Dal­ma­tian down­time


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One yacht, two hulls, four chil­dren and seven stun­ning Croa­t­ian is­lands – Toby Hodges char­ters a bare­boat from Split

Stretch­ing, des­per­ately reach­ing, hold­ing a long warp at arm’s length while try­ing to re­tain my balance, I felt a fa­mil­iar sharp twinge shoot down the base of my spine. I’d been here be­fore: it was my body warn­ing me I was on the brink of over­do­ing it and trig­ger­ing the pro­tec­tive mus­cles sur­round­ing my spine into spasm.

It forced me to stop, take stock and smile rue­fully at the sit­u­a­tion. It was dark, my wife was be­low decks with the kids, bliss­fully un­aware I was float­ing nearby on an in­flat­able pad­dle­board at­tempt­ing to get a stern line around an urchin-in­fested rock, hav­ing fi­nally found that se­cluded an­chor­age we had dreamt about on our Croa­t­ian char­ter.

Would they hear my pitiful wails? Would I re­main paral­ysed like this for the night?

No, that wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen. We’d worked too hard to al­low this ideal hol­i­day be marred by a mo­ment’s mid­dleaged stu­pid­ity. Rock fi­nally las­soed, I made it back to the boat, re­lieved I still had some mo­bil­ity.

The en­joy­ment of a sail­ing hol­i­day of­ten hangs on such key mo­ments and de­ci­sions. We’d planned our week away around keep­ing things sim­ple, try­ing to en­sure it would be a mem­o­rable time afloat for all the right rea­sons. But sail­ing al­ways finds a way of throw­ing up chal­lenges.

The goal

My wife and I planned this bare­boat char­ter to cel­e­brate our joint 40th birth­days. We were look­ing for pris­tine an­chor­ages with invit­ing wa­ter for our two young daugh­ters (three and six) who are learn­ing to swim.

With the abun­dance of is­lands pep­per­ing its fa­mous Dal­ma­tian coast­line, a re­li­able sum­mer cli­mate, and reg­u­lar, eco­nom­i­cal and easy flight con­nec­tions, char­ter­ing from Split topped our wish­list.

A stress-free hol­i­day, in fact, with no am­bi­tious sail­ing en­deav­our, was what we wanted – a prime rea­son why cata­ma­ran char­ter has be­come so pop­u­lar. We had an­other fam­ily join­ing us half­way through the week, so with four kids un­der the age of seven, the non-heel­ing liv­ing and deck space of a cata­ma­ran were ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits.

Our Moor­ings 4800 also pro­vided the pri­vacy of hav­ing one hull per fam­ily, the abil­ity to carry a large ten­der for get­ting ashore and shal­low draught for an­chor­ing off beaches. Its dis­ad­van­tages only be­came clear much later…

Speedy exit

Agana is The Moor­ings and Sun­sail base for Split, an easy 20-minute trans­fer from the air­port, in a vil­lage called (rather con­fus­ingly) Ma­rina. The ma­rina it­self is welle­quipped, in­clud­ing a good restau­rant and two su­per­mar­kets within walk­ing dis­tance.

The Moor­ings pro­vides a slick trans­fer fol­lowed by a su­perb area brief­ing, which we found par­tic­u­larly help­ful as we hadn’t at that stage de­cided if we wanted to tour the is­lands to the south or north. Cus­tomer ser­vice man­ager Mirna Jakši’s strong sug­ges­tion to stay south to the closer net­work of is­lands, which are all short hops apart, re­ally helped. As did mak­ing a plan for the first three days – an itin­er­ary that would fac­tor in the ar­rival of our friends. It was de­cided they should catch a ferry and meet us in

Hvar, a mid­way point of a fairly se­date tour of the in­hab­ited is­lands.

While many char­ter­ers stay in the ma­rina on their first night to fa­mil­iarise them­selves more with the boat or await crew, we were itch­ing to start our trip and to be able to wake up and swim off the boat. As we mo­tored away from the ma­rina in the early evening, I knew we’d made the right call as I felt the weight of work, travel, and lo­gis­tics fall­ing away. The joy of be­ing back afloat, with no fixed agenda, my fam­ily sit­ting next to me on the helm seat as we headed into the set­ting sun, was price­less.

