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More from Albania

By Sue Richards last modified Jul 27, 2008 06:13 PM

Published: 2008-07-27 18:13:57
Countries: Albania

Durres – Albania
29 May 2008

I texted the agent who we had as a contact for Durres - Captain Llambi Papa - as we got close in to Durres with the consequence he was waiting for us at the wharf. Basically a pretty dirty and grotty place to be tied up with no facilities and a ship literally feet away unloading grain into hoppers. With a light breeze blowing across the ship we will be a grainary ourselves by the time we leave!

Using an agent is a must as the police and security presence is noticeable and Llambi sat in the cockpit with us and quickly completed all the forms. There is one other boat here with a solo sailor from Holland on a 385 Halberg Rassey who is rafted up against us due to absolutely no facilities for visiting yachts – which I think is a rarity. This is a country that at least from what we have seen to date has no leisure boating activity at all - mainly it appears to avoid the people “escaping” to Italy! Albania has followed an extreme isolationist policy for many years under communist rule following the Second World War and this has only been relaxed fairly recently. The town of Durres, the largest port in Albania, and about 35 kilometres from Tirana the capital, at least boasts ATM machines that generate euros or lek’s, the local currency of which 5,000 equals 42 euros (say $85 kiwi) - which was just as well as we had no currency on us when we arrived.

Probably the most telling impression to date has been how cheap everything is. Last night we ate at a nearby restaurant recommended by Llambi and each ordered a fish dish. Shortly afterwards an appetiser arrived, then a huge bowl of mussels then our fish (decent size and whole) and then ice cream and fresh fruit. Washed down with a couple of bottles of water, wine and beer and the whole lot came to 42 euros ($85 kiwi). Other prices in kiwi (200% of a euro), Montana sauvignon blanc $17, French bourdeaux $19 a bottle. I think wine must be dumped here at these prices - needless to say the bilges are loaded. At the restaurant $9.00 for steak main course and $5.50 for a seafood pasta. Diesel still expensive at $2.70 a litre. Today (Thursday 30th May) Llambi organised a car and driver and we spent the day touring. This area is probably typical of what many eastern European cities and towns have looked like in recent years as they have embraced democracy and capitalism – namely significant building and construction activity involving buildings, roads and infrastructure projects most likely accompanied with little in the way of regulatory control. The result is relatively chaotic – dirty, dusty, dreadful sections of road, half finished buildings and pollution that will ensure Albania will not be signing up to the Kyoto treaty any time soon.

The population is around 3.5 million and there seems to be new petrol stations every few hundred metres along the main roads, so not too sure how that works. There would have to be more Mercedes cars than anywhere we have been before – there are thousands of them ranging from old 190E’s to the latest S Class, plus plenty of new BMW’s. So it would seem, as in any country moving to a freer less regulated economy, that a few are able to take advantage of the opportunities and profit accordingly, a large middle class evolves and the rest exist at a subsistence level. Unemployment is high and tourism is not encouraged Our excursion took us across the coastal and seemingly fertile plains up into the mountains to the town of Skanderbeg, which is dwarfed by a large castle that is largely now in ruins.

Our driver escorted us around the castle ruins and the impressive museum that has been built within and incorporating some of the castle walls. The Albanian history seems to have been characterised by fighting and wars mostly with the Turks as far as we can make out.

Tomorrow we will head to the port of Vlores where Llambi has told us there is a small private marina in a security controlled area – about 50 miles down the coast.

For the record Llambi's fee for acting as our agent, 2 nights berthing, providing an Albanian flag (hard to find outside Albania) and organising a few other things came to 65 Euros. Car hire for the day including driver was 100 Euros.

Durres to Vlores
30 May 2008

The port area where we were moored in Durres is a controlled area i.e. security controlled, and not accessible to the public. So when we came to depart we needed to have Llambi handle the paperwork and then the police/customs came down to the wharf as we then had to immediately leave. All rather pedantic as going down the coast it seems we were free to anchor in any of the bays.

