TSC Maiden Voyage Part 4: Bora Winds in the Velebit Channel
By now, I’ve told you about almost everything that happened during our 3-week maiden voyage with our Staatenlos Catamaran. Thus far, it’s been a pretty cool progression to recount.
Our first week on the boat wasn’t too long ago, yet somehow it feels like ages. The start of this journey was not without its own trials and tribulations. The normal thing to expect as a boat owner taking your boat out on it’s first extended trip.
During the whole trip, Sheila, Josh, and I learned a lot and developed a good working flow, island-hopping, and discovering new areas of the Adriatic.
During this time, I also managed to blur the lines between business and pleasure, meeting up with clients and business partners, and having them aboard our boat.
Eventually, we even experienced our first big storm, which we tried to outrun for a few days by traveling north towards Istria; we were supposed to be picking my little brother up in Pula. -But as you know, things don’t always go as planned. Nevertheless, I take pride in my ability to pivot with ease.
So there we were, stuck in the north shore of Mali Losinj thanks to the storm, unable to continue north.
The worst part is that it wasn’t even a “good” storm, with lightning and thunder… what was preventing us from moving was simply high winds and a really rough ocean… how boring! – A clear sign that it was time to pivot.
Instead, we decided to go east, where there was the promise of better weather and better winds. We figured it was time for new scenery, so we traveled straight to the bay in Novalja in search of more welcoming shores from Mali Losinj.
The journey to Novalja was uneventful; we sailed down the coast of Mali, Losing, and then crossed over to Pag. We navigated straight to the bay in Novalja to anchor, and this time, it actually worked out.
We found a good spot and anchored front-row center in the bay, right next to the harbor, in the middle of little Novalja bay. To be honest, it was super cool to have my boat there taking center stage with the Staatenlos logo – always showcasing the lifestyle and searching for new clients.
It was convenient that the bay was much more full this time than when I visited with my brother the month before—lots of reach with this marketing campaign. 😉
Renewed energies in Novalja
By the time we arrived in Novalja, it was already time to restock on provisions and essentials, like food and alcohol. Accordingly, one of the first things we did was go shopping at the supermarket. That day we also said goodbye to Florian; he left us in Novalja.
After sending Florian off, we went back to the boat and had a nice and relaxed afternoon. We were conserving our energies to let loose later in Zrce Beach. Keep in mind that Zrce Beach is actually on the other side of the island, about 2 miles away.
Novalja itself is a lovely town, but only it has one club and lots of small bars. Most people stay the night; however, the real party place and where everyone goes to is less than 2 miles away.
As you know, the weather prevented us from picking Daniel up in Istria, so he made his way to us and arrived in Novalja that same evening. He trekked from Pula to Rijeka by bus and then took the speed ferry from Rijeka over to Pag.
That night Josh stayed onboard while Sheila, Robert, Daniel, and I went for dinner at a restaurant in town and then went clubbing in Zrce. The vibe in Zrce was pretty cool. There were three clubs open, and we went to two of them: Euphoria and the one next to it.
We had a really nice time partying the night away. The clubs were super full and crowded – no distancing, no masks, definitely no hand sanitizer, and most importantly, no corona – at least not for us. It’s been long enough now that I can safely say that we escaped another corona hotspot safe and sound that night.
By the time we got back to the boat, it was quite early in the morning, and much to our surprise, Josh was not alone on the boat. He had matched on tinder and gotten himself a date, well, more like 4 dates -He’d invited 4 french girls onboard, and they were still there by the time we got back.
These ladies will be part of a later story that morning; however, we didn’t really meet them; we basically like ships passing in the… early morning. We got to see them when Josh brought them to land and picked us up.
Day trip to Rab
Later that morning, we sailed away from Pag. We wanted to explore a bit, so we headed north towards Rab Island.
We had a lovely morning sailing north. Eventually, we made it to Rab, which has a really cool bay. Originally, the plan was to go back to Pag, but by the time we got to Rab, the wind had started picking up. So we decided to stay in Rab for the night.
Once we got to the bay in Rab, we tried to anchor in different spots; unfortunately, the anchor wasn’t catching properly. We found ourselves traveling to different spots every few hours trying to anchor in a better spot.
#stupidanchor – Have I mentioned how happy I am that we have the new one now? I was so happy to throw the old one overboard, forever.
Anyways, eventually, we found a perfect spot deep down in the bay and spent the rest of the afternoon there. We had a great time onboard, and at some point, Sheila, Robert, and I took the small boat to shore to have a little walk around Rab town.
I really enjoyed Rab; the town is super cool with lots of medieval architecture spreading over a rolling hill with stunning views of the bay and some other landmarks, definitely worth the visit. We had a nice dinner in town, did some shopping, and then went back to the boat.
The next morning, we began to sail pretty early. We were supposed to go to Stinica Bay. I’ve been there before with my brother; I may have mentioned it before.
Anyhow, it’s this very narrow bay and beach on the mainland below the Biokovo Mountains. I was looking forward to arriving at this place from the sea this time; it would have been super cool.
By now, you’re probably aware that I really dig revisiting old locations from new angles… and means of transportation. Alas, it wasn’t meant to happen. We didn’t really get to see much.
You see, apparently, we hadn’t checked the weather thoroughly enough. Because and suddenly, we were surprised to notice the wind picking up and getting much stronger by the second.
