by Joanne and Doug Schwartz

Editor’s note: Always understanding kayaking as a place to be and a way to go, not a transport from here to there, Joanne and her husband Doug have paddled since the mid-1980’s and are still exploring the world, sometimes by kayak. They paddled with Eric, Jim and the Rangers a few times in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and then got (healthily) caught up in their paddling business in southern California. Nowadays, reading Confessions of a Wave Warrior, bit by bit and over and over, puts Joanne back into those special days, with the spirit of the individual Rangers and call of the sea ringing truth and happiness on each page.

This story of kayak touring along the islands of southern Croatia, in the Adriatic sea, describes one of many coastlines Joanne has explored by kayak. Just spin the globe and pick a line of islands!

Landing on Mljet at Roman Palace, 2nd c. AD, when the sea level was lower. Polace, Mljet Island/NP, Croatia

Landing on Mljet at Roman Palace, 2nd c. AD, when the sea level was lower. Polace, Mljet Island/NP, Croatia

When getting caught kayaking and tenting in the strongest rain-thunder-lightning storm we have ever seen is the worst thing to happen on a two week paddle, we knew life is great!

The Adriatic sea, with Italy to the west and Croatia to the east, is a sea of legends. It offers some quite spectacular coastal touring for those who can handle an absence of giant waves and surf for a week or two. You can explore a Neanderthal cave, paddle up to a second century AD Roman palace, visit the cave where Odysseus lived for seven years because he could not resist the nymph Calypso, and so much more.

Roman Grain

Perhaps a Roman grain crushing bin. Polace, Mljet Island/NP, Croatia

Our paddling adventure began at the Huck Finn headquarters north of Dubrovnik. We contemplated seven days of paddling, but reluctantly returned after twelve. We could have stayed out another two weeks, as there was so much more coastline to paddle, hiking and snorkeling to do, and ruins to explore. In summary, we kayaked north along the western mainland coast, west across to Mljet Island (pronounced “Milyet”) and around its north end, and down the west coast, winding among several other islands, and returned to Dubrovnik. This segment encompassed two of the six weeks we spent in Croatia from mid-May through June.

A bit from our kayaking logbook …
The paddle north along the mainland was under clear skies, with no wind and thus perfectly calm seas. We paddled close to the limestone coastline to watch the sea life under crystal clear water. Sponges or corals were visible, as were some cherry red anemones and squid. There are very few coves where we can land, as the limestone is everywhere and comes straight down to the sea. But above, on the hillsides, everything is totally green, with pines and oaks and cypress and who knows what other trees. Where there are no trees, there is dense underbrush.

Mreznicz River, Croatia

Mreznicz River, Croatia

On our third night in Polače (the č is pronounced as “ch” in church) a small village on the NW tip of Mljet island, population about 100, a great thunderstorm came in with terrific rain and great lightning and thunder. We watched it from our balcony until we were too tired to stand. The skies seemed pretty clear on our fourth morning in Polače, but the cumulus clouds were rising all around and we knew there would be more rain. We packed our little kayak and headed out the village harbor and down the west coast for what would be an 8 hour paddle of 20 nautical miles, not counting the many ins and outs of the little bays along the way. Soon the skies blackened and, in fact, we could no longer see the nearby shoreline A thunder and lightening show began and, of course, the rain started. Quickly our environment became truly exciting, alive with sound and bouncy water and steep, following seas. Our bow dove under the waves (the kayak is not as sea worthy as the Feathercraft we have used on so many of our trips) which regularly hit me in the face and chest (the joy of having the bow position!). The highest winds lasted only about 20 minutes, but hard rain continued for two hours. Doug likened it to being under a fire hose focused directly downward on us. The drops were giant and hit the water with such force that they bounced up 2-3 inches before hitting the water again on the way back down. This created a haze on the water which left the sea looking fuzzy. Too, it flattened out all the wind ripples on the surface of the swells and waves making the big lumps seem glassy smooth, even though the sea’s texture was stormy rough. Rain became lighter for a while and the seas calmed down, but soon another set of giant black clouds arrived and we were hit again with a light, sound and water show. After three hours of strong paddling, the sea mellowed and the show stopped, and the day turned sunny and warm. It is funny, the description of Croatian weather in our Lonely Planet guidebook indicates 2 to 3 inches of rain in June. We figure we got 3 inches in each of the 3 storms that day! Yes, we would have sought a landing site early in the day, but steep cliffs prevented any chance of getting off the water.

After 8 hours of continuous paddling, we reached one of the only sandy beaches on our trip, in a little cove at the bottom of Mljet island. We set up our tent, an action which we knew was probably illegal, (laws exist because of “fire danger”, but we were very tired), and were soon visited by a fisherman and his nine-year-old son who informed us that we could not camp there. But, of course, we could stay at his home and he would prepare us dinner, for a price. When we agreed with smiles and enthusiasm, he waived the part about not camping and he left his son to guide us to his home up on a hill, after we completed setting camp. In their garden yard the mother prepared a fantastic dinner. The man caught fresh fish and had home-made rachia/rakia and wine, of course. The mother had made the bread, olives and goat cheese, and picked for us a zucchini from her garden. Perhaps the only part of the entire dinner that they did not grow, catch, raise or make were the pickles on the cheese plate and the flour for crepes at the end.

