Gulet Libra and Captain Marko Offer a Unique Croatian Experience

Gulet Libra at anchor. Photo by Pearl Macek.

Everyone who meets Marko Mrcic falls in love with him, no matter who they are.

His smile is contagious and his enthusiasm for his boat, his work and his country is admirable. If all boat captains were like Marko, the charter industry would run smoothly at all times.

Marko has been the proud owner of Libra for six years, and was a skipper on catamarans and other boats ten year before that. Libra is a typical Turkish gulet that is a common sight along the Dalmatian coast.

Antonia, Marko and Antonijo on Libra. Photo by Pearl Macek

These boats are ideal for charters, as they are equal parts motor and sailboat and generally have tons of room both above and below deck. Libra is a more traditional gulet than those that were built in recent years, but it adds to her charm. She is 34 metres long (112′) and can sleep up to 12 guests in her six cabins.

Marko said that it was “love at first sight” when he set eyes upon Libra. “When I saw Libra and it’s beautiful lines, lots of space on deck and beautiful middle lounge area, at that moment I knew she was a perfect boat for charter,” said Marko.

Libra and other gulets at anchor. Photo by Pearl Macek.

Marko always has three additional crew onboard, including a chef.  The team he had when I was onboard offered impeccable service throughout the charter. Nikola, Marko’s brother, was first mate, and these two worked seamlessly together. In fact, Nikola and Marko are co-owners of Libra.

Antonia Buktenica is chief stew and has worked for Marko for several years. She always seemed to know what you wanted before you yourself even knew.

Antonijo Misicin, the chef, cooked up amazing dishes that incorporated the delicious Croatian olive oil with fresh ingredients and made me want to never leave. He cooked up everything from  beef bourgignon to fresh fish as well as preparing deliciously light salads of lentils and fresh yoghurt.

Libra and other gulets docked in Zaton, near Dubrovnik. Photo by Pearl Macek.
Choosing crewmembers

“For me it’s important you have ambition to learn from me and my way of work, and that you’re a really, really kind person,” Marko said. “Those two things are most important to me,” he continued.

All the crew worked seamlessly together and they really seemed to genuinely love and respect one another.

One big, happy family

“We really are like a big family. It’s the best part of our job,” said Marko.”We always help and support each other. Croatian maritime history is really long and on every island people, fisherman and sailors, we are always helping each other. We learn that from childhood. It’s normal for us.” He continued.

Which definitely seemed to be true, not only among the crew on Libra, but between the captains and crew on the other boats as well. Maybe it is because a lot of the gulet charter boats are owner operated, or maybe because Croatians understand the true definition of camaraderie. Whatever it is, it makes for a truly enjoyable charter experience where you feel more part of a family than a charter service.

Libra and other gulets stern-to in Korcula. Photo by Pearl Macek.

At every port, Marko offered advice on where to go to eat. He was always more than happy to talk about the good and bad parts of Croatian history (their history is long and therefore has many parts), and he always had this genuine air of being so happy to do all of it.

“I really like my job and  I’m still not sure which part is the best,” he said.”I like boats, sea and interaction with people.”

Not your average gulet

While some of the other, more modern gulets may provide more luxurious layouts and electronics, the experience you get on Libra gives you this true feeling of authenticity: both in service from her crew and her being a truly traditional yacht.

She is not all old school: she does have some of the typical accessories that guests look for, including paddleboards, skis, snorkeling gear and fast Wifi.

And what you receive in terms of a stellar crew is incomparable. I looked at the guestbook and it contained pages upon pages of glowing compliments toward Marko and his crew. It was easy to see just how much everyone enjoyed themselves by the descriptive lengths they went to in order to express their gratitude.

“I’m trying to make Libra the nicest and most popular wooden sailing boat on Adriatic,” said Marko. I would say he is definitely on his way.
Gulets tied up stern-to in Hvar. Photo by Pearl Macek.

Personalized Scuba Trips Offered By Aqua Safari Adventures

David Ochs, owner of Aqua Safari Adventures in Boynton Beach, Florida, grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City, which is not really known as a great scuba diving spot. “As a kid I was always a little bit afraid of the water,” he said as we spoke on the phone, him in sunny Florida and me in rainy Newport, Rhode Island.

