Sailing in Croatia 2023

Written by Barbara Zuzarte-O’Grady

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Sailing has always been a passion of my husband, Glen, and myself and we’ve always seen the Ocean as our home. We’ve spent over a decade on sailboats such as Windancer – a 40-ft Wauquiez – and raced in numerous regattas on our ex Young 88 racing boat – ‘O’Blueyes’.

It’s this love for sailing that has led us to meet numerous like-minded enthusiasts from all over the world.

 

We first started sailing at Changi Sailing Club (CSC) and together with two mates, Gary and Aspiah, we ‘hatched’ the idea of a two-week sojourn to the Adriatic Sea and exploring Croatia.

With great enthusiasm, a deposit was made with Pitter Yacht Charter in January 2020 and plans were to set sail in May the same year.

Then Covid hit!

The world came to a standstill. Borders closed, countries went into lockdown and the wind was knocked out of our sails along with the dream of traversing the coast of Croatia. A refund was not an option but the good people at Pitter guaranteed that we would be able to continue with our plans as soon as borders were reopened.

Three years later, they held true to this promise!

Covid restrictions (blah!) became a distant memory, and our plans started to take wing… or should I say set sail! Our new departure date was confirmed for 29th April 2023 and would last two weeks. We were finally set for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure!

Although the ideal period to visit Croatia is usually mid-May through to early October – with the peak in August – we decided to beat the maddening summer crowds while still enjoying (fingers crossed) the beginning of the summer. Our gamble paid off with only a trickling of tourists making an appearance throughout the trip.

The expected average temperature in May is 15-22 degrees while the sea temperature would be from 15-18 degrees. Cold? (You think?)

Our vessel of choice for this escapade was a Nautitech 40 Catamaran – Rosa – consisting of four cabins and two heads. For an extra 50 Euros, we rented a Spinnaker as we felt “the need, the need for speed”. Apparently not many who chartered boats opt for a Spinnaker hence why the one we were given looked almost unused! We certainly took care of that and used it for most of our voyage!

Our crew was made up of Gary and Aspiah (speed demon sailors out of CSC on their Corsair Trimaran “Miss Visayan”), Dennis and Cheryl (owners of ‘Ohana’ – a 42 ft Hallberg-Rassy). Our good friends, Raya (an amazing sailor) and her German husband Wolfgang (some sailing experience) – from Mallorca – met us in Croatia at the start of our journey and stayed for the first week only. They then left us at the halfway and turning point in Dubrovnik and were replaced for the rest of the journey by Tonya from Canada (who enjoyed herself thoroughly at the helm) and Akiko from Japan (who ended up being the chef on the boat, constantly whipping up amazing meals for everyone). Both ladies being close friends of Gary and Aspiah.

It almost felt like a gathering of the United Nations with a truly international ‘cast’ of three Singaporeans, two Americans, an Aussie, two Germans, a Canadian and a Japanese.

The plan was to set to sail out of ACI Marina Trogir in Croatia (about 28km from Split) on the 29th of April 2023 and back at port two weeks later. We would meander towards Dubrovnik which would be the mid-point of our travels, drop Raya and Wolfy off, pick up Akiko and Tonya and head back the way we came.

Other than this planned route, we decided we would allow the ‘wind gods’ (with the help of maps of course) to take us where they saw fit.  All other ‘in between’ plans were agreed upon collectively over sunset drinks. We agreed to seek out calm and protected bays or marinas to anchor at every evening.

Pitter Yacht Charter was a very accommodating, helpful, and easy-going company to deal with. The only restriction they had was that we stayed in Croatian waters! (Darn, there goes our idea of sailing off to Italy and beyond). Little did we know that they actually tracked our movements and knew the exact route we took.

 “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the winds in your sails. Explore. Dream.  Discover.” – Mark Twain

 

Day 1

On the day of our day of departure, boarding ‘Rosa’ was set for 2pm. Preparation started off with a spree at the supermarkets to fill our victualing list (alcohol being of top importance… surprise surprise) and food enough for a few days as we intended to top up supplies en route. Victualing isn’t as easy as one might think and it’s never possible to stick to the list… but perhaps that’s part of the fun!

Two items were extremely difficult to find in Croatia – an ESKY and ICE. It seems ice isn’t something Croatians need during the colder months. How do they drink their rum (straight out of a bottle like Capt. Jack Sparrow?) and what about cocktails? Baffling! It took several trips through a dozen supermarkets before we finally got what we needed. Tragedy averted…phew!

