Sunday, July 9, 2017

Diving the S57 with Tvrtko in Pelješac, Croatia

Logged dive 1555

July 9, 2017, diving on the German torpedo boat S-57

Diving with Dive Center Barbara, Žuljana, Pelješac

The video here,, shows most of the experience of diving on the S-57. I include the boat ride out, take you for a good look around the boat, and then show you what it looks like closer to shore. I don't know how representative of Croatia it is, because this was the only dive I did here, but this will give you an idea of what to expect in case you'd like to try diving in Croatia yourself, and of course you can go onto YouTube and find hundreds more videos like this one from the hundreds of dive spots around the coastline and islands in the Adriatic that grace this beautiful country.

This video gives the location of the S-57 as Trstenik

I met Tvrtko in Oman, on this dive, one of our last with Nomad Ocean Adventure.

As it was his first time in Musandam, Bobbi and I guided him on the dive and he thought he might like to see us again in Croatia, so he invited us to come there one day. Meanwhile Donald Trump and his flail-out-at-anything administration had decided to ban laptops and tablets on direct flights from the UAE to the USA. This ban was useless to begin with, designed really to annoy Muslims, and it has since been lifted from flights in and out of UAE, but it was still in effect when it came time for us to plan our summer holiday from UAE.

That plan was to fly Qatar Airways to stop off and see our grandkids in Doha on our way from UAE to the states, but Trump's next brilliant ploy, in the course of agreeing to supply billions of dollars in arms to the Saudis, was to support his business partners in their stance that Qatar was a threat to stability in the region, and back the Saudi's blockade on that country put into force just days after Trump's visit there, and which UAE joined, so we could no longer go to Qatar, let alone use their airline to go anywhere, since it could no longer land in UAE, and that is how we had little choice but to use a European carrier to fly us there to break our journey (so we could carry devices on the plane and in the process take Tvrtko up on his offer of hosting us in a dive venture).

Tvrtko was vacationing with his sister Žvjezdana as we progressed from Dubrovnik to Split, to Zadar, and as far north and east as Karlovac and Ogulin to meet an online acquaintance Marijana Smolčec and her family before heading back to the coast at Rejka and then continuing south to Paklenica Park for a walk in the Velebit mountains before heading back to Split and catching a ferry to Korčula where Tvrtko met us at the ferry landing in Vela Kula. In his car he drove us the length of the island (in a little over half an hour) to Lumbarda, a quiet little town on a bay with clean Adriatic waters lapping up on ubiquitous beaches. Tvrtko had found us a lovely apartment with suite of rooms for just 60 Euros a night right in the center of town, with fully equipped kitchen, foyer with bath, and a bedroom surrounded by treetops that blew in the breeze when we moved out to the balcony where, after a shopping trip to the nearby supermarket, we drank Turkish coffee and took light meals European style of ham, cheese, pates, fresh vegetables, and sweet watermelon.

Tvrtko drove us to the old walled town of Korčula one day and the next managed to arrange diving off Pelješac, a mountainous peninsula surrounded by azure waters which had served as a theater of operations in many wars, including WWII, where the S-57 was deployed to attack allied shipping, but was caught and sunk by a British torpedo boat. Now its stern lies in about 40 meters of water on a slope that brings its bow and topdeck up to 25 meters. It's well preserved in reasonably clear water that was around 19 degrees C when we visited. Its frame is clearly intact and its innards well exposed. It has a couple of torpedoes (live, I am told) resting prominently on the stern of the ship. It has a machine gun turret on deck that Tvrtko demonstrates (in the video) can be rotated and aimed at nothing in particular, as there are few fish on the wreck, though a large sea bream was seen fleetingly, and someone back on board after the dive mentioned an eel.

The dive had to be a short one at that depth. Tvrtko and I got to within a blink-blinking minute of NDL around 25 minutes into the dive, as measured on Bobbi's Aladdin computer (though the Zoop I was wearing on my other wrist still gave me 3 minutes at that point). Tvrtko and I took our time coming up alongside the ship, and we could see the other divers hovering overhead. They waited for us so as a group we could move into shallower water, and we took a long time at 5 meters to have ample time for a conservative safety stop. Then the divers moved toward the dive boat where I spent another few minutes at 3 meters beneath the hull waiting for others ahead of me to get back on board. I guess we were ten or a dozen in all. When I clamored back up the ladder, I had 48 minutes on my dive computer. I had come up from depth with half a tank remaining and emerged with about 70 bar showing.