He later went on to have a career in the corporate world in Chicago, but in 1993, he changed his mind. “I’ve got very supportive parents,” he said with a laugh. He was telling me about when he told them that he had decided to become a scuba instructor. He said, they were supportive, however a little surprised at his new career choice.

Before his dramatic career change, Ochs had taken a trip to Australia and although he didn’t dive there, he saw how much fun his friends had doing it. He became intrigued. When he returned to Chicago, he started to train in a pool. As soon a he put that regulator on for the first time and submerged himself, “a whole new world opened up.”

Once Ochs was certified, it didn’t take him long to start his own dive business in beautiful Boynton Beach. “I’m really blessed to have a job that I love,” he said. “The diving in Palm Beach is absolutely incredible,” Ochs said. He said that during turtle mating season, he once saw 23 turtles on just one dive and that virtually every type of tropical fish can be seen in the area. The proximity of the Gulf Stream provides an important nutrient source to sea life. This means that visibility can sometimes be reduces due to the abundance of nutrients, but it also means there are plenty of things to see.

Ochs not only offers diving in the Palm Beach area. He offers personalized diving tutelage and guidance wherever you may be vacationing in the world. “People hire us to go on vacations with them,” he said, almost incredulous that this is in fact his job.

Some of Ochs favorite dive spots are in The Cayman Islands, Cozumel, Bonaire, Saba, and the British and U.S. Vigin Isands. Ochs offers his expertise to those who have been diving for years, and the complete novice.

He will often meet his customers wherever they live to do their pool training with them and then will meet them at the charter boat or destination that they have chosen to do their scuba trip. The great thing with going to the client is that they often get to see dive spots that few people get to experience.

“It’s not just the uber wealthy,” said Ochs about the clients that hire him. It’s a wide array of clients who just really enjoy the concierge style of service. According to Ochs, Aqua Safari Adventures has a “very loyal” customer base who keep hiring him and his crew to come assist on dives.

Currently, Ochs has a total of four scuba instructors and guides. He ensures that all of them are fully capable to handle any situation that might arise. “I have to trust them with my loved ones,” he said. That is the rule. And, “you have to be a fun person,” as well, because, after all, you are on vacation with these people and it has to be fun.

Ochs not only ensures that his employees are fully capable of taking care of people both above and below the water, he also trains them to go on to on to start their own business. He said that two out of every three instructors goes on to start their own business. “That was fundamental to my business model,” he said.

Ochs felt that by motivating his employees to start their own companies, they would be more motivated to do the best job that they possibly could do for him. And this part of his model hasn’t hurt his business. “We just continue to grow at an impressive rate,” he added.

For more information on Ochs and his team go to www.aquasafari.net.

Motor Yacht Ariadne: A Unique Luxury Experience

Ariadne at the Newport Charter Show in Newport, Rhode Island.

What is in a name?

Ariadne is a motor yacht unlike most others. Much like the Greek goddess she is named after, Ariadne is reminiscent of glory and a time nearly forgotten. The 124 foot (37.8 meter) was built in 1978 and refitted in 2018. She is a veritable definition of luxury.

According to Chief Stew, Amanda Weyers, the owner wanted to create an experience reminiscent of the old, luxury cruise liners that he used to travel on when he was a child. In fact, the Ariadne was the first cruise liner he traveled on.

The dining room offers a luxurious experience from times past.

A timeless experience.

“It’s not your standard yacht,” Amanda said. “It’s more like an elegant home,” she continued.  The interior is Art Deco, with a modern flare. According to Amanda, the owner wanted to capture a “timeless elegance,” with her interior design.

It seems every aspect of the experience has been thought out by the owner, down to entrusting the crew to use his Grandma’s linens for dinner service and even the hand towels have her initials on them. “He really enjoys the finer touches,” Amanda said.

An old dinner menu from a cruise liner.

Old meets new.

There are even original menus from old cruise liners in the dining room, from which the chef and crew are planning on recreating a few dishes for guests. There is even a dinner bell to summon guests, as well as a gold, Art Deco cocktail cart for aperitif drinks. Guests are encouraged to dress up for dinner and fully partake in the luxury experience of times past. “It should be a memorable experience,” said Amanda.