Immediately after we returned to our tent, the skies again provided another fantastic light show. Normally we count the seconds between light bursts and sound so we can estimate the distance from us to the lightning, but there were often several flashes each second, and many dozens each minute, so distances were meaningless – we knew the thunderhead was immediately over our heads. Often a thunder clap would start to our right and roar and crack continuously until it reached our far left! Fortunately our new light-weight tent held up and we slept very dry and well … after three hours of being stunned by this show.

Hill-Top Forts Everywhere, Fortification on fence and gun slot Sipan Island, Croatia

Hill-Top Forts Everywhere, Fortification on fence and gun slot Sipan Island, Croatia

All was calm and sparkling the next morning. During a crossing we passed two dolphins in the channel, not common here. Too, we passed a tiny channel known for the fierce sea battle between Caesar and Pompey in 47 BC. History is here, everywhere! We went to enjoy a couple of days on Šipan Island (pronounced as “Sch” as in Schwartz), biking all over the island, including to the only other village and many buildings dating from the 15th century. Again, great wandering! Our home is a harbor-side apartment recommended by four Israeli kayakers who were launching as we first landed. We have encountered them and six British kayakers here and on Mljet, all decked out in proper touring kayaks! A fine place to paddle!

Exploring Sipan Is, Croatia where the forest is retaking an ancient building.

Exploring Sipan Island, Croatia where the forest is retaking an ancient building.

 Resources
Kayak Touring
Generally people paddle in Croatia in guided groups, but independent paddling is possible if you have your own kayak (perhaps a Feathercraft) or can convince an outfitter that you are skilled enough to rent a kayak and proceed on your own. Be gentle, as that is not normal in their business and the Adriatic sea conditions can be rough. To arrange a kayak and side trips sailing, biking or river kayaking, contact
Zeljko  Kelemen, Huck Finn Adventure Travel  at www.huck-finn.hr or zeljko@huck-finn.hr

River Kayaking
There’s no other way to see the dense forests along the rivers than going on a guided river trip, to say nothing about managing logistics in remote mountain regions. We rolled our eyes at the thought of running rivers and waterfalls in double sit-on-top kayaks without seat backs or thigh straps (wash-deck is too nice a term), but were delighted at what the doubles could do. Too, we never imagined taking novices over 3-foot to 6-foot tall waterfalls in these boats. Yikes, that would probably never happen at home, but, we do admit, it worked surprisingly well! Rafts and a couple of traditional river kayaks were sometimes available, depending on the river. Our favorite rivers were the Mreznica, Zermanja and Dobra. Don’t miss the first two.

Zrmanja River, Croatia

Zrmanja River, Croatia

Hiking
On each of the islands (and certainly on the mainland) is more hiking and exploring than one could do in several weeks. We found many paths (some quite ancient) through agricultural areas, past ancient ruins of churches, forts, dwellings, wells, caves and more. There seemed to be no restrictions for walking, except in mountainous mainland areas still littered with land mines from the mid-1990’s war.

The rest of our Croatia Visit
We spent a couple of days visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site (do not miss it!), and several weeks exploring rivers, mountains, small communities and farms. We biked back roads through vineyards and along coastal headlands, snorkeled (not a tropical paradise, but certainly fascinating). We spent a few days in Pula, Istria, in the north of the country, exploring a major coloseum and other ruins. Yes, we wandered the cities and museums of Zadar, Dubrovnik and Zagreb. We really kept moving to enjoy this small country in six weeks!

Natural History
We found endangered orchids, flowers we still have not identified in botanical guides, and several glass snakes, properly the Legless European Lizard, Pseudopus apodus. Add some cool birds like Red-backed Shrikes, White Wagtails, Hooded Brows, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and many more.

Lodging
There are a few European style, family-run car campgrounds, well-listed on web sites, but camping outside of these is unlawful. Fortunately, everywhere we paddled were small towns of perhaps 100 people, each with several families earning additional income by running what we call B&B’s. Without reservations, it was a quick task to ask around and book one of these near wherever we beached our kayak. The high season of July and August might pose problems without reservations.

Transportation
Bus and van transportation was very inexpensive, comfortable and reliable, but you must get advice on finding the route and schedule you want. We found no reason to rent a vehicle, although that is certainly possible.

Language
Croatian is a very odd one to begin to learn, especially if you have never spoken an Eastern European language, as many sounds are strange to us. Many locals, but not most, spoke enough English for us to get by. Our Lonely Planet book offered a helpful start and we got better over the weeks.