Those first few days were de­light­fully easy­go­ing, in keep­ing with our wish to make our chil­dren’s jour­ney into sail­ing as en­joy­able as pos­si­ble. Some gen­tle sails fol­lowed by a pretty and safe an­chor­age where we could en­joy the Adri­atic’s fa­mously clear swim­ming wa­ters be­came our grail.

Leav­ing Sicenica (‘c’ pro­nounced ‘tcher’) we hoisted sail for the gen­tle pot­ter around Dr­venik Is­land to sam­ple some snorkelling in the iri­des­cent wa­ters of its ‘Blue La­goon’ an­chor­age. It was a taste of what these Croa­t­ian Is­lands must be like in mid sum­mer: packed. The Moor­ings had armed us with in­for­ma­tion about how to pre-book moor­ings and mari­nas. I un­der­stand that is a must-do in July/ Au­gust, but it was late May and we chose to try our luck ex­plor­ing and iden­ti­fy­ing our own qui­eter spots.

Cross­ing to the is­land of Solta, we pulled into the shel­tered in­let of Se­sula, where there’s a choice to an­chor at the head of the creek or take a moor­ing buoy from the two res­tau­rants on the un­der­stand­ing


you’ll eat there. We found it good value when fac­tor­ing in our de­li­cious fresh fish meal at Se­sula Restau­rant.

The dock mas­ter here – the laid back type who stands while op­er­at­ing the out­board, and has a cig­a­rette glued to lips – had a novel tech­nique. He di­rected us to mo­tor in bows-first, put a sin­gle dock line on the bow cleat and told me to spin the yacht around be­fore putting the same line on the aft cleat. “No prob­lem!” he then de­clared, a state­ment I soon dis­agreed with when we started drift­ing into a fish­ing boat. And it was while try­ing to put more ten­sion on said line around the cleat that I felt the first twinges in my back.

When the spasms be­gan I mor­phed into the ar­che­typal bad-tem­pered Bri­tish hol­i­day­maker. “So this is what it’s like be­ing 40 then?” Thank­fully, the weather stayed calm with light breeze un­til the Edie fam­ily ar­rived with back-up painkillers, but it was the restora­tive ef­fects of the wa­ter and coast­line that helped most.

An­other prime ben­e­fit of a large cata­ma­ran is the deck space. With our fly­bridge and tram­po­line now dou­bling as a makeshift yoga stu­dio, El­y­see at­tracted nu­mer­ous in­quis­i­tive looks.

We hugged the south coast of Solta, spell­bound by the bril­liant blue seas, crossed the busy Split chan­nel, and moved onto Brac, an is­land renowned for its olive oil and white stone, the lat­ter used to build the White House.

I have an in­ces­sant de­sire to scope out each and ev­ery cove or har­bour, so I don’t feel I’m miss­ing that ‘per­fect spot’, an annoying trait that was re­warded on Brac by chanc­ing upon a stun­ning cove called Sm­rka. Near the en­trance is a tow­er­ing bunker, an un­nerv­ing, aban­doned sub­ma­rine pen, a relic of Yu­goslavia’s Cold

War era. We dropped an­chor in a pool of pris­tine


wa­ter, a truly tran­quil spot by a derelict villa and vine­yard.

Why is it that when you nes­tle into a tight spot, the wind blows from the op­po­site di­rec­tion to the fore­cast? That’s why it was that evening, as I was try­ing to put a long line ashore to keep us from swing­ing, that I had my test­ing mo­ment on the pad­dle­board.

New ar­rivals

Cross­ing south to Hvar to meet our friends, we pot­tered gen­tly down­wind to Stari Grad, the port where most fer­ries from the main­land ar­rive at Hvar. We’d booked a berth on the har­bour wall af­ter be­ing warned it was the third busiest quay in Croa­tia. How­ever we still had to hold sta­tion mid-chan­nel for a nerve-wrack­ing half an hour be­fore be­ing di­rected to slot our prodi­gious beam be­tween two mono­hulls with wide-eyed skip­pers. Mid-sum­mer must be a bun fight!

