The southernmost Adriatic archipelago is a world unto itself. Many mariners, even those who nav- igate around the central Dalmatian islands, have missed out on it because when they sail south, they go as far as Korčula, Pomene or Polače on the island of Mljet, and then turn back. The sparsely populated east- ern coast of the Mljet Channel, with only one marina, which is fairly crowded in summer, discourages them from going further. I must emphatically state that this is a great mistake. One does not only sail these waters to visit Dubrovnik, with its wondrous and unique atmosphere, a city whose riches are girded by walls protecting it from the world, like a pearl in an oyster shell. You sail there and then, moored at a marina in Komolac or the Gruž Harbor or anchored below the island of Lokrum, sail around the islands and drop anchor in the deep bays along the coast. This is a place of mystical blues, canopies of dense forests extending all the way down to the sea, uninhabited and populated islands, an exceptional ambience where you can still sense the spir- it of the glorious Republic of Dubrovnik. To this archipelago belong the Elaphiti , consisting of five large and several small islands, and another group of reefs known as Grebeni, then Mrkan, Bobara and Supetar in Župa Bay. The Elaphiti take their name from the Greek word elaphos, which means deer. When we sail among them, especial- ly if we are coming from the west, gliding along the uninhabited coast of Pelješac and passing Mali or Veli- ki Vratnik, we shall encounter a pravi jezerski ugođaj. From the southern side are islands with lush vegetation, beckoning us to linger, and from the north is the jagged and seemingly inaccessible coast.
The Elaphiti were already settled in ancient times, although not many traces from that period remain. Later Croatian inhabitants left many more, including pre-Romanesque churches scattered among the fertile fields on Šipan, Lopud and Koločep, and the summer villas of the Dubrovnik aristocracy. The local people engaged in farming, fishing and seafaring. Many owned or captained sailing vessels. Remnants from that period are to be found everywhere.
Seafarers who berth their boats in one of the Croatian or northern Adriatic marinas sail these waters when they leave the Mljet Channel and enter the sea through Mali Vratnik or Veliki Vratnik, sheltered by the islands, or continue to sail toward Dubrovnik on their outer side. The others, mostly foreigners coming from Otran- to or Montenegro, will first touch shore in Cavtat, where they will complete the formalities for sailing in Croatian waters.
Unlike the majority of the mariners I am referring to, I have been lucky in life and sailed here often, or at least more often than others who are not from this region. The last time was this past summer, together with Mladen, who is particularly skilled in perceiving and recording what sets this area and its people apart from others.