I have been in love with the sea for as long as I can remember, the sea and the islands. There is one particular island that I am especially fond of. I am fond of its beauty of nature, its smells and sounds, and most of all, of the sense of peace that can be found there. Island Vis is located in the middle of the Adriatic Sea, big enough to have it all, small enough to be mastered on foot or by bike and also – as I discovered last summer – by a paddleboard. Just to be clear, I am no pro in paddleboarding. I only discovered it two years ago. I was watching people paddling in Milna Bay on my island, some of them were falling off their boards and climbing back again. I remember wondering if I could ever do that – the paddling, not falling off, I mean. And it was only last summer that I first tried to paddle myself. I loved it straight away. Couple of months later I was an enthusiastic owner of a SUP board.
Last spring, my good friend Lea, the founder of non-profit association Islomania, mentioned to me the idea of stand up paddling around our island. As far as we knew, it had not been done before. We agreed that the summer would be the most appropriate time to do it and hoped that an opportunity would present itself. So, the idea was a couple of months old, but the tour itself was totally improvised. And let’s admit it – all the best things in life are done that way. We were in the middle of a hot August, when I casually discussed the tour at lunch one day with my friends Lea and Davor. Davor (Vis Sea Adventure) checked the weather forecast and said: “If you want to do it this summer, you’ll have to do it tomorrow, as there’s hardly a chance that this combination of winds will repeat anytime soon”.
And so I went the next day, August 9th 2017. And this is a story about first solo SUP tour around island Vis. I would like to do the tour that has some higher purpose, an ecological statement or some other cause. I am going to do it in the forthcoming years. But this first solo adventure was actually an escape from everyday routine, a research and – of course – a personal challenge. At the time I didn’t even own a drybag, so Islomania and Vis Sea Adventure provided me with all the equipment we thought was necessary, I bought some food, filled waterbottles and paddled out. The plan was to start in the late morning, but due to some errands I began the trip early in the afternoon with strong SE tailwind pushing me west from Milna bay along the shore. Since I was far behind the original schedule, I intended to come at least as far as Pritišćina bay and spend the night there.
I had never paddled on waves being so high and a loaded board behaved differently than I was used to. So my knees were shaking quite a bit as I passed cape Polivalo and the real rock ’n roll began. In the beginning I was paddling too close to the shore, so the waves bouncing from the shore threw me off the board couple of times. I was very careful about not to lose the paddle, but at one point my board floated dangerously far away from me, since I forgot to pack the leash. I gradually mastered downwind paddling on the loaded board and started genuinely to enjoy the ride. The day was hot and humid and I had all the time in the world, so every once in a while I made a stop for a quick swim. I reached the famous Stiniva bay in two hours and took a break for a cup of coffee. The coffee was good, but the entrance was crammed with speedboats and the beach was overcrowded; I missed Stiniva from the old days.
Strong SE continued throughout the afternoon and it took me only an hour and a half to reach Pritišćina bay. Since my travelling speed was above expectation and I had enough of daylight and energy left, I decided to push forward to cape Stupišće which took another hour and a half of focused paddling. I reached Stupišće lighthouse at 18.30 and the sea behind the cape was perfectly still. Sheltered from the wind, I took some time to rest and just enjoy floating in the calm and peaceful sea. It hadn’t been so peaceful the whole day. As I was sitting on my board tiredly smiling and taking pictures like some dumb tourist, the wind gradually carried me away from the shore and before I realized what was happening I was almost in the middle of Komiža bay. The wind was getting stronger and there was no way of getting back to the shelter of the shore. For the next hour and an a half I was forced to paddle on the left side only. I remained focused on the shore in front of me, pushed myself through the waves and the wind with all my strength and somehow managed to maintain half-straight course. I was tired and these last two miles seemed to last forever. Wind had thrown me off the board couple of times, but I was too proud to paddle on my knees, and finally I made it to the Kamenice beach right after sunset. I found a perfect spot for my hammock, had my supper and went to sleep, exhausted but overjoyed. The adrenaline kept me awake most of the night, so I slept in the next morning.
The weather forecast changed a bit and SE was now supposed to blow for another whole day. With only 4 NM of paddling to my next sleeping point, I had a whole day to rest. Some nice people invited me for a beach fish picnic and I joined them. Later I went to Komiža to restore supplies of food and water. Friendly employees at B-24 Diving Centre allowed me to charge my cell phone at their place while I was shopping and waiting for the wind to change direction.
I finally left Komiža in the late afternoon. The first half an hour of paddling looked like the repetition of the previous evening, only this time I paddled mostly on the right side. The bay was quite crowded with sailboats and speedboats coming in or out of Komiža. I chose to cross it right in the middle anyway, because I didn’t want the wind to push me too close to the north shore. Traffic decreased by cape Križni rat and I basically flew by the next three beaches right to cape Barjaci. It took me two hours to reach Zukamice beach and I was rewarded with a little headwind before the end of the day, I guess the day would turn out too boring without it. With a big rock right in front of it, Zukamice beach seemed as the most romantic place in the world. There were no people and no cell signal and I enjoyed the most spectacular sunset while I was eating my dinner. That beautiful wild beach didn’t have any tree big enough to hold a hammock, so I slept on my board. That is, I tried to sleep at least, but mosquitos kept me insanely awake for most of the night and no repellent helped whatsoever.
A bit annoyed I got up way before dawn, packed my things, put the headlight on and carefully paddled out into the dark. I must say that I found paddling with no wind a bit boring as comparing to the previous two days, but quiet paddling in the deep sea along steep cliffs had a special magic too. An early start additionally rewarded me with a beautiful sunrise over the island Hvar which I was happy to enjoy in perfect silence in a company of a few raindrops. The northern coast is mainly wild and untouched, with crystal clear sea and a few beaches that are difficult to access from the land. Unfortunately one can also see some monuments of human stupidity in the form of plastic trash brought by the sea.
It took me about four hours to reach Vis bay and by then the strong NW wind I had been waiting for finally rose. I passed the island Host having the downwind paddling of my life and by 11 a.m. I was already at Stončica lighthouse. After the lighthouse the same wind was pushing me away from the shore, so for the next two hours I tried to paddle as close to the shore as possible to stay sheltered. After almost exactly two days I rounded my tour in Milna bay with swimming the last 100 meters as the headwind was too strong for me to paddle in.
This round trip was not a record setting expedition; it was more of a soul-searching and spirit-testing getaway… It took two days altogether, two nights on the wild beaches, 17 hours on the sea of which 13 hours of active paddling, approx. 32 NM and the story of a lifetime to remember.