Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Sibenik, Croatia - An Arrival

Croatia photos here

It feels like the end of a regatta, as yachts – motoring now – converge on the approach. We all  seem to be travelling in an orderly fashion, but you can’t help wanting to keep up, or catch up, or lead, just a bow wave’s nose between you. A boat cuts directly across us, the worst example of sailing we have seen the whole week, as we come to the close.

This is the end, the end.

A terrestrial arrival gives a very different impression of a city to a seaborne one. On land, you see a city coming from miles away, and you have to pass through it’s outskirts to get to the hub. Caught in traffic along ugly highways is no introduction, and by the time you pass into the heart, some of the curiosity has worn off, because you’ve seen the worst, and the best is a little discoloured by that.

By contrast, arriving by sea means that you approach the town almost stealthily – you catch it unawares, it spreads out in front of you. There is too much of it to take in all at once, and it seems a blur – maybe the sun is shining on it, and the windows are gleaming. The images on a maritime approach are fleeting also – you are either arriving or leaving, and probably won’t come this way again, at least by boat. The impression is transitory, and overwhelming, and beautiful.

By sea, you approach Šibenik through a channel between steeply rising (but not particularly tall) hills. The St Nicholas Fortress passes by on the starboard side, as it protects the entrance to the harbour. A triangular footprint, it juts out into the ocean, seemingly floating on it. A formidable barrier in its time, it’s ramparts are so easily undone now - we can see the fortifications have been overcome by a group of young men, armoured only with swimming trunks and cameras.

We pass by this medieval artefact and within moments are transported into the military history of the century just been. Maybe a hundred metres from the old fort we can see  disused submarine pens underneath the rocky outcrops – the enclosures for fortresses of a more mobile, and destructive breed. That these fragments of history exist so closely geographically shouldn’t really amaze as it does – history is just one layer piled upon another. The fort built to protect the port, the port that grew and got rich because of its location and access to the sea routes, that became a target, a target that needed protection down through the ages.

As we pass further through the channel, the town opens out before us. It’s as if we are moving through a set that someone has built, and we are in the midst of a scene change – the rocky outcrops, covered in bush & trees are pulled aside to reveal the next scene, but left to form a frame around it.

Sibenik, Croatia
The city is spread out on the shore opposite, wrapped up in the late afternoon sun. It sweeps up the whole hillside, St Anne’s & St Michaels fortresses towering over the city. I can’t tell which is which.

We pull into a diesel station to refill the tank, our shipboard life coming to an end. Motoring into a maritime diesel stop is quite impressive, as all the bowsers, nozzles and hoses are twice as large as at a petrol station. For a few moments, we are miniatures.

It feels like returning a rental car, this ending. But this rental car has been our home for a week. We have stayed in it, played in it, gotten to know each other, learned to sail it, had laughs and quiet times, played our stereo out in the Adriatic, looked over the edge into the deep clear water, jumped off it and into it. It even has a name. It has a solidity that no car has, in a volatile and indefinite  environment; it enables us to isolate ourselves like nowhere else, but within hours return back to shore and see parts of this place that are unattainable, unreachable, any other way.

We spend one more night on our boat, in the marina. Being on a boat in a crowded marina is a bit like staying in a caravan at a caravan park. Everyone is in a good mood, they’re on holiday – but it’s crowded, you have to queue for the toilets and there’s a scary dog about. And someone is playing their stereo awfully loud.

One last night on our boat, before we get up in the morning and remove all evidence of ourselves. We clean up, we clear out, we hand it back – no longer our boat, but just a boat, to go back into the rental pool, used by anyone, someone, anonymous. 

Our boat.

We say our goodbyes and depart, the distance and the white heat between us. 

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