Stari Grad is a charm­ing town, the oldest set­tle­ment in the Adri­atic, and we stayed along­side to re­pro­vi­sion un­til we met a weary Edie fam­ily off the ferry. We gave them the choice of whether to stay for a night in the town, but the ap­peal of an an­chor­age proved too strong. As we got un­der way, I watched the stress of 12 hours of trav­el­ling with young chil­dren melt off Tom and An­to­nia.

There are a va­ri­ety of al­lur­ing coves at Luka Tiha, in the pro­tected part to the north-west of the Stari Grad gulf. It’s moor­ing buoys only, and al­though the kn380 (£45) charge seems punchy, it helps main­tain the crys­tal wa­ters around this UN­ESCO con­ser­va­tion site. Need­less to say all eight of us were in the wa­ter in sec­onds. In fact, from then on, the wa­ter toys were al­ways in play and the laugh­ter rarely stopped.

A kindly breeze coaxed us gen­tly around the is­land’s west­ern penin­sula the fol­low­ing morn­ing, re­ward­ing our de­ci­sion to visit Hvar Town on the south coast. Known as the Saint Tropez of Croa­tia, this pic­ture post­card town has a rep­u­ta­tion for its cui­sine and nightlife. Ap­par­ently, in the height of sum­mer you need to be there by 1000 to get a berth, yet, de­spite the hus­tle and bus­tle of the town quay, an­chor­ing up and tak­ing the ten­der into the old town went de­light­fully smoothly. Pre-kids, we four adults would have stayed that night to sam­ple the bars in a heart­beat.

The small neigh­bour­ing is­land of St Kle­ment, es­pe­cially around the ma­rina at Palmizana, is where the mon­eyed, trendy types hang out and the party re­port­edly never stops. It is stun­ning, with an ex­clu­sive Cote D’azur feel, and it is easy to get a wa­ter taxi into the nightlife of Hvar. Need­less to say, it was off-puttingly busy for us ‘oldies’ so we con­tin­ued west a lit­tle and chanced upon a mo­lar­shaped in­let. The closer we got to shore the more ap­peal­ing it be­came… and it was empty.

The wa­ter was clear enough to pick our spot 3m be­low to drop the an­chor, reverse and get a long line ashore to hog the best part of the cove. Only a mile or so from the busiest area, we had found our peace­ful slice of heaven, an idyl­lic horse­shoe cove with azure wa­ters and a small white stone beach. We were made-up.

The shim­mer­ing, clear wa­ter around these is­lands is what makes swim­ming so ap­peal­ing. The tem­per­a­ture was ideal – no need for a wet­suit yet per­fect for cool­ing off. It’s so trans­par­ent that I dis­tinctly re­mem­ber div­ing down and be­ing able to see the re­flec­tion of the seabed on the wa­ter’s sur­face on my way back up.

Ger­man towel men­tal­ity

Head­ing west to Vis the fol­low­ing day, I couldn’t help but com­pare the de­sire to find the next top spot with the rep­u­ta­tion Germans have for putting their tow­els out early on ho­tel sun loungers.

We found our­selves weigh­ing up how long to re­lax for, how much to sail and when to en­gage en­gines to en­sure we found a good po­si­tion for the night.

Vis has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a sailor’s par­adise, and is home to some fine tra­di­tional peka (slow cooked casserole) res­tau­rants. Af­ter a short flyby of Vis Town, we sailed around to the south of the is­land.

Our cove ex­plo­rations were now ac­com­pa­nied by the crew lin­ing the fore­deck, Dis­ney’s Moana sound­track blar­ing out of the deck speak­ers as the kids em­u­lated their Poly­ne­sian ex­plorer idols.

Drawn in by its ap­peal­ing buoys off Di­a­mond Beach, we fi­nally set­tled on Rukavac. There is a great beach, bar and restau­rant set-up here, in­clud­ing a float­ing ped­alo with slide, which proved a high­light for some. But a word of warn­ing: the food prices cer­tainly make up for the moor­ing fees.