It was an enjoyable dive. I had been concerned about cold. I had rented a full length 5 mm suit and had requested an additional 3 mm shorty (which I was assured I wouldn't need). I took it anyway for psychological reasons, asked for 8 kg weight and was given 9 for the extra layer of wetsuit. Then it occurred to me I was using a heavy steel tank and I considered dropping the extra kilo, but then decided for this one dive I would rather be overweight than sorry, and my weighting turned out to be about right, though I could probably have managed on 8 kg. As far as temperature was concerned, I was pleasantly cool throughout the dive, but never cold, was never concerned enough to think about it.

The only down side to the experience was that the somewhat worn but still serviceable shoes I had removed in order to replace them with dive boots, and left where I had removed them at the dive center, developed legs of their own and disappeared of their own accord and were never seen again by me. I'm pretty sure that this was not the fault of any Croatian, surely not of any diver or anyone else at the dive center, but the little beach town of Žuljana had a constant stream of pedestrian traffic, most of it tourist, and I guess someone saw a pair of decent Asics running shoes and decided to try them on.

Fortunately I had a pair of flip-flops with me, but these are not good for distance walking, and shoes are one of those things, like a jacket in winter, that if you lose it you feel the loss of what you had taken for granted, in so many decisions about where you can go and what your limits are until you can replace the vital item and put your life back on even keel. I managed ok with the flip-flops getting to dinner in a half hour walk along the beach later that evening, and in the morning Tvrtko brought me a pair of old shoes that fit perfectly and would serve for getting me around the rest of the trip until I could get to Houston and replace the running shoes I had lost with a new pair from the same shop I had bought the old ones from two years previously (mission by now accomplished :-).

That's all about diving in Croatia. If you want to find out more about travel in Croatia, read on :)

Traveling in Croatia

Despite the minor perturbation of lost shoes, Croatia proved to be an overall nice experience. Bobbi and I got to Dubrovnik from Abu Dhabi by way of Frankfurt and spent three nights in the district of Gruz a couple of kilometers along the coast north west of the walled old city. Gruz is a good choice for staying in Dubrovnik, if you don't stay in the old city, because it's a healthy walking distance (45 minutes) but more importantly, Gruz is where the bus station is and where the ferries leave for most other destinations. It's also a good base for a day walk around Lapad, lovely for getting overheated and cooling off in the cool Adriatic on one of the many beaches along the way, in case you want a day-break from the summer crowds at Dubrovnik.

We had booked a room in a guest house, what they call Apartmans in Croatia, rooms in someone's house. Ours was called Katarina, and it was midway up or down a hill, depending on how you approached it, above the bay at Gruz. It was 35 Euros a night, had a shared bath, and a double bed in a small room with aircon. Katarina and her husband were very friendly but spoke no English, so were not much help, except that they provided us with glasses and bottle openers when we went walking in the heat and returned with beers and ciders purchased for a dollar each half liter at the Tommy supermarket (a ubiquitous chain in Croatia, there was one at the top and bottom of the hillside where we stayed). We soon identified the beers we liked, Crno (dark) and Rezano (the word means 'cut' and it was mid-flavor between a light and a dark beer; there were also similar ambers). Bobbi liked the apple ciders which, unlike British ones, were light and tasted like fizzy apple juice. They were very refreshing after walking.

Our first walk was along the road to the old town of Dubrovnik, which was something of a circus at that time of year, end of June, but apparently more subdued in June than in mid July and August, when you probably wouldn't want to be there for long. It was a gem of a town, with a gleaming clean pedestrian street and a public fountain of cool drinkable water just inside the north city gate (one of the best things about Croatia, clean cool water for drinking and swimming, everywhere; and there were other ornate fountains in the old city where people were gratefully topping up their water bottles). But businesses catering to tourists everywhere detracted from the town's charm, with prices of which $20 each to walk the extensive city walls was typical, a bit over the top. We tried climbing stairs in town but found it impossible to see over the walls unless you paid, but you could walk around the outside, and there you found beach-goers, not on beaches, the town was built on rock, but with ladders bolted into the rock so swimmers could climb down and swim in the refreshingly cold water and then get back out without getting any sand on their feet, and you didn't even need a towel, you'd be dry in no time. This easy access to water was one of the nicest things about Croatia, something that gives the entire country a carefree Mediterranean atmosphere in summer time.

Other things I thought were pleasantly surprising about Croatia were its cleanliness everywhere, and the honesty, reliability, and friendliness of its people. The rooms we stayed in all adhered to high quality standards with even unexpected extras, like small bottles of homemade schnapps in one place we stayed in Korčula, and there was WiFi most everywhere, in our rooms, in the restaurants and bars we patronized, and in most though not all of the buses (but never on the ferries; wonder why not - and only 15 min of free wifi at Dubrovnic's Cipli airport, with an invitation to pay for something that was purposely broken after that, a last gouge at tourist wallets that seemed unnecessary and not the impression your country wants to leave on its departing guests who all get their browsing interrupted unexpectedly - in my case I had to save this post at the next airport in Frankfurt).