The boys had discovered Croatian beer Karlovacko and that became their go-to thirst-quencher while the ladies were a little more experimental and tried a variety of Croatian wines and bubblies. I imagined when the boys got through them, beer shelves looked similar to the empty toilet rolls shelves during the peak of covid!

With everything stored neatly on board and each couple in their chosen cabins, we finally threw off the lines and left the marina at 4.30pm.  At the start, it was decided to motor to get a feel for the catamaran and when we were ready, we hoisted our main and self-tacking jib. Sailing at an average of 4-5 knots, everyone looked back and bid the marina goodbye as it got smaller and smaller over the horizon. And so, the adventure began!

“Now … bring me that horizon.” – Capt Jack Sparrow

Drvenik Veli Island is famously referred to as the ‘Blue Lagoon’ – not because of the movie, but because of the way silica (the lagoon’s iconic and most abundant element) reflects visible light when suspended in water. It was 10nm (nautical miles) from our start point and our first destination. It took us two hours to get there, and the sparkling blue hues and glass-like clarity of the surrounding waters was absolutely mesmerising and stunning!

Our first night saw us happily chatting over drinks and a delectable meal cooked up by our German friends – Dennis and Cheryl. This consisted of spargle (white asparagus to the uninitiated) white cream, pan fried ham and a fresh Croatian salad. The waters were tranquil and, although excitement was running high for what was ahead the next day, the gentle rocking of the boat and plenty of tipple made for a good night’s sleep.

It didn’t take long for routine to set in. Everyone had their quirks. Who would be the earliest to rise – Glen (annoyingly) held first place while I came in a close second. Who slept in little longer (ahem… Dennis and Cheryl). Who was insane enough to jump in the icy cold waters to wake up (Cheryl and Glen) and who would go the conventional route and just cradle a strong coffee, gaze at the ocean through sleepy eyes, and let the caffeine kick in.

Everyone took turns making coffee, cooking breakfast, lunch, or dinner, doing the dishes and storing everything away.

Glen was ‘unofficially’ the captain and Gary his first mate. If you’ve ever sailed with Gary, you know that he was constantly pottering around the boat. Tweaking, tightening, fixing, pulling ropes, travellers, blocks etc. It would be fair to say that we left Rosa in better condition than when we got her – even making a list of things to ‘fix’ or ‘change’ when we did the final handover.

Day 2

The next day, anchors were up at 9am and we headed for Vis – famed as one of the ten most unspoiled islands in the Mediterranean. It’s no wonder it was the chosen location for the filming of “Mamma Mia 2”. The beauty of the islands was heightened by the pod of frolicking dolphins off our bow! It was a sunny day with an average 20 degrees C, the wind was steady, so we hoisted the Spinnaker. There is something MAGICAL about gliding through turquoise waters with just the sound of waves below us and colourful billowing sails against the canvas of brilliant blue sky above.

The anchorage at Vis was very relaxing. This called for an evening of Liar’s Dice – a game of chance and deception known to be played by pirates – most notably by the crew of lost souls on Davy Jones’ ship the Flying Dutchman in the movie “The Pirates of the Caribbean”. If you are unfamiliar with this game, you haven’t really lived. It can be played with as many players as you like as long as there are enough dice – and rum – to go around.

Capt Jack Sparrow     : Why is the rum gone?

Elizabeth                     :  Because it is a vile drink that turns even the most respectable man        into scoundrels.

Capt Jack Sparrow     : But why is the rum gone?

Day 3

We made a beeline for Bisevo whose main attraction is the famous Blue Cave, which can only be accessed by rental boats. The best time of the day to explore the cave is at midday when the Sun’s rays pass through an underwater opening illuminating the cave in an eerie and almost unearthly bluish hue. Although we were looking forward to experiencing this phenomenon ourselves, our plans were thwarted by really choppy waters. A unanimous decision was made not to anchor there but our disappointment was soon forgotten as we sighted more dolphins on our way to Korcula Island for the night.

Day 4

After pulling up anchor and starting out, we begin to encounter choppy waters with one to two metre waves and 28knots (kts) winds. The forecast over VHF told us to expect winds of up to 35kts. Again, for the safety of the crew and craft, we decided to wait out the bad weather at another protected bay on the island of Scedro. It was an ideal time to paddle the tender to shore (outboard engine was not working) and explore the area while Gary took off to gather mussels for the evening’s meal!

