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A Wreck of a Vacation
On August 14, 1908, the Baron Gautsch, a passenger ferry owned by Austria's royal family, was on its way from Kotor to Trieste when it collided with an undersea mine and sank 12½ km (8 mi) from Rovinj, claiming 240 lives.
One person's tragedy often becomes—years, decades, or centuries later—another's vacation. This certainly holds true as regards the longstanding tradition of diving to shipwrecks, of which Istria's coastal waters hold several good examples. Almost 100 years later, the 85-meter-long, 12-meter-wide Baron Gautsch is considered one of the most beautiful dive sites in the world. With its upper deck at a depth of 28 meters, its lower deck at 36 meters, and its bottom at 42 meters, the site—now home to plenty of flora and fauna, including a whole lot of lobsters—caters to advanced divers while stirring the imaginations of many others.
From shipwrecks to caves and cliffs to coral reefs, Croatia has more than 85 officially registered dive sites. There are around a dozen other shipwrecks off the Istrian coast that make for popular dives. Near Novigrad lies the Corleanus, a suspected British spy ship that sank in 1945 after hitting a mine. And then there are the war ships Dezza, Rossarol, and Flamingo, as well as the ships Draga, Varese, Tihany, Rimorchiatore, Istra, Relitto Nuovo, Josephine, and John Gilmoure. Of course, Croatia's waters abound in shipwrecks well beyond Istria. For example, the waters off Krk Island are the resting place of the Peltasis, sunk in 1968 after smashing into rocks during a storm. At a depth of 7 to 32 meters, the ship is accessible to divers of all abilities.
Diving in Croatia is permitted to those in possession of a valid diving license issued by the Hrvatski ronilacki savez (Croatian Diving Association), which is good for one year and can be purchased for 100 Kn at authorized diving centers and clubs all along the coast. This permit allows you to dive only under the supervision of a diving center instructor. To dive alone, you must take this permit to a local Harbor Master's Office and pay a hefty 2,400 Kn. Permits are issued to those who hold a license or certificate from an internationally recognized diving school—including but not limited to the BSAC (British Sub-Aqua Club), CMAS (Conféderation Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques), and IANTD (International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers).
Although diving in Istria is possible year-round, optimal sea temperatures are to be enjoyed from May to November. Locations must be marked by orange or red buoys or flags (and, at night, fitted with a yellow or white light visible from 300 meters); the maximum allowable diving depth, when using a compressed-air cylinder, is 40 meters. Diving is prohibited in protected areas, including Brijuni National Park and Krka National Park.
Dive centers can be found in all the major destinations in Istria, including Porec and Rovinj.
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