CRUIS­ING CROA­TIA

Go for the his­tory, stay for ev­ery­thing else

SAIL - - March 2018 Vol 49, Issue 3 - Story and pho­tos by Zuzana Proc­hazka

Mix­ing char­ter­ing and cul­ture: the spec­tac­u­lar Croa­t­ian coast can be en­joyed for its rich his­tory as well as its posh present-day vibe

Heaps of his­tory—that’s not usu­ally what comes to mind when you plan a sail­ing char­ter, but if you like a bit of cul­ture mixed with your cruis­ing, Croa­tia is the place to go. Caught be­tween two worlds, (the white­washed laid back vibe of the Mediter­ranean and the brash de­meanor of Balkan Eastern Europe) Croa­tia is a par­adise with mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties. Add in great cui­sine and wine, a few UN­ESCO sites, more is­lands than you can count along the Adri­atic coast and fair winds, and you have a sail­ing va­ca­tion that will make you not want to leave—ever. Granted, fly­ing into the city of Split isn’t ex­actly con­ve­nient from most places in the United States. But once there, it’ll be worth the trou­ble, I prom­ise. In fact, be­fore set­ting sail we made a point of tak­ing some time to ex­plore the old town sec­tion, which I hadn’t vis­ited since my child­hood.

The first stop was Dio­cle­tian’s Palace, less a palace and more like half the old town it­self. A UN­ESCO Her­itage Site, the palace was built by a fourth-century Ro­man Em­peror, but was re­pur­posed by sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions and now is a mix of ar­chi­tec­tures from sev­eral cen­turies. Stand­ing in the peri­style, you can see ev­i­dence of the many civ­i­liza­tions that passed through here from an­tiq­uity on. Neo­clas­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture mixes with the walls of the tem­ple of Jupiter on one side and the Cathe­dral of St. Dom­nius on the other. In the mid­dle are Egyp­tian gran­ite columns and even a sphinx. Point your cam­era any­where, and you’re bound to cap­ture cen­turies of his­tory in a sin­gle snap­shot.

Hav­ing ar­ranged our char­ter with Nav­i­gare Yacht­ing, one of the world’s lead­ing char­ter op­er­a­tors and pre­sum­ably the largest in the Mediter­ranean, we even­tu­ally made our way to the me­dieval town of Tro­gir (an­other UN­ESCO site), just 20 miles away near their base. This is the main de­par­ture point for many Dal­ma­tian Coast char­ters as boats me­an­der through the lo­cal is­lands, some reach­ing as far south as Dubrovink (yup, an­other UN­ESCO mas­ter­piece).

The sheer num­ber of masts in the mul­ti­ple mari­nas near Tro­gir makes even the big­gest Caribbean base look small, and given the num­ber of yachts Nav­i­gare turns over, they run a spec­tac­u­larly ef­fi­cient and friendly ser­vice. That said, since all char­ters start and end on Satur­day, it was pan­de­mo­nium by the time we ar­rived. So after se­cur­ing what seemed to be one of only three dock carts in the en­tire ma­rina, we stowed our pro­vi­sions and lug­gage and headed out to ex­plore.

Strolling along Tro­gir’s water­front, you’ll find the ever-present gulets (lo­cal tourist barges) stacked three and four deep on the quays. These gi­ant boats are float­ing power­boat plea­sure palaces where pro­fes­sional

crews pro­vide ev­ery­thing from lo­cal knowl­edge to excellent cui­sine. They’re a ubiq­ui­tous sight around the Adri­atic—but don’t get stuck be­hind one at the fuel dock as they pump 300 gal­lons at a time.

Our one-week itin­er­ary was am­bi­tious, in­clud­ing nine des­ti­na­tions on five is­lands, with our first stop be­ing Vis Town (on Vis Is­land) where we tied up Med-moor-style to the wall. Bunched in tight, with fend­ers squeak­ing against neigh­bor­ing boats, we toasted our ar­rival and ven­tured out to ar­range a taxi for the next day’s trip to Komiza, a charm­ing fish­ing vil­lage on the other side of the is­land. Our sub­se­quent ex­cur­sion was worth ev­ery Croa­t­ian kuna, as our guide was a bit of a World War II buff who ex­ulted in show­ing us ev­ery par­ti­san cave and hiding spot on the is­land. We even fin­ished up with a wine and olive oil tast­ing—not your av­er­age char­ter out­ing.

