Trevor and Dinah Thompson prepared their first Adriatic Pilot in 1984 aboard their 26ft junk-rigged Joletta, their home for two years

It started during our honeymoon. We sounded our way into a small river on the Gower Peninsula and found a perfect anchorage behind the dunes, overlooked by a ruined cliff-top castle. We sketched the approach across the beach, took soundings, and worked out the best place to anchor. We shared these notes with friends, and were flattered when they followed our directions and visited the same anchorages.

Since then we have always preferred the quaint to the convenient, the quiet to the cosmopolitan. Our cruises along the North Devon and Cornish coast became the subject of our first series for Practical Boat Owner. It was an area we knew intimately, and the articles were well received, but they taught us the importance of accuracy, especially with throwaway comments. Forgetting the existence of Cape Wrath, we wrote that Cape Cornwall was the only cape in the UK. Now we check, check, and check again at every stage.

Our summer cruises now had a purpose: to take photographs and explore every nook and cranny. So in 1983 we decided to set off on an extended cruise to the Mediterranean. We contacted Imrays to ask whether they would be interested in a pilot book and hoped they would agree to Yugoslavia. Our imagination had been fired by tales of my father’s exploits there during the Second World War. As a member of SOE (Special Operations Executive) he had parachuted into Yugoslavia to help the partisans, and had slipped in and out of the islands by fishing boat.

Imrays wanted examples of what we had written, a synopsis of what we proposed, and a sample section supported by sketches. This was sent off, and in due course we received a contract, but they also wanted us to cover the Adriatic coast of Italy, to link up with Rod Heikell’s Italian Waters Pilot. They arranged for British Admiralty charts and pilot for the Adriatic to be sent to us. We had an ancient copy of Denman’s guide to the area, some communist tourist brochures, and background information from my father, but we did not realise the enormity of the task we had undertaken. Between Montenegro in the south and Slovenia in the north there are hundreds of islands, with yet more on the Italian side.

We arrived in Yugoslavia with open minds, but were immediately bowled over by the stark beauty of the mountainous coast, and the clarity of the sea. After the affluence of Italy, the poverty of Yugoslavia was a shock. The rich variety of Italian markets was replaced by meagre offerings of a few peaches or sardines. In Montenegro we saw women dressed in Turkish garb, as well as holiday makers in modern clothes, and the universal black worn by the peasants. The use of the Cyrillic alphabet brought home to us that this was a remote part of Europe.

The port officials in Bar were friendly and helpful, and not what we expected from communists. Throughout our first visit to Yugoslavia the officials were always polite, but were reluctant to chat. The same was true of ordinary Yugoslavs. It was a constant reminder that this was a communist state and we were therefore discreet, keeping notebooks and sketches hidden, and avoiding photographing sensitive sites. In those days the sailing permit came with a list of prohibited areas, including the islands of Vis and Lastovo, which yachtsmen were not allowed to visit. Today most of these prohibited areas are open, and the authorities are helpful in providing information.

Besides the miles of coastline to explore, the logistics of everyday living were challenging. We were constrained by the weather, and the need for a secure anchorage at night. Stocking up on fresh food, water and fuel was not easy, particularly in the islands. Laundry had to be done by hand. In 1984 items such as Kodak slide film were difficult to obtain. We arranged for a supply to be sent to us from Scotland but, frustratingly, the authorities sent it back. Getting films processed was also difficult, so we started develop- ing and printing our own black and white films. This was tricky in the confines of the boat, but at least we got reasonable results. Today we use a digital camera, with the SLR camera as back up. The photographs are downloaded onto the laptop every day, so if the images are disappointing, it is easy to return to take replacements.

The initial survey of Yugoslav and Italian waters was intensive, starting at dawn and not finishing until dusk. We visited every anchorage, harbour and island, sketching approaches and taking notes, using a sextant and traditional leadline (our electronic one had died). Visits ashore were made to check up on the facilities, and we even tested taps to make sure they worked. We wanted our pilot to be based on our own experience and not on secondary sources of information, but we did use tourist information and guide- books when available to give us some background.