The Local Folks
Wonderfully warm without exception! Fair, peaceful, respectful gentle and helpful … the kind of folks you treat with honor and want to compensate fairly for their assistance.

Photo Resources
Our gallery – see Croatia section of http://ExplorerDJ.smugmug.com

Flip through the many images on the Huck Finn site to discover what most interests you about Croatia.
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Eric Soares: August 1, 1953 – February 1, 2012

by Nancy Soares on February 1, 2015

Kayak Brother Second to None -Eric Soares at Sea Ranch

Kayak Brother Second to None – Eric Soares at Sea Ranch

Kayak Brother
by Tsunami Ranger Commander Michael Powers

He was drawn to the sea
Like a child to Great Mother’s knee

For years he lingered by her shore
Entranced by her power and learning her lore

Then one fateful day he beheld
A swift primal form by the waves propelled

There a kayaker danced, fearless and free
Calling his landlocked soul to the sea

He sought and soon found
A noble craft with which to bound

Away at least from that ancient shore
Out into this world that promised more

And unseen within the great surging sea
A kayak brother came to be

Out there among the waves and the sky
He found others called by the spirit’s cry

Strong, wild and free they were
Life’s storms and adventures did they endure

Until at long last, Kayak Brother grew old
Felt in his soul a new longing grow bold

Then one day when all his clan
By the shore were gathered as sunset began

He walked to the sea with a gaze sublime
Slipped into his kayak that final time

Without fear, he sped from land
Straight towards a wave so great and grand

Great Mother came, wall of thundering water
Rushing to greet he who sought her

Where they met, the wave suddenly parted
And through the gap his kayak darted

To those who loved him on the shore
Came a cry of freedom, then no more

Even now from time to time
When the waves grow great and green as lime

He can be seen, far, far out there
All glistening strength with glistening hair

Paddle flashing in the sun
A Kayak Brother, second to none

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Ocean Survival Swimming Part 3 – Ocean Swimming Training

January 12, 2015

ShareEditor’s note: Once again, this portion of Eric’s thesis on Ocean Survival Swimming is published as is. For Parts 1 and 2, please click on the links in the right hand margin. Once the four prerequisites to ocean swimming have been fulfilled, ocean training should begin. This training should not be undertaken alone. The ideal […]

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Snake Bite Medicine – A Sea Kayaker’s Cure-all

December 15, 2014

Shareby Tsunami Ranger Commander “Tortuga” Deb Volturno Editor’s note: ‘Tis the Season, and once again we address the engrossing subject of What to Drink When Kayaking! A celebratory toasting tradition is rooted in river kayaking for me, and has richly endured over the years.  While toasting and celebrating the safe completion of a river run, […]

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Paddle California 2014

November 24, 2014

Shareby Barbara Kossy Editor’s note: Barbara Kossy is an artist and environmental activist. She lives in Moss Beach, California with her husband John Dixon, Tsunami Ranger and surfski paddler. She is a former president of Bay Area Sea Kayakers and has been organizing kayaking trips in Italy since 1996. See www.barbarakossy.com for current trips. Thanks to […]

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Ocean Survival Swimming – Part 2

November 3, 2014

ShareEditor’s note: After a short break to talk about the TR retreat and the newest Ranger, we return to the subject of Ocean Survival Swimming. This essay by Eric Soares is published as is. It’s opinionated, funny, and informative. Enjoy. STAY WITH THE BOAT An old mariner’s maxim. This rule is true in most boat […]

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Tsunami Ranger Retreat 2014: A New Ranger!

October 12, 2014

ShareCaptain Kuk: When Eric and I first came up with the idea of a kayaking team in 1984 we wanted to have a system for rating the skills of the paddlers that we planned on inviting to join us. Eric proposed that we use naval ranking. Having been in the U.S. Navy he was familiar […]

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Ocean Survival Swimming – A Sea Kayaker’s Guide to Staying Alive in the Water

September 22, 2014

ShareEditor’s Note: One from the archives: Eric Soares wrote this essay illustrating the Tsunami Rangers’ approach to sea kayaking emphasizing ocean swimming as a key skill for sea kayakers. We’ll publish his thesis in five parts. This first part is the outline for Ocean Survival Swimming. Note that Eric refers to buoyancy compensators instead of […]

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California’s Lost Coast – Extreme Hiking in Southern Humboldt County

September 1, 2014

ShareIn June, my son Nick and I hiked the Lost Coast of Northern California. It’s an extreme hike – there’s no trail for much of the way – and it took us four days and three nights. We started at Shelter Cove and hiked north to the mouth of the Mattole River. Most people start […]

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Tsunami Ranger Sea Cave Terms

August 11, 2014

ShareEditor’s note: Thanks to Michael Powers, Eric Soares, and Jim Kakuk for these fabulous photos. One of the cool things about the Tsunami Rangers is the lexicon they invented to describe the marine environment. Some of these terms have probably become mainstream, but just for fun I thought I’d reproduce the Tsunami Ranger Sea Cave […]

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