuzzis to enjoy your final nightcap.

Looking to be captured by the romance of exploring the Adriatic under sail? Then your hot ticket may be booking a cabin on one of the smaller eight to 16 passenger schooners known as gulets. Handcrafted of mahogany, pine and teak, these motor-sailing gulets offer a marvelous blend of modern-day comforts with charms of tradition. Potentially a little more laidback, swimming, sunbathing and just plain relaxing become a favorite pastime of the guests.

If you’re a bit more on the adventurous side, contact one of the many charter boat companies servicing Croatia to reserve your own sailboat or powerboat. Both are available as bareboat or skippered charters. Many choose a local captain to handle the boat and play guide, allowing you to kickback and gain a sense of the culture, all the while discovering his favorite anchorages, villages and local restaurants you would have missed along the way. You just might end the cruise with a new best friend.

If you’re land trekking and want a quick taste of boating life in the Adriatic, wander down to the harbor and book a day cruise from a variety of island tours or dinner cruises offered on small excursion boats.

After a full day of exploring, we often found ourselves joining the locals sitting on the rocky shoreline and hoisting our drinks to yet another magnificent Adriatic sunset.

A WINE LOVER’S SECRET PILGRIMAGE

Grk Wine tasting | April Winship

Ever tasted Grk wine? If not, don’t feel bad. Most people, including wine connoisseurs, have never heard of, much less tasted, Grk “Gerk” wine. This Holy Grail of wines is one of the more elusive vinos in the world that ironically enjoys an almost cult-like following in Croatia.

Among wine specialists, there is no consensus whether this peculiar three letter name comes from the wine’s taste (to locals, Grk translates to bitter) or the origins of the first grapes brought to this area by the Greeks, which is also Grk in Croatian.

Around the 3rd century BC, ancient Greeks settled just off the coast of what is now mainland Croatia to a small island called Korčula bringing their precious vines. The southern slopes provided what Grk likes the most: excellent sandy soil and temperature stability under the influence of the surrounding sea. Vines enjoy sunny days, and locals swear that the grapes also benefit from the added reflection of the sun both off the water and the rocky hillsides behind.

These factors seem to be the sweet spot for cultivating this rare variety; however, the precious microclimate only exists in less than 100 acres of coastal land, which is the entirety of all the Grk planted in the world. Cultivation on other islands or in other parts of the country and the world have failed for the most part, making this one of the rarest grapes and categorized as “almost endangered” by the State Institute for Nature Protection.

To make matters worse, Grk is among the 1% of grape varieties in the world that cannot self-pollinate. Because Grk has only female flowers, it is always planted with the male grape vine nearby to enable pollination. This additional complication also hampers the desire to upscale commercial production.

Limited in production, it’s rare to see Grk wine served or sold outside Korčula. So, the best chance to savor this wine is to visit the handful of family wineries producing Grk. During summer when Korčula welcomes a massive influx of tourists, almost the entire production of Grk wine can be consumed within a season.

MEET ME AT THE WINERY

April Wine Tasting

Time to start my Grk quest. I took the two-hour ferry ride to the island of Korčula, and a short bus ride left me within walking distance of three family wineries. Confession: I had planned to visit all three wineries, but after I got settled into my wine sampling accompanied by a delectable charcuterie board, I began easing into island time and whiling away the afternoon at just one winery.

A tour of the production was accomplished practically from my seat overlooking the vineyards. I did walk over to view the wine cellar, which had enough room to house only eight wine barrels. These are tiny boutique wineries, and the labor of love that goes into making this wine is evident. I asked the owner if they bottled their wine to sell or import off the island. Looking at me quizzically, he replied that it was for sale only for individuals that came to visit the winery, and they sold out each year.

But was it good? As more of a full-bodied red wine lover, I didn’t know what to expect when he poured this pale golden wine. It was fabulous. It displayed an astounding depth and complexity I usually do not associate with white wine. The taste and texture were dry with hints of pine, citrus and saltiness leaving a subtle touch of tartness or bitterness at the finish.

I left the winery feeling my quest was accomplished. I smiled knowing that the bottle of Grk swaying in my backpack wasn’t going to make it back to the United States in my carry-on luggage, so I’d just have to enjoy it here. Now I have one more reason to return.

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FAQ About Doing the Great Loop
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Tim and Kate

My husband, Tim, and I spent most of 2021 and part of 2022 completing the Great Loop on our 31-foot Camano trawler, Sweet Day. One of the most unexpected and best parts of the trip was the opportunity to share our experience with friends and family. Guests stayed overnight, family members joined us for a day cruise, and generous friends brought over meals when we passed through their hometowns. For those who couldn’t experience Sweet Day physically, we shared our journey through our blog and Instagram, and caught up with stories when we got together off the boat.

Boaters who are familiar with liveaboard life know there is no shortage of questions that curious people ask about a nautical lifestyle. Those who are exploring this way of life may feel like there is no end to the questions you could ask.

Below is a compilation of the most common questions we posed to us about our year doing the Great Loop and living full-time on Sweet Day. Hopefully the responses will get you ready for your adventures on this incomparable waterway.