Once on land, we met a friendly local lady named Eurena, who was busy building a cabin on a piece of land she recently purchased on the island. She helpfully gave us directions to the outlook located on the opposite side of the island and we started our track there.

We found the trail full of Rosemary bushes, prickly leaves, gorgeous wildflowers, and poppies before we came upon a lovely old church sitting atop the hill overlooking the picturesque bay.

When we got back to ‘Rosa’, we sat down to a lunch of Cevapcici sausage – grilled sausages made of a mixture of ground beef and pork seasoned with lots of garlic and paprika – traditional meal eaten in Croatia.

When it was safe enough to set sail again, we pulled anchor around 2pm and navigated over four hours of choppy waters before piloting into another protected bay at Prigradica, in the town of Korcula. As it was still off peak, we had a leisurely and uninterrupted walk by the shore and in town. Dinner that evening was a steaming pot of white wine mussels accompanied by crusty bread. Mother Nature decided to put on an enchanting light show of luminescent phosphorescence off the side of our catamaran which added to the euphoria everyone felt that evening.

One thing we learnt as a group traveling together is to chill out and go with the flow, especially when unforeseen changes come along. As we learnt, these can often lead to bigger adventures and awesome discoveries! Such an occasion happened when our malfunctioning outboard engine saw us having to pull into ACI Marina at Korcula for repairs. We did not plan to stay the night due to the steep cost – EUR 230 a night, but we did. It turned out to be the best decision of the trip.

After securing our boat, a handful of us hopped off to explore this enchanting island. It was gorgeous with a plethora of quaint restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops – some of us thinking it even outshone the town of Dubrovnik. Legend has it that renowned explorer, Marco Polo, was born in Korcula – when it was still a part of the Venetian republic. It is chronicled that he took part in the naval battle of Venice in 1298 where he was captured by Genoese army and imprisoned there. We came upon a tourist history board with a map and on it was written: “The journey of Marco Polo with his father and uncle to China 1271-1295”. The route on the map showed that he visited the Indonesian island of Bintan – a close neighbour of Singapore. Fascinating!

That evening we had dinner in a lovely “konoba” – authentic Croatian restaurant with traditional cuisine – and made sure we only ate local fresh catches of the day and Croatian salads while washing it all down with a delightful local Rose!

Although it is not a main tourist attraction, it is easy to fall in love with Korcula and we highly recommend a day or two exploring this island. In our eyes, it definitely boasted the best food and wine experiences of all the Croatian islands on our itinerary.

Day 5

With the tender issues fixed, we made ready to head to our next destination – Mljet Island, Polace. The sun was warm and bright and temperature for the day read 17 degrees C although it felt more like 20. The great winds meant we could hoist our sails immediately and when boat speed hit 8kts, we decided to reef the main. With winds of 25kts, we were flying through the waves. When we arrived, we decided to dock in front of Calypso Restaurant after a little ‘persuasion’ from waving staff from the restaurant.

It is common for the staff of each restaurant along the waterfront to wave you frantically over to moor in front of their establishment. If you favour them for a meal, you are rewarded with free water and electricity! So, unless you’ve done your homework on each eatery by the waters, and know which one to pick, one has zero expectation of the quality and pricing of that particular eating spot. I guess that is half the fun of discovery. In general, Croatia is relatively expensive when it comes to the food and drinks but who wants to stinge when on a once-in-a-lifetime voyage. So, we paid the price… pun intended!

After our meal, Gary, Aspiah, Raya and Wolfgang rented bikes and explored the island while Glen, Dennis, Cheryl, and I decided to test the waters – which was a perky 15 Degrees C. Brave or Insane? Haven’t quite made up my mind yet, but we could not linger too long for fear of going numb. It was definitely refreshing to say the least.

Day 6

The only way to describe Day 6 was perfect champagne sailing weather! Everything was ideal for sailing, and we flew the Spinnaker for six hours to the island of Lopud in the bay of Sunj. It was by far the most stunning day of our travels, and we stayed for the night in glassy smooth waters and discussed our day’s adventure over tipple and a good feed on board ‘Rosa’.

“Smell the sea and feel the sky. Let your soul and spirit fly.”

Van Morrison

Day 7

Today marked the mid-point of our holiday. We were finally heading towards the island of Dubrovnik. This scenic location was the setting for the cult series Game of Thrones and would also be the point where we would have a crew change.

On arrival we sailed back and forth along the coast to capture the gorgeous view of Dubrovnik from the water while loudly playing the theme song from “Game of Thrones” to add to the atmosphere. Corny perhaps, but no one complained! If you haven’t seen Game of Thrones, where the hell have you been?