After that we set course for Bisovo, a small is­land to the west of Vis and home of Mo­dra Spilja (Blue Cave). Ar­riv­ing in the crowded har­bor, we caught a moor­ing and waited our turn to board a skiff, which is the only way to en­ter the blue cave—no dinghies al­lowed. With­out so much as a “Duck!” our driver gunned the out­board and jammed the small boat, loaded to the gun­wales with sun­burned tourists, into the cave and cut the power. From there, propul­sion was only via a long pole, Ital­ian gon­dola style. In­side, ev­ery­thing glowed a bril­liant blue, the re­sult of the am­bi­ent light bounc­ing off the white sand be­low. It was beau­ti­ful but brief, and was fol­lowed by an equally un­nerv­ing egress via the same small hole.

Next we headed east (be­cause we had re­ceived no chart brief­ing, seemingly some­what stan­dard here, we were pick­ing our ports of call care­fully) around Vis to the Pakelni Otoci—loosely trans­lated as Hell Is­lands, although there’s noth­ing hellish about this string of islets that clearly serve as the get­away hotspot for lo­cal yachties. Wa­ter toys and bars lit­tered the beaches, and the var­i­ous coves formed great wind­breaks where to en­joy a sun­downer, sur­rounded by nat­u­ral beauty with no city in sight.

Next morn­ing we ducked around the cor­ner to Hvar Town on the is­land of Hvar, a bustling com­mu­nity of cafes and chic clien­tele chauf­feured around on six-fig­ure ten­ders be­long­ing to nine-fig­ure su­pery­achts. A des­ti­na­tion of the glit­terati, Hvar har­bor is where Onas­sis-type yachts rub el­bows with hum­ble lo­cal fish­ing craft and ev­ery kind of sail and power­boat in be­tween. We also checked out Stary Grad (Old City) on the north­ern shore of the is­land, which is much less glitzy than Hvar and ex­udes an Old World charm with mod­ern ameni­ties. No longer a part of the dour Eastern Bloc,

Croa­t­ians make excellent en­trepreneurs, cap­i­tal­iz­ing on ev­ery cor­ner of Stary Grad. Each nook and cranny houses a quaint café or gourmet food shop that would make Napa Val­ley food­ies en­vi­ous.

As a side note, our Jean­neau Sun Odyssey 439 seemed to serve as a mag­net for uber-com­pet­i­tive Euro­pean sailors. As soon as we ap­peared over the hori­zon, a tack­ing duel would in­evitably break out—why ex­actly I’m not sure, but given the cal­iber of sailors aboard, we fared well ev­ery time. Be­cause the winds were amenable and the dis­tances just long enough, we ac­tu­ally did quite a bit of real sail­ing, which is an­other thing that of­ten goes miss­ing on a sail­ing char­ter.

By this time, we had be­gun con­grat­u­lat­ing our­selves on our out­stand­ing itin­er­ary, think­ing we were gifted in pick­ing our spots, with each town more beau­ti­ful than the last. How­ever, as the trip con­tin­ued and we pulled into Milna on Brac Is­land and Maslin­ica on Solta Is­land, we re­al­ized that it wasn’t so much our in­ven­tive itin­er­ary that made each town spec­tac­u­lar, but the fact that each town quite sim­ply is spec­tac­u­lar. In Croa­tia it seems, you just can’t drop an­chor in any­thing but a stun­ning har­bor with a splen­did town un­der strik­ing cliffs.

Be­yond that, the food and wine are excellent in Croa­tia. Along the Adri­atic, the choice was usu­ally fish paired with a lo­cal white wine. Ev­ery menu fea­tured the Croa­t­ian na­tional spe­cialty, ce­vap­cici, skin­less fin­ger­ling sausages made of minced pork, beef and lamb, eaten for break­fast, lunch or din­ner with just about any­thing from eggs to French fries. Due to the nu­mer­ous towns, pro­vi­sion­ing was easy and fre­quent.

