Starboard is on the right when the boat is moving forward, and port is left. The thing in the middle pointing up is called a mast, and this horizontal bar is called the boom,” explains Ben, the man (or skipper, if we’re going to get technical) that we were to entrust our lives to for the next several hours. “It’s called a boom because it’s the thing that swings round and hits you square in the forehead.” He can obviously sense our tension. “This is why you’ll find most sailors speak a little slowly.”
I mask the trepidation with a considered look at the boom, which I’m hoping gives the impression that I’ve done this sailing lark before. In actual fact, I have. On a boat in Norfolk at age ten a boom swung over and knocked me clean into the water. However, on this occasion I’m determined to hold my nerve, and stay dry. After all, I’m no longer ten, and I’m definitely not in Norfolk. The safety briefing was taking place on a sun soaked jetty in Porto Montenegro, a recently-developed luxury playground nestled in the coniferous hills of the Tivat region.
The jewel of the Bay of Kotor, Porto Montenegro used to be an Austro-Hungarian naval base up until the break up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Now, thanks to a few wealthy investors, the submarines have been replaced with superyachts and the naval personnel with newly minted Russians and their glittering WAGs.
The unspoilt Balkan hillsides provide a nice balance to all this glamour, and for a moment I’m transported to a period of Roman conquest when troupes of legionnaires would have been seen tramping through the countryside. I’m jolted from my reverie, it’s time to board the boat.
We are tugged out of the marina and Ben busily gets to work hoisting the sail while the crew and I sit dumbly waiting for something to happen. Fortunately, it does. The boat swings round and we are soon surfing along at a rate of knots. As we crash along the waves we learn that it isn’t just the UNESCO-credited sites, pointy trees and its proximity to Tivat airport that make Porto Montenegro such a rising star.
“The mountains funnel the wind in different ways, which makes the sailing in the bay a mix between sea sailing and lake sailing,” explains the bronzed Ben, who is now in his element attending to a moving craft.
“This means that we’re starting to see more racers come here to train because of the tougher conditions than you’d find in the Caribbean.”
As he explains the specifics of bows, sterns and genoas, the enthusiasm among the novice crewmates quickly starts to grow. We’ve been lucky with the wind, and soon we’re getting pretty good at stumbling into opposite sides of the boat and avoiding the swinging boom. We zig-zag our way through the Bay of Kotor, and I at last feel like an intrepid island racer, a son of Nelson with saltwater in the blood. This is all made much easier with Ben doing most of the hard work.
Ben doing most of the work also means that now we can admire Porto Montenegro from a distance. The most impressive building by far is the Regent, a five-storey luxury hotel which signifies a statement of intent for the area’s aspirations.
Adjoining this is the marina from which we have just set sail, its superyachts now gleaming as the sun catches them from a distance. As we move further east I can make out the iron sculptures in the lido area of the yacht club, which in the high summer months is abuzz with the sailing set. The club itself is designed by Tino Zervudachi who has adapted nautical design cues to create a playful and homely space. Walking through the lounge and meeting area you’re likely to run into the odd sail-boat objet or fish-themed light.
Gliding towards the coast of Perast, we pass Our Lady of the Rocks, an artificial island on which stands a Roman Catholic Church, separated from the sea by a defensive bulwark. According to legend, the islet was created over centuries by local seamen who would lay a rock in the bay after returning from each successful voyage. The tradition extends back to 1452 when an icon of the Madonna and Child was supposedly found there.
The ritual is still alive and well today, and each year on 22 July the locals hold an event called fašinada, where everyone takes to their boats and joins in throwing rocks into the sea around the islet. Even for a non-believer it’s hard to ignore the romance of the idea.
After making our way back across the bay and home to the marina, the boat comes to a stop. With the sunlight beginning to fade we take a few moments to relax on the deck, though never one to rest, Ben busies himself taking down the main.
We’re tugged back to our berth and the landscape looks all the more beautiful in the diminishing light. I’m just admiring the way that the setting sun is creating new shadows on the land in front of me when I detect a new noise, quite different to the gurgling of the water around us.
Someone has just cranked up the sound system on one of the superyachts, and our return to dry land is accompanied by the thump of Euro-house. Well, when in Montenegro.