The glass relief of Greek goddess Ariadne.

The living room is cozy with it’s impeccably varnished paneling. And a glass relief of the Greek goddess Ariadne perfectly illuminated with back lighting.

The main salon onboard Ariadne.

The rooms are just as luxurious with cloth wall paper and perfectly varnished woodwork. The bathrooms are impeccably grandiose, but not is a bad way at all. Each bathroom has a color-coded (they match the wallpaper) BVLGARI shampoo, soap and conditioner set. Now that’s luxurious!

The master room onboard Ariadne.

The aft deck is a great spot for enjoying meals when it is nice out. The second-story deck not only offers the perfect space for sunbathing, but also there is a good sized Jacuzzi for anyone looking to relax after some water sports.

There is plenty to enjoy on the second level deck.

There is also an additional bar up here as well as a barbecue and dining area.

Kaitlyn is the second stew, sometimes chef and deckhand. She basically can do it all. She is extremely warm, and in a very genuine way.  Both Amanda and Kaitlyn are extremely knowledgeable about the boat and its history. Their can-do attitude is contagious and they are a pleasure to be around.

Ariadne includes all the typical watersport toys including kayaks, SUPs and snorkelling equipment. Diving excursions can also be arranged.

The rooms onboard Ariadne are comfortable and luxurious, but not ostentatious.

 

Ariadne is available for charter in the Northeast for the summer of 2019 and then will return to Florida for the winter season, where she will be available for charters in the Bahamas and surrounding areas.

 

 

Why Your Next Flight Should be to Croatia

The town of Dubrovnik.

Croatia is a country not to be missed. The clear, turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea are comparable to anything you would experience along the Côte d’Azur of France. The generous, proud people throughout the country are inspiring, especially since many of them were witnesses to a war that wreaked havoc to their economy and country not that long ago. Then there is the food. Oh the food. A delicious mix of fresh produce, olive oil, seafood and pasta. What’s not to like?

In recent years, the country has seen an increase in tourism. In part, thanks to both Dubrovnik and Split playing an important backdrop to many scenes in the hit series “Game of Thrones.” Yet, it still remains somewhat unknown as a must-see destination, especially for North Americans. Perhaps it is the long flight(s) that puts people off, but that is changing with more frequent and easier ways to get there. Especially now with direct flights from Philadelphia to Dubrovnik. So, even for Americans, there is really no excuse not to go.

A Little Bit About the History of Croatia

Geographically, Croatia has always been an important country ever since us humans decided trading and conquering lands was a thing. With its miles of coastline nestled between Italy, Turkey and Greece, what is now known as Croatia has always been important to those seeking access to trading routes and power in Europe and the Middle East.

Croatia’s history is long and filled with conquering forces. After Croatia was settled by ancient tribes the Greeks moved in, quickly realizing the area’s geographical importance for their expansion.

The Roman Empire spread to the area after that. Byzantine rule took over after, then the Ottoman Empire. Hungary and Austria laid claim to the region, then the Venetians. It later became part of Yugoslavia. The Croatian war for independence started in 1991 and ended in 1995.  In 2013, she became part of the European Union.

Cuisine

Needless to say, all this mixing of cultures created an incredible gastronomic experience. Delicious pasta and seafood dishes are found in most parts of Croatia, but especially along the coast.

Before describing just a few of the delicious Croatian dishes that I was lucky enough to try, let me talk about olive oil. Honestly, it is the best olive oil that I have ever tried. It is rich and hits you in the back of the throat. I would be quite happy finishing out my days just eating bread dipped Croatian olive oil, perhaps with some of their balsamic vinegar mixed in too from time to time.

Crni Rizot

One of the most famous Croatian dishes is a black risotto called Crni Rizot in Croatian. The risotto is colored by the squid ink that it is cooked in. It is rich and quite fishy, so you have to really like seafood to eat this one. Make sure not to smile too much after eating this dish unless you brush your teeth!

Soparnik, a typical Croatian flatbread.

Soparnik is a typical Croatian flatbread that is filled with Swiss chard or onions and topped with chopped garlic and olive oil. It is absolutely delicious. What I said earlier about just eating bread and olive oil? Well, I think I would be pretty happy just eating Soparnik for the rest of my life.

