Written by Matt Rademacher

The first island offshore from Split is Brac. The island is long and narrow. It is made of the same limestone rock that towers over the mainland Dalmatian coast. Brac and the surrounding islands are a continuation of these tall Dalmatian mountains just with their valleys submerged into the sea.

They are generally oriented with their ridges aligned northwest and southeast. The east side of the mountains slope gradually and heavily forested with oak and pine. The west side are magnificently steep and illuminate the sea below with bright light from their sheer cliffs of white stone.

We are now on the east side of Brac Island. This side of the island also is forested and gently slopes upward to the west. The drainage canyons here are soft and rounded yet form nice dendritic branching side canyons that our sailboat finds pleasant anchor out of the main channel wind.

This anchorage appears to be a local hangout for swimming and sunbathing. Beaches in this area are normally pebbly. This beach is one of the few that is sand.

Diana has been chartering for years and is familiar with all the popular tourist locations but she has not been to this beach. She has finished with serving us the gourmet octopus stew lunch and now under no obligation until tomorrow’s breakfast. Diana likes this place. She asks if we are going to swim. We just ate a five star meal with heaping seconds and  now in need of recuperation. She puts on a swimsuit and swims to shore. Tony notes she is a strong swimmer.

Diana lays out on the beach to soak up the sun. Jim is curious what is beyond the beach and paddled ashore on the stand up paddle board. While Diana rests Jim disappears into a olive orchard to explore around. On Jim’s return he tells us he saw a farmer tending his crops and a modest little house the farmers family lives in. He asks us to go with him back to shore to further explore. Jacque looks at the few locals lounging on a forest shaded swimming pier and says, “Those people on the pier probably wish they were on this boat. I’m good relaxing right here.” Tony and I agree.

We are on a boat in the Adriatic sea but it’s not like our normal Akela experience. When on a boat in Mexico, California or French Polynesia there is constant marine environment sensory input such as the sound of seabirds, smell of saltwater, pitch and rocking of the boat. Here the sailboat sits motionless. The air smells of pine and deciduous forest. It’s rare to see a seabird. All we hear is forest song birds. No sound of waves lashing against the shore. The scene is similar to being on a countryside summer lake in southern France. Complete with a sleepy little farm house and a field of wild red poppies. Nice warm peaceful place to rest and take it easy.

The difference is the water is turquoise blue and amazingly clear. Local houses here have the common Mediterranean feel of a red tile roof and walls made of stone yet the pitch of the roof is steeper as if it supports snow. House roofs also have boxy shaped dormers that look more northern European than Mediterranean coast.

Tony and Jacque decide we should do whatever we can to keep this gourmet food coming and do the dishes for Diana before her return. We throw the food scraps into the water. To Jacque’s delight he sees sky blue fish rise up and feed on the dish scraps. He smiles and says, “Did you see those blue fish? Oh this is heaven.”

A small local motorboat with a elderly couple arrives and drops their anchor next us. Tony tells Jim, “Did you see that. He drops his anchor then continues to motor right over it. He doesn’t know what he is doing.” There isn’t any wind or current where our boats will collide so we ignore it.

The woman on the small motorboat lays down on the boat bow, leans up against the boat’s windshield and removes her bathing suit top exposing her breasts to the sun. Tony says, “Wow. That’s a relief. I guess it’s ok for us to drink beer and just pee over the side of the boat.” 

We are new here and unfamiliar with the norms but too familiar with the Ugly American stereotype. Up to this point we are behaving as if we have arrived in church drunk, dressed in our Sunday best, knowing all too well that if necessary finding and using a toilet is best.

Yet peeing into a toilet on a sailboat is cumbersome. It involves doing whatever is possible to prevent a mess in a small room that can pitch and toss. This means sitting down on the toilet to pee and operating a specific valve sequence and manual pumping sequence then cleaning the toilet for the next person. Everything that goes into the boat toilet gets flushed directly into the sea. Why not bypass all that and pee directly over the boat edge?

This place is nice. We decide to spend the evening here then in the morning follow the Brac coast south to the next town. It is still not clear which islands we will be exploring so we also decided we will continue the South Pacific tradition of playing cards at night to determine assignment of boat duties of who is captain, dinner cook, dishwasher and loafer. Choosing where we sail will be determined by whoever becomes captain. We are so enamored with Diana’s cooking we want all her efforts to be focused on her cooking skills rather than cleaning up after us. There is the fear she will soon tire of us and begin making plain peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Diana returns and protests that cleaning dishes is her job. She then sees Tony cleaning the toilet and tells him to stop because that’s her job. We tell her that we love her food and she only needs to do that.