After clearing Durres we started with a slowish sail, close hauled until the wind freshened and then backed with the result that we had a 20/30 mile run under genaker trucking along at around 8 knots in a 10-12 knot SW. Early afternoon the usual happened and we were back to motoring until a 20 knot SE kicked in which left us slightly eased but with good boat speed which took us into Gjiri (bay) Vlores at around 1930 hrs. The rhumb line track took us quite a few miles offshore, but the coast was mostly low lying land with lakes and rivers showing on the chart – very little signs of inhabitation.

Llambie had told us that there was a marina in the bay, and according to our chart the southern end of the bay (which is about 8 miles long) is a restricted anchorage for military reasons. So after testing several theories as to where the marina might be (Llambi had done a drawing on a piece of torn off newspaper), we anchored off what looked to be a very nice sandy beach in front of several resort hotels. Fortunately the wind dropped off quickly and we settled in to a pretty reasonable anchorage for the night. We had seen another yacht motor up the other side of the bay just as we were anchoring, so in the morning decided to ignore the chart warnings and see where they had gone too.

Guess what – we found the marina in the very south eastern corner of the bay (as this is also a security area). However, about half way up the entry channel I noticed that the depth metre was reading negative (definitely a bad sign) and on inspection over the stern we could see our keel indentation in the mud. We reckon that the marina entrance is dredged to 2.0 metres. We later heard it was owned by an Italian – it appeared to be a quayside deal only with bow anchors deployed along the inshore side only and quite a small setup. Surprisingly there were 4 yachts tied up, so we were not the only ones sailing the Albanian coast.

Vlores to Sarande
31 May 2008

We continued the journey south with another 55 mile day to what was the planned clearance port for Albania – Sarande. Had a good sail for a few hours tight reaching and making good speed until we dropped anchor in the nook of a small bay called Spile in about 70 metres off a lovely beach for a swim and a late lunch. The southern coast is quite mountainous compared with the northern coast and characterised by thousands of “pillar boxes” which were installed in the 1970’s.

We had tracked down off www.noonsite.com an entry from a New Zealand yacht earlier in May (the first entry on this part of the site for a couple of years) giving the name of an agent called Agim (his number is +355 692 566 576). I texted him early in the afternoon and told him we would be arriving at about 1800 hrs and he called me back to confirm. It transpired that he had only formed his business 4 months earlier. On arrival he was there to meet us, along with police and customs, and took the boat papers and our passports and that was the end of it.

Lovely guy, with a Greek wife who we met along with his 16 year old daughter. He has a son studying engineering at Patras University in Greece. He drove us to a castle on a hill overlooking the bay and across to Corfu, Italy and across the valleys of southern Albania. A beautiful spot, and an opportunity to sample/drink some of the local red wine. We had a late dinner at a restaurant near the harbour.

Sarande looked a lot better in the evening – a morning walk around the town showed it to be pretty dirty, with a huge amount of construction going on and little effort to date in trying to beautify the waterfront. The population was about 12,000 5 years ago and is now 40,000. Probably over half the apartment blocks in the town are completed to just the floor and pillar stage. Our attempts to ascertain just what was going on did not produce any meaningful answers. John had his credit card eaten by an ATM and fortunately Agim was able to track down a bank official to come into the bank (and on a Sunday morning) to open up and retrieve the card.

Agim was most disappointed that we were not going to stay for a few days as he was keen for us to visit the ancient city site of Burrint further south in a national park.

Leaving Albania for Corfu
Sunday 1 June 2008

We departed the wharf at around 1300 hours with Agim, police and customs in attendance to see us cast off after paying a Euro 60 fee for everything – (except diesel which we had delivered by mini tanker about an hour after we arrived). The bay at Sarande is very open to the south and the wharf that we tied alongside was on the western side of the bay and on a north/south axis. Fortunately we had a westerly while there so it was relatively sheltered. The town is clearly being promoted as a holiday destination and there is a 3 times a week ferry service to Corfu only 10 miles away. They have a lot to do though to attract people to visit and it is good to see Agim and people like him so enthusiastic and willing to do their part in encouraging people to visit and stay.

The sail to Corfu was a fast one but running in onto the weather shore it quietened down and we motorsailed into the huge marina at Gouvia that is about 4 km’s north of town.

Keith Goodall
SY Savarna

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