Many of our friends were visiting Croatia at about the time we were. Some got on ferries and traveled around the islands, and some got cars and drove to Montenegro and perhaps to Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We were thinking of doing that and then going by bus overnight from there to Zagreb and coming back through Croatia to catch our onward flight from Dubrovnik, but after a couple of days dropping now and then by car rental agencies and considering what was involved, we decided we'd be better off taking buses and avoiding the traffic jams, long border crossings, exorbitant petrol prices, and the sheer tedium of such a trip, even if you really did want to reach that small beach town, find parking, and then get a meal and (if you weren't driving) a glass of wine. Also, we had constrained ourselves to being in Ogulin not far from Zagreb at a certain time, and on Korčula toward the end of our trip, so there wasn't time for doing much more than visiting the salient cities of Split, Trogir, Šibenik, Zadar, and Rijeka, and making side trips to Krka waterfalls and Paklenica for hiking. Krka was beautiful and interesting, on a par with the natural phenomena in Yellowstone Park, but so crowded that we decided not to visit Plitvice Lakes, though we could have, but we didn't want a repeat of our Krka experience in high season.

We preferred to relax on buses, use the wifi to research our next destination, get rooms from and Expedia pretty much on the fly, and eat where the food seemed good. In Dubrovnik, Gruz, we started off on pizza and risotto, not sure how far our money would take us in a land with some pretentious restaurants where you can spend a hundred bucks for two plus plus for wine or beer, but once we got to Split we found the Buffet Fife at the opposite end of the Riva from Diocletian's Palace, where there were more tourists than locals, but everyone eating authentic Croatian meat and potato dishes and enjoying Croatian beer for reasonable prices, and from there we enjoyed Croatian fare in Ogulin, but tended toward fish as we moved down the coast in Stari Grad (Paklenica) and Korčula, eating fresh oysters with Tvrtko and Žvjezdana, and ending our visit with a copious fish platter at a well-recommended restaurant in Cavtat, on the coast just 5 km from the airport.

Tvrtko also drove us around to wineries on Pelješac, and we often took red or white house wines in restaurants, which could cost 80 to 120 kuna, about $15 to $20 for the liter, but as we found out, we could get very good wine in supermarkets for just a few dollars, and beers there as well, for a dollar for the best ones. Schnapps are not hard to come by in Croatia as many people own their own stills. The Smolčec's gave us some home-made Šlievovic (plum liquor) to carry around on our travels out of Ogulin, and we tasted medvic (honey liquor) there as well. Our accommodation in Korčula came with a schnapps of some kind, enough that we could pour what we didn't drink there into a coke bottle and carry it to Cavtat with us.

So as we look back on our trip there, we found Croatia to be a thoroughly enjoyable country where you can travel as you like or as you can afford. We found it most interesting to visit when we had friends to visit there and could see the country a little through the eyes of its inhabitants. We found we could spend a lot of money if we wished, or we could avoid doing that and get some exercise walking a lot, swimming when we felt like it in the clean and bracingly cool Adriatic. We could balance dining in restaurants with shopping in markets for meats and cheeses to breakfast on in our room; and fruits and vegetables, garden fresh tomatoes, and watermellon to rival the 'arbus' in Uzbekistan, sweet and refreshing when kept in the fridge. Most of the apartments we stayed in had fully equipped kitchens, with stoves and pots for Turkish coffee, so we didn't even lack for our caffeine hype in the morning, before we could get out to the coffee bars and enjoy a cappuccino. We found progressively better accommodations the further we got from Dubrovnik, and slightly more expensive for the better quality. Our cheapest accommodation was Katarina in Gruz (shared bath, family noise) and our best was Shell Beach Apartments on Korčula, with a terrace overlooking a bay with boat traffic, noise blessedly damped by double glazing on the doors and windows, just a 15 min walk from the old town.

Our favorite town was Split, with its Roman ruins blended in with a living museum in the old market city, and the music and acrobats on the Riva corniche. Zadar was interesting for its sea organ and monuments on the peninsula with boats plying on three sides of the old walls and seawall. Trogir was similar but smaller, and Šibenik would have been a great place to base for Krka falls, another historic city with pristine countryside (but we had taken rooms in Split for 3 nights and so based ourselves there, slightly inconvenient with redundant bus rides). Paklenica was a great place to spend a day hiking, a little disorienting at first (too little signage, a common problem in Croatia) but once we'd worked it out, we understood the ideal way we should have done it, and still managed to get in an energetic but not at all challenging walk, and Stari Grad was a pleasant place to base and cool off in the sea after the walk. Days last forever in summer, so plenty of time for walking swimming, and having sunset meals by the sea.

No comments:

Post a Comment