At some point, we had wind gusts coming at us at 30-40 knots. Thankfully, before we got to that point, Josh was judicious enough to lower the sails. As the winds got stronger and stronger, the waves were also getting higher and higher. Little did we know, we had entered the Velebit channel.
Nerd out with me for a minute 🤓
As you know, several islands lie off the Croatian coast in the Adriatic Sea. Many of which have been the center of my recent stories.
More specifically, in this post, I’ve talked about Pag, which is part of the north-Dalmatian archipelago. This island’s length, which extends northwest-southeast along the coast, creates a path with mainland Croatia. This path is called the Velebit Channel.
The Velebit Channel is known for having some of the strongest Bora winds in the world. The bora is a northern to north-eastern katabatic wind that forms in the Adriatic Sea.
The whimsical bora can oftentimes be felt all over Adriatic Croatia, the coasts of Slovenia and Montenegro, and the rest of the Adriatic east coast. This type of wind is very gusty, and it’s most common during the winter.
It blows hardest in this channel because you have the polar high-pressure area sitting in the interior, right behind the Dinaric coastal mountain range (the snow-covered Velebit mountains) contrasting with a calm low-pressure area which sits further south over the warmer Adriatic.
This seaside mountain chain, which spans about 90 miles, represents s sharp weather and climatic divide between the brisk continental climate of the interior (the Velebit mountains) and the Adriatic coast, with a Mediterranean climate. The bora occurs when these two divided masses try to equalize.
Sailing during the bora can be challenging, and it requires caution; both the boat and crew should be ready to handle this phenomenon’s unpredictability with sudden onset.
It’s known for creating short, high waves with white crests; this tends to make navigation quite difficult. Moreover, the small drops formed by the wind gusts create the so-called “sea smoke,” – which drastically reduces visibility.
Experienced seamen have a proverb about the bora: “When the bora sails, you don’t!” Sailing can be extremely dangerous for an inexperienced navigator in the Velebit channel because the wind can start suddenly on a clear and calm day.
Because these winds can reach 155 mph speeds in a flash, their arrival can result in major problems and be really quite dangerous.
Of course, this is all stuff we learned after the fact, with a simple google search. So now you know, the Velebit Channel is one of the most dangerous seas in the Mediterranean because of the winds, who knew?
Well, I’d heard something about this at some point, but Josh had no idea. Rest assured, we are both very aware of what they are now, from first-hand experience.
I should mention that as we sailed, we were sticking pretty close to land, so we weren’t really attempting anything crazy. We practiced good judgment, and our lives were never at any risk.
Nevertheless, the seas were very rough, and it really served as an endurance test for our boat. Which luckily, it passed with flying colors.
Waiting out the storm in Zrce
That day we had decided to go back to Pag and return to Zrce beach. However, the journey was quite far, Zrce was about 21 nautical miles away, and the winds were powerful. So instead, we decided to take shelter. Still in Pag, but much closer to our location at that point in time.
We anchored at Sierra Novalja bay, near Novalja’s old town. When you look at Pag on a map, Pag has this bay right in the north, that is where we sailed into.
At this stop, we also ended up having a guest exchange. This time we were saying goodbye to Robert and Markus was joining us. Markus did the same thing as my brother; actually, he took the ferry from Rijeka to Rab where we missed each other, so then he came down to Pag, where we finally picked him up in Sierra Novalja.
One minute we were saying goodbye to Robert on the dinghy, and the next, we were waving Markus hello.
We anchored at that bay for a brief little while, and then we had another choice to make. Either stay there for the night or brave it and make our way to Zrce beach. The weather was actually supposed to be getting worse in the coming days; even higher winds and waves were coming our way.
So we were looking to choose a place where we would be happy to stay at for a few days to weather out the winds.
With the shelter we had in this bay, waiting out the worst of the climate would have been doable, but not really comfortable -at all. After 3-4 hours, we decided to brave it and go out of the bay; at first impression, everything appeared calmer, but that didn’t last.
Once we were out of the bay and back within the channel, the waves got quite high quite quickly, and the boat was going up and down. I was actually pretty close to telling Josh to turn around and go back into the bay.
But I didn’t, and we stayed the course. After about 10-15 minutes of crazy turbulence, we got on track, and it all seemed doable. Don’t get me wrong; the winds were still blowing very strong, gusts of about 40-45 knots coming at us nonstop.
This weather was not apt for using the sails, so we motored the whole way there. Navigating through really high waves.
Side Note: Normally, big waves are not an issue, there are really high waves in the Atlantic, but in the Velebit Channel, because it’s so narrow (less than two miles wide) those waves build up, passing by quickly and hitting you often, every few seconds kind of often.
We were going up and down, pretty much like riding a not-so-fun horse. I’m actually surprised I didn’t get seasick.
Initially, we were sailing close to the mainland; we actually got pretty near the shore, trying to find the best path. But then we switched strategies and began to sail away from the mainland, going downwind. Basically, sailing with the waves, not against them. This turned out to be a great decision, because, after this point, it was all smooth sailing.
In total, we spent about three hours in the crazy weather of the Velebit Channel; again, it proved to be a great stress-test for the boat. 😅
Fortunately, everything worked out just fine -we even got to take some nice pictures of the Biokovo from the sea, and we got some footage of the crazy winds and wild waves inside the channel.
In my next post, I finish off the tales of this maiden voyage with some pretty crazy party times in Zrce. Followed by my final fanboy moment in Croatia as I got to realize my goal of visiting the Manitou Canyon by water.
Stay tuned for the banging finally of this incredible three-week journey.