Croa­tia also does a swift busi­ness in laven­der, and pur­ple bun­dles of the stuff hang at ev­ery tourist kiosk. You can buy laven­der scented soap, oil, per­fume, tea and even candy. It makes great gifts as does jew­elry made of the lo­cal pol­ished white gran­ite that seems ever-present in the dry moun­tains.

THE HU­MOR­OUS

For those who sail by the book, be warned: Croa­tia is the Wild West on the wa­ter. Right-of-way rules are mainly driven by testos­terone and horse­power. Keep a good look­out be­cause these guys would rather col­lide than lose face, es­pe­cially if there’s a woman at the helm. Don’t be sur­prised to see a boat try to race you to the quay and even bump you out of the way as you’re back­ing up with fend­ers out to Med-moor.

Then there’s “The Yacht Week” a mind­bog­gling mar­ket­ing phe­nom­e­non that is not just a week, but a jam­boree that lasts all sum­mer long. Man-bun-tot­ing hip­sters in tiny swimsuits (worn by both gen­ders) group to­gether on char­tered ves­sels and get around, of­ten ine­bri­ated by mid­day, with the help of paid skip­pers. This in­ter­na­tional sail­ing odyssey of 20- and 30-some­things serves as a re­lent­less on­slaught on both vis­i­tors and lo­cals, as they party their way from town to town. When­ever we spot­ted any of the long “The Yacht Week” ban­ners fly­ing from back­stays or stick­ers em­bla­zoned on hulls, we picked up and went else­where. That said, I must ad­mit, they make for spec­tac­u­lar peo­ple-watch­ing.

Speak­ing of peo­ple watch­ing—don’t. Although there are des­ig­nated nud­ist beaches in Croa­tia, they can’t seem to con­tain free-spir­ited Euro­peans. Mod­esty rules don’t ap­ply to any­one on a yacht, es­pe­cially if fly­ing a French or Ger­man flag. There is no short­age of in­di­vid­u­als blow­ing in the breeze, so if you’re of a del­i­cate na­ture, stay be­low in the early morn­ings and late af­ter­noons when the spir­its seem un­usu­ally free.

Fi­nally, there’s the lan­guage. Be­ing of Eastern Euro­pean de­scent, I found Croa­t­ian to be de­ci­pher­able. How­ever, for many, the lo­cal sig­nage is sec­ond only to Greek for be­ing com­pletely use­less. Eastern Euro­peans have an affin­ity for con­so­nants, and some is­land names (like Krk) have no vow­els at all. Add to that a bounty of ac­cent marks and plu­ral and possessive word end­ings that change the spelling of a word com­pletely, and most An­glo­phones are lost.

That said, Croa­t­ians love to prac­tice their English and will go out of their way to help you, es­pe­cially if you look par­tic­u­larly lost. English is spo­ken in most restau­rants and shops, so you’re safe there and a smile and some hu­mor will get your through the rest.

A WEEK ISN’T ENOUGH

Even with nine is­lands cov­ered, we barely made a dent into all that the Dal­ma­tian Coast has to of­fer. We would have needed two weeks on a one way char­ter to re­ally cover the ter­ri­tory down to Dubrovnik where even more his­tory awaited and that’s as­sum­ing we wouldn’t have been dis­tracted by the food, wine, and more excellent sail­ing along the way. All this made me want to re­turn, or better yet, to never leave. s

Stalls packed with all things laven­der grace the squares at ev­ery stop (left); the cave of Mo­dra Spilja is worth the blue am­bi­ence, de­spite the nail-bit­ing en­try (cen­ter); ev­ery nook and cranny on the Croa­t­ian coast hides a restau­rant, cafe or lounge that will make you for­get about your watch (right)

Beau­ti­ful Hvar Town has a busy har­bor, so get­ting a moor­ing is a mat­ter of great luck (be­low); the view from the fort in Hvar over­looks the nearby Pakelni Otoci is­lands (op­po­site)

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