Typical Croatian cuisine.

Due to it’s geographical proximity to Italy, a lot of the desserts are similar to what we think are typical Italian ones, like cannolis, cured fruits and custard dishes.

Arancini, otherwise know as sugared orange or lemon peel, is very popular dessert and/or a pick-me-up snack.

For dessert,  try rozata,  a dessert native to the Dubrovnik area, which is similar to a custard or flan.

Geography

Croatia’s geography is diverse. Near the Bosnian and Herzegovina border, some of the mountains in the Dinaric Alps reach elevations of up to 6,000 feet (over 1800 metres). The flat lands of Slavonia are where the Danube, Drava, Kupa and Sava rivers cross the country. The coastline offers thousands of islands and inlets, perfect for cruising in and out of. Many parts of the shoreline rise dramatically from the vivid blue waters, where thousands of stone walls criss cross the landscape. It is incredible to look at those walls and think that they have been there for hundreds, and perhaps some cases, thousands of years.

Biodiversity

Zaton, near Dubrovnik.

Croatia has a wealth of flora and fauna, with new species discovered in recent years. The climate along the coast is mild and usually with plenty of sunshine. Unfortunately, when I was there, there was unusually high rainfall that lasted several days, but even in the rain, it was still beautiful. The waters along the coast offer tons of scuba and snorkeling spots. There are also many forests inland and thousands of caves to explore. In the winter, there are mountain ranges to ski, although from what I heard, many Croatians prefer to travel to Bosnia or Switzerland for ski trips.

The ancient wall surrounding Dubrovnik’s old city.

Economy

Croatia’s economy is considered a “high income economy” by the United Nations, although it is a relatively cheap country to visit for westerners. Tourism is an important sector of the economy, and has been since the end of the war in 1995. In recent years with the added fame of the Game of Thrones Series being filmed in Dubrovnik.

Tourism

Marine tourism, meaning boat charters and cruises, are especially popular. There are many beautiful islands to explore including Hvar, Vis and Bisevo, which has a famous, partially underwater cave that glows blue known as the blue grotto.

Hvar is an island that provides a little bit of everything. There are beautiful beaches, a vibrant nightlife, vineyards, olives and a history dating back to the ancient Greeks.

The town of Hvar is a popular holiday destination and offers great nightlife, beach clubs and shops. Stari Grad, on the other side of the island, offers a more historical experience as it is one of the oldest towns in Europe. Founded by the ancient Greeks in 384 BC, the town is located in at the head of a very protected bay. There are numerous restaurants to choose and a stroll around the harbor is an absolute must.

The town of Starigrad on the island of Hvar.

Korčula is the sixth largest island in Croatia and, it is alleged that the famous explorer, Marco Polo, was born on this island.

Its town is known as “Little Dubrovnik” because of its medieval buildings. A walk up a very narrow staircase in the city’s church will provide you with breathtaking views of the city surrounds and the channel between the island and the mainland.

Looking out from the bell tower of the old town of Korçula’s main church.

There are numerous restaurants and bars, especially along the waterfront.

Currency

The Croatian Kuna is the official Croatian currency. Although Croatia joined the European Union in 2013, there hasn’t been much movement toward switching to euros. There are .15USD to 1 Croatian Kunas and .13Euros to 1 Kuna.

Vivid blues and greens are typical of the waters along the Dalmatian coast.

Needless to say Croatia is a pretty cool place to visit with incredible places to visit, meals to eat and history to learn. Make the journey.

 

Must-See Places and Harbors Along the New England Coast

Newport Bridge at sunset.

The ideal way to explore New England in the summer is definitely by boat. You have the ability to explore beautiful harbors and towns yet escape the crowds that so often flock to these areas during the warmer months. Whenever you feel like it, simply escape the crowds and heat by setting off for an isolated anchorage, where you can left at peace.

 

There are hundreds of towns and harbors to choose from, but for a start, here are a few must-see ports-of-call that exude what New England summers are all about.

Newport, Rhode Island

Newport is world famous as a yachting destination. Some know her as the city that hosted the America’s Cup, while others know her as a protected harbor with plenty of night life and delicious provisioning. Newport is a great jumping off point for cruising to Block Island, the Elizabeth Islands, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. All of these places are just a day sail away, and depending on the point of wind, you can make sure that the sail (or motor) is a comfortable one for everyone onboard.