The next morning after breakfast we motor down the coast to the next canyon. I read about the Dalmation coast and discover that this is the area that the Dalmatian dog breed originated from. The white dog with black spots that we associate with fire stations and the Disney movie ‘101 Dalmatians’ originally came from this area. In the early 1800s firemen used the dalmatians to clear the busy roads ahead of their horse drawn fire engines. The dogs are intelligent and work well with horses. They became popular with the wealthy British society. It was a status symbol to have up to 6 dalmation dogs run alongside of their horse drawn carriage. I ask Diana about dalmation dogs and if they is any associated with horses here in Dalmatia. She strongly says, “Those are our dogs! But not used with horses. Not many horses in Split. The dalmation dogs are our pets.”

We motor down the coast. The forest comes right down to the sea edge. As we proceed the forest grades into short ground hugging trees and bushes similar to southern California manzanita chaparral. Up ahead we see a break in the green ground cover. It’s a bright white rock at the waters edge. Getting closer we see it’s a limestone quarry. This whole section of the Brac Island is one homogeneous solid mass of unfractured limestone rock. The rounded hill side has been sawed into tall perfectly perpendicular geometrical shapes. There are 2 large buildings with huge doors that resemble large passenger jet aircraft hanger. There is a large outdoor crane for loading massive sized limestone blocks on trucks. Drill and sawing equipment are scattered about. Everywhere is covered in white dust. The engineer part of me would like to have a closer look at the equipment used to move and handle such large and heavy rock blocks. Diana overhears us and says she is happy to arrange a tour. She just needs to know when we want to go. We answer as soon as possible. She makes a series of phone calls and said our tour will be between 1 and 2 pm. There is a small tour fee and they dont accept cash. Payment must be done online with credit card. Unfamiliar with local bank electronic transactions we ask if we could give our Kuna cash to her and she uses her own credit card. She tells us it no problem.

Limestone quarry

We motor past the water edge limestone quarry up into a narrow canyon inlet. Up in one of its branches is the small town of Pucisca. There is one huge yacht tied up along the pier but no other sailboats. We continue on exploring the harbor.

A young man with a bicycle on a pier keeps yelling at us. We ignore him and continue on. The man follows and keeps yelling. We decide to see what he wants and motor over to him. He asks if we plan on staying. Jim answers we don’t know but we would like to tie up and take a look around town. The young man says there is a fee to spend the night but no charge if we are temporarily docking for a few hours.

A gust of wind appears from nowhere blowing us away from the dock. The young man motions for us to thrown him a line. Jim is still learning how to handle our sailboat Vana which is completely different from Akela. The young man patiently waits while we make series of awkward maneuvers fighting wind gusts then catches our line and pulls us in.

We introduce ourselves. The young man’s name is Christian. Diana goes to the bank to pay for the tour tickets. I ask Christian what tourist do here. He points across the harbor to a large building and says tourist go see the Klesarska Stonemason School.

Diana returns with tickets and points for us to go the stonemason school. I ask about the limestone quarry tour. Christian says its private. No tours. We now have stonemason school tickets. We are here. The school is just over there.

This town looks interesting. We decide to spend the night here but we dont want to pay. Christian says we can anchor for free further out in the open harbor. We pay 45 kuna to fill our tanks with fresh water from the public docks. Jim and I go off exploring the town.

It appears every town center has central church with a tall bell tower. This bell tower has a fancy red top that looks different from the other coastal towns we passed. Not familiar with anything we call the church the Holy Stone Cutter Church and go inside and respectfully remove our hats. The inside is generously adorned. Near the front alter there are pictures of what appears to be local smiling children.

Ceiling painting above alter

We continue on past a small food market and climb some stairs that squeeze between hillside houses to see what’s up there. There are some narrow roads but the town is layed out for walking not driving. We walk past a house that is being repaired. The walls are made of limestone block. The roof is 4×4 wood rafters supporting OSB plywood and red clay tiles.

We go back down to shops and continue on to the tourist shop area where they sell numerous small limestone carved figures. Christian said this is where the best restaurants are.

After looking around we head back to Vana. It’s approaching time to tour the stonemason school. We collect Tony and Jacque and go to the school building on the harbor. Christian told us which door to go to but it was locked. I go up these stairs into the school and roam the halls. I’m meeting young students as I go. They confuse me with someone of importance, greet me respectfully as if I’m a master stonemason. Stick my head into what appears to be an administrative office and show our tour ticket. An attractive tall woman tells me sculpture classes start at 2 pm. She says our tour is more interesting with a student filled studio chipping away on school projects.

We have some time so we walk along the harbor edge. We see hillside of large blue century plants, first cactus type plant we’ve seen. Along the waterfront walkway are some palm trees. Jacque asks how far we are from the equator. I reply we probably further north in latitude of New York City. Jim doesn’t think so and looks up Brac Island latitude. He is amazed it has the same latitude of Maine. The warm Mediterranean currents come from the Egyptian coast.

We wander back to to the school and find the harbor facing door open with ‘pinc, pinc, pinc’ sound of hammers hitting chisels. The studio floor is covered with white dust. The room is filled with various partially completed sculptures. Some modern art. Some architectural features.