The weather had been so calm and our route had al­most cho­sen it­self with the need to be in Hvar

half­way through the week. But it was now the last day and we had the long­est pas­sage yet left to make – El­y­see had to be back in Ma­rina by 0800 the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

We had been long­ing for a de­cent sail and the wind was fore­cast to give us a close reach the 20 miles or so back to the main­land, ideal to gen­er­ate the ap­par­ent wind we’d been lack­ing thus far. What we hadn’t counted on were the short, sharp waves…

Af­ter a morn­ing spent wan­der­ing the nar­row, cob­bled streets in the beau­ti­ful old town of Komiza on the west coast of Vis – some­where we’d love to re­turn to spend more time ex­plor­ing – we put out to sea. Here was the mo­ment I’d been look­ing for­ward to, but as we cleared the head­land the cross-waves set in and the boat be­gan to slam. Emo­tions turned from ex­cite­ment to anx­i­ety in a heart­beat, as we started to ex­pe­ri­ence the awk­ward twist­ing mo­tion cats are known for.

Cut­ting up rough

My fel­low crewmem­bers were all soon in­ca­pac­i­tated in one way or an­other, with par­ents look­ing af­ter chil­dren while try­ing not to look green. Al­though the con­di­tions were not threat­en­ing in any way, the worst part was the noise, the harsh creak­ing of the goose­neck and the bang­ing of cut­lery, glasses and crock­ery. These gal­ley items were all stowed loosely in lock­ers, ob­vi­ously with a pre­sump­tion that this bare­boat cat won’t be sailed in waves. Were we los­ing the pre­cious con­fi­dence we’d built-up in the kids in a mat­ter of min­utes?

Sail­ing in 17-20 knots, I at­tempted to im­prove the mo­tion by try­ing var­i­ous dif­fer­ent an­gles and sail con­fig­u­ra­tions, with and with­out the en­gine. With a reef tucked in the main and with ev­ery­one set­tled or sleep­ing in their berths, El­y­see fi­nally found her groove as the wave pe­riod smoothed a lit­tle. The re­lief! I re­laxed and en­joyed what turned into a crack­ing sail as we fetched at over eight knots on the per­fect head­ing to our se­lected an­chor­age.

As we reached more pro­tected wa­ters, the mu­sic came on and all hands were back on deck to rel­ish the fi­nal stretch into Solin­ska, Drevnik. I felt like cel­e­brat­ing a proper pas­sage af­ter only a few hours of sunny sail­ing. ■

The les­son learned, as al­ways, is never sail to a sched­ule if you can avoid it. Vis is the fur­thest in­hab­ited is­land from the main­land, so, ar­guably, leav­ing the long­est pas­sage un­til the last day wasn’t sen­si­ble. We had been warned that the weather changes very quickly in Croa­tia and fre­quently mon­i­tored the fore­casts, but it was the wave pat­tern rather than the wind that caught us out.

How­ever, that fi­nal pas­sage failed to tar­nish a truly mem­o­rable week. The last­ing mem­o­ries are of the count­less care­free laughs, kids’ teas and ice-cold beers in the sun-drenched for­ward cock­pit, stories on the tram­po­line, the tire­less en­thu­si­asm and en­joy­ment of swim­ming off the tran­soms and, yes, that mes­meris­ing wa­ter.

Spend­ing more time ashore ex­plor­ing is rec­om­mended and some­thing we want to re­turn to do in the fu­ture.

How­ever, af­ter the char­ter, we stayed for an ex­tra week­end in an Airbnb rental on Tro­gir is­land to im­merse our­selves more closely in the cul­ture and food, to take ad­van­tage of cheaper flight times/days – and to rest up my (40-year-old) back.

A sur­prise cake, baloons and up­grade from The Moor­ings on ar­rival

Left: thumbs up to kids’ teas in py­ja­mas in the for­ward cock­pit. Right: tran­quil­ity at Sm­rka, Brac

Pad­dle­boards are an es­sen­tial op­tion for fam­ily fun at an­chor

The beau­ti­ful old town of Komiza on the is­land of Vis.Right: a ‘Moana’ mo­ment

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