ONE YACHT, TWO HULLS, FOUR CHILDREN AND SEVEN STUNNING CROATIAN ISLANDS MADE FOR THE IDEAL WAY TO TURN 40. TOBY HODGES REAPS THE PRE-SEASON REWARDS OF A BAREBOAT CHARTER FROM SPLIT
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.
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…
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
‘I FELT THE WEIGHT OF WORK, TRAVEL AND LOGISTICS FALLING AWAY’
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
‘WE HAD FOUND OUR PEACEFUL SLICE OF HEAVEN’
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.
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