 

Newport is a great city to walk around and take in the history of the place. From the Loeb Visitor Center where you can learn about the day-to-day living of one of the older Jewish communities in the U.S. to watching the sun set over Newport harbor at The Lobster Bar, there is plenty to do and see for all ages. And of course there are the Newport Mansions. Rosecliff and Marble House are definite must-sees, while the Cliff Walk is a great way to get a little exercise and take in the mansions on one side and the surf on the other.

Fort Adams overlooking Newport harbor.

Block Island

Great Salt Pond is the main harbor here. It is fully protected on all sides. It is quite shallow in parts, so caution and a good guide is necessary if you are navigating this on your own. There are moorings, slips and a 75-acre anchorage available. Ashore, a visit to The Oar and Payne’s Dock are a must. There is nothing that tastes of summer quite like a rum punch while sitting outside, looking out at the harbor.

 

You can walk into town, although it is a bit of a trek. Another option is, taxis are generally standing by along the docks and it is a quick and painless ride into town. There, you will find quaint shops, a couple of decent places to eat and drink as well as the famous (or infamous depending on who you talk to) Ballard’s, which serves food, drinks and plenty of sights to behold. Many people come over for the day on the ferries from Montauk, New London, Newport, Point Judith and Fall River and party it up on the beachfront of Ballard’s.

 

There are beaches in every direction on the island, so if you want to surf, kayak, or have a tranquil swim, there are plenty of options.

 

Cuttyhunk Island, The Elisabeth Islands, MA

You will definitely be shifting gears when you anchor off of Cuttyhunk. A year-round population of under 50 people, this island provides a nearly 360-degree protected harbor with tons of beachfront. The Elisabeth islands offer miles of protected waters to explore, whether by dinghy or sail/motorboat.

 

There isn’t any nightlife to be had on Cuttyhunk, but the town is fun and easy to walk around, and you can always pop in to the Cuttyhunk Historical Society to learn about the island’s unique history dating back to the 1600’s when Bartholomew Gosnold first visited.

 

 

Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard

Vineyard Haven has a nice, protected harbor to pull in to on your way around the island. The Black Dog Tavern is a great restaurant to try. They offer brunch, wine tastings and weekday dinner specials. The Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway is a cool boatyard to check out. It is world famous for classic boat building and restoration.

 

Oak Bluffs is just around the corner from Vineyard Haven and is an easy drive or boat trip. Steamship Authority ferries arriving from Woods Hole are regularly entering and exiting both Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, so be sure to stay vigilant when crossing their routes.

 

Oak Bluffs is famous for its cute Gingerbread cottages, similar in style and coloring to those found on Caribbean islands. Martha’s Vineyard has a rich African American history and Oak Bluffs was once a vacation mecca for African Americans during racial segregation. The African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard offers tours of the island and of Oak Bluffs, which provide insight into this history.

 

The Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs is one of the country’s oldest functioning carousels and not to be missed if you have children in tow. You can actually rent out the whole carousel during the months of April, May, September and October (after normal carousel hours) for birthday parties. Make sure to try and grab the brass ring as you go around!

 

 

Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard

Edgartown is larger than Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven, with many more restaurants and shops to choose from. It is a great place to rent a bike and take a spin around to the nearby beaches including Katama and South Beach.

 

There are moorings available in the harbor as well as an anchorage. This place can get filled up pretty quickly in the summer, especially on the weekends.

 

Nantucket, MA

No one can really talk about cruising the New England coast without making mention of Nantucket. There are moorings and anchoring is also allowed in certain areas. There are, of course dockage available too.

 

The island is ideal for biking around, considering how flat it is. Sankaty Head, Great Point and Brand Point Lighthouses are great to visit. There are also plenty of beaches like Madaket and Dionis.

 

The Company of the Cauldron is an amazing restaurant. The French-trained Chef Joseph Keller has worked in some of the best restaurants in the country. The cuisine is primarily American in taste, but with French nuances. Make sure to make a reservation! CRU is also a great restaurant located right on the wharf front. Oysters and all other seafood are a must try here.