After soaking in the amazing sights, we docked at Frapa Marina where we bid farewell to Raya and Wolfgang. Once the group was joined by Tonya and Akiko, we set about exploring our surrounds.

Dubrovnik is regarded as the most picturesque city on the Dalmatian coast and is referred to as the “Pearl of the Adriatic”. Its rich history, culture, stunning architecture, and picturesque landscapes made for many an exciting discussion over drinks at several quaint cafes and restaurants dotting the island.

The city’s Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its outstanding medieval architecture and fortified old town. Most visitors who have watched “Game of Thrones” make it a point to seek out the famous Jesuit church staircase as it was the spot where the scene of Cersei Lannister, walking down the steps naked, was shot.

The beautiful day ended on a high note with a sumptuous dinner and chatter before the crew called it a night.

Day 8

Our arrival at Kobas, a dock in the small coastal town of Ston, the whole crew was teeming with anticipation. The breath-taking beauty that greeted us as we pulled up in front of Niko Restaurant was heightened by its reputation for having some of the freshest oysters and mussels in Croatia!

Larger-than-lift owner, Niko, happily moved from table to table talking to customers and helping them with their orders while his super nice wife, Magda, was our very attentive and gorgeous server. Niko insisted (and we did not resist) that he would prepare a plethora of seafood for our dinner. We were served oysters and mussels freshly pulled out of the net, shucked, or cooked and served to us immediately. It could not have been any fresher if we had harvested them ourselves! We were recommended an excellent array of local wines and drinks to accompany our meal.

At the end of the evening, we were expecting the bill to shock BUT it turned out to be one of the cheaper meals we’ve had in Croatia. Restaurant Niko comes highly recommended by all.

 

Day 9 & 10

Before we departed today, Niko was kind enough to give us what little ice he had left to top up our Esky. We left promising him that we would let others know about his amazing restaurant by the water.

Tonya helmed most of the way and suffice to say, she deserved the ‘Captain of the Day’ tiara we made out of aluminium foil.

Although the day started with perfect Spinnaker weather and temperatures around 21 degrees C with an average speed of 6kts, VHF updates warned of bad weather approaching with wind speeds of 35-45kts topping at 55kts.

Safety being a priority, we took shelter at Lokva at Mljet and spent the night peacefully while the bad weather passed over.

With the myriad of small islands dotting our route, each offered interesting sights like the uninhabited Island of Saplun. It had a nice bay and we spotted goats grazing there and wondered how they got onto the island which seemed pretty desolate.

Day 11 and 12

Wednesday 10th July, Day 11, we woke to windy and overcast skies. We started off at 8am and sailed at an average of four to five knots. We headed for HvarStarigrad Marina – and chose to tie up there for the night so everyone could stretch their legs on shore. It was a relatively easy, chill out day.

The next morning the weather was no better. It poured down buckets! A decision was made to wait out the storm and when it let up to a drizzle, we set sail again and conditions cleared enough for us to fly the Spinnaker. We reached the bay at BRAC at 2:30pm. On arrival we booked a bow and stern mooring buoy for EUR 60 facilitated by a nice gentleman who seemed to appear out of nowhere in his tender to help us and collect the fee.

The bay was gorgeous and waters, pristine! We enjoyed a fantastic sunset and sat on deck on the trampoline and chatted over drinks and dinner.

Day 13

Time flies when you’re having fun and it was the dawn on the last day of our sojourn around Croatia. The gods decided to throw every manner of weather at us today. Almost like a last Hurrah! – sunshine, cloudy skies, chilly winds, big fat raindrops, slight drizzle etc… The temperature evened out to a pleasant 19 – 20 degrees C as we headed back to Trogir Marina. The plan was to sail past Old Town Split for a final au revoir. The sea enroute was quite rough with white caps and with Aspiah on the helm, she took us up to 9kts (a record during this journey).

With all smooth sailing over the two weeks, the biggest drama was to be found at, of all places, the refuelling dock!

The wind was blowing boats against the dock where vessels were expected to do the normal “stern into dock”. There was a 15kts crosswind, and we managed to wrangle our boat in with a little help from the staff. Then we spent the rest of the time protecting our craft from others – many of which were million-dollar vessels – coming in fast and furious from all sides. One monohull went sideways and almost took our bow sprit off. If not for the quick action of Dennis who managed to protect Rosa with a fender and pushed the mono-hull