WHAT IS THE GREAT LOOP?

The Great Loop is a 6,000+ mile “loop” around the eastern U.S. and Canadian waterways. The journey takes about a year, if done consecutively, and covers 15+ states and two countries, depending on your route. A few hundred “loopers” complete the journey each year, some doing it all at once, and others covering segments year by year. Loopers plan their journey traveling by seasons to avoid hurricanes in the South and tough winters up North. The America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association (AGLCA) is the resource for all things related to the Loop, and we highly encourage checking them out when planning your trip.

Kate's AGLCA Flag on her boat

WHAT DOES THE FLAG MEAN ON THE BOW OF YOUR BOAT?

If you are currently looping for the first time, it is traditional to fly a white AGLCA burgee or “flag.” Once you complete the loop, it is customary to replace your white burgee with a gold AGLCA burgee to indicate to other boaters that you already completed the full loop. Those who have done the loop more than once fly a platinum burgee. All burgees can be ordered from the AGLCA website. It’s a great way to easily spot and meet other loopers.

HOW DO YOU MEET OTHER LOOPERS?

Since many of us on the loop travel the same segments of the trip at the same time, it is common to see loopers at a dock, anchorage or cruising by. The AGLCA burgee makes it easy to spot cruisers on the journey, and a lot of loopers also use the Nebo app, which shows where other loopers are physically located, so you can message each other. Sometimes we travel a few days with the same boats; others you may see one day and then meet up again a few weeks later.

DID YOU GET STUCK IN BAD WEATHER?

Having a flexible schedule and keeping a close eye on the weather kept us mostly out of uncomfortable waters. We used services such as Windy, AccuWeather, and NOAA to anticipate wind speeds and wave heights. We tried to only cruise when waves were under three feet, although twice we found ourselves in five+ foot waves (once on the Chesapeake heading to Annapolis and another heading to Presque Isle, MI, on Lake Huron), because our final destination happened to be closer than trying to find an alternative place of refuge. We also encountered strong wind while at anchor and tied up to docks, especially when the wind was going against the tide outside Savannah. By staying vigilant about our lines and anchor holding, we luckily were never in any danger. They say the boat can handle more than the captain, and thankfully the only thing we ever lost due to weather was a few hours of sleep.

Kate and Tim enjoying the Superbowl from their deck

DID YOU SLEEP ON THE BOAT EVERY NIGHT?

Our trawler had a v-berth with enough room for us to sleep comfortably. Often when we were near friends and family, they would offer for us to stay on land. Sometimes we took them up on it, but we preferred to stay on Sweet Day. Just like a land house, Sweet Day had all our comforts of home (because it was our home), and anytime we didn’t have to pack a bag was a plus.

WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT FOOD?

We ate about 75% of our meals on the boat using our tiny kitchen equipped with a small oven, three-burner stove, microwave, fridge and some pantry space. We ate out if we found a must-see place or were exhausted from a long day and not in the mood to cook. But often we were not close to a restaurant and had to be creative with what was in our pantry. We went to a grocery store two to three times a week by bike and would get enough fresh food for about three dinners (and snacks for lunches) but were limited by what we could carry and store in our boat. Because we didn’t have space for a ton of food, and sometimes our meals were whatever we had on board, so we wasted a lot less food than when living on land.

WHAT WERE YOUR FAVORITE PARTS OF THE TRIP?

We get this question all the time, and it’s still challenging to answer. Each part of the trip (inland rivers, Gulf of Mexico, Intracoastal Waterway, Chesapeake Bay, Delaware and Hudson Rivers, Erie Canal, Great Lakes) posed their unique challenges, breathtaking scenery, regional cuisine and character. The loop has too many special places to mark our favorites as each place we stopped shaped our journey, whether it was having a conversation with a dock hand to enjoying a locally made beer, to attending a community BBQ. Our country’s waterways are beautiful and a critical part of our infrastructure, and the life that is built around them is always worth experiencing.

Kate and Family on their boat

DID YOU EVER GET SICK OF EACH OTHER?

Mostly no, but sometimes we were very aware we were living together on a 31-foot boat. We learned communication is key and ultimately felt very fortunate to be on this journey together. Before the trip, we heard about the “80/80 Marriage,” which is the concept that spouses should not try to ensure each is doing their fair share (or 50/50), but each should aim to do 80%. This mindset helped a lot. At night lying in bed, I may say, “I forgot to turn off the water pump. Tim, can you do an 80 for me and get up and turn it off?” Or Tim would comment, “Kate, you really pulled an 80 on cooking dinner and doing the dishes.” We couldn’t imagine doing this trip with anyone else.

WHO WAS THE CAPTAIN?

We consider us both the captain. While we both have our strengths, each of us was involved in almost every aspect of the boat. We both drove, troubleshot boat problems, navigated, planned routes, grocery shopped, cleaned and so on. From a safety standpoint, it was important both of us could take on responsibilities should something happen to the other. This was our journey, and it was vital to us that we both were involved in decisions and operations that made this adventure possible.

Article and photos by Kate Carney

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