I remember visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and wondering how the masons carved the delicate web structures that hold the large stained glass windows. Whatever they did its beautiful and has held together for almost 1000 years. Here they have the same ornate stone window carvings, gargoyles and highly ornate pillar capitols. They are all carved out of solid stone.

Stonemason school
Sculpture studio entrance

I point to a finely carved window and ask the student if this is similar to the windows at Notre Dame Cathedral. He says this school has offered to repair the recent Notre Dame fire damage.

There are some very old pointing machines to measure and replicating sculptures. A student open the room that holds the master masons tools. We are allowed to look inside and examine all the different types of tools. I ask if there is some damaged limestone we can chisel and use the various tools on. We are shown a large block or limestone in the back of the room. I take a hammer that looks like a meat tenderizer and start hammering away. The student takes my hammer and shows me the correct way. He is good at it. He quickly changes hammers and in moments he has made a flat smooth surface.

I ask the student what to look for when picking a good limestone block. He says no striations, inclusions or layers. His face brightens and shows me on a large map on wall that shows all the Croatian stone quarries. He points to a place on the map that is a granite quarry that his dad owns. His family is from Slovakia.

There are many international students studying here. The adjoining building is a dormitory and cafeteria. I ask how the food is. He says it’s ok. The students look to be enjoying themselves. After looking at some remarkably good sculpting we leave the studio.

Directly outside the school there is very strange looking wooden sailboat. It looks like an early Greek galley complete with painted eyes on the bow. The boat is beautiful. The man sitting in the boat invites up to come aboard and offers us drinks. His name is Anton. He is from the mainland and giving a group of 10 Norwegian women a ride. As he is pouring us some very powerful drinks made from Croatian walnuts a woman yells at him from a nearby top floor window. He responds to her he is just having drinks with friends and will not leave without them. The walnut drink was very strong. He offers sweet cherry wine that Jim and Jacque tries. He is  gregarious and keeps offering us more drinks. We realize we will quickly get drunk and spend the afternoon here. We need to get off the public dock and meet up with Diana. We leave while we are still able. As soon as we leave the Scandinavian women arrive and they motor out of the harbor.

Diana returns to Vana with bags of groceries. Lines are untied and we motor to the free anchor area. Diana has made a chocolate tort cake that has been cooling in the refrigerator. The fruit and chocolate sauce plate presentation is what you would expect from a 5 star restaurant. We cant believe it! The way to a mans heart is through his stomach. Jacque makes a sudden serious announcement, proposing marriage to Diana. We then begin arguing among ourselves of why should Jacque have Diana to himself.

Diana makes a chocolate tort on the boat

The next morning the winds pickup to 30 knot winds. Today will be good sailing weather. Last minute decision is to sail to Hvar Island which is up wind. Diana makes us Coatian donuts. They are hot out of the fryer, dusted with powered sugar. She put shaved orange peel in the dough made from the fresh squeezed orange juice. After eggs, bacon, fig crepe pancakes and salad we head out to sea.

Vana tacks towards the mainland. The seas are rough with white caps so we close all the boat windows. Vana’s bow pops up into the air when cresting a wave then plunges deeply into the following trough. The sea washes over the top of Vana. Some water leaks into the galley. We ask Diana if she is ok with this. She replies this is no problem for her. She is not new to rough seas. She is more concerned if we need a cold beer or something to snack.

As we approach the Dalmation coastline we are amazed of the size of the towering white cliffs above. These cliffs are the home of extreamly deep caves. The cave entrance is up high on the mountain ridge then plunges vertically down thousands of feet in a series of steps. The bottom of these caves are still not known. Some of the best world known splelunkers are from Croatia. There is all this Croatian mythology related to caves and the spirits and supernatural creatures that live in those subterranean mystical worlds.

Vana tacks back to Brac. We are not making good up wind progress and decide to have lunch in a wind protected canyon on Brac.

Jim may not like the looks of Vana but he sure likes how she sails. Vana is newer than Akela and has modern equipment that is easy to use. In high wind on Akela the boom can swing wildly back and forth while 2 people getting slapped in the face by a buffeting sail as it is grabbed and tied to the boom. On Vana a crank mounted at the base of the mast coils the sail inside of the mast. If the wind is too high and the sail must be come down then it’s just a simple matter of turning a mast crank while standing out of harm’s way. Jim also likes how Vana turns on a dime. Akela can not respond so quickly.

We arrive back at Brac and find a narrow canyon to get out of the high wind. There are a small motor boat anchored near the beach, 2 men lounging in its cockpit enjoying a bottle of wine, a small shack just up from the beach. The anchorage is not good here. The canyon is too narrow, the water too deep for the anchor chain. We motor north to a spot where earlier we saw better anchorage.

3 thoughts on “The Island of Brac

  1. What a marvelous adventure!! I did not know about all the limestone and stone masonry, just that Croatians were great swimmers and water polo champions…and very friendly.

    Like

  2. great writing story was very good sound fun over there and no jac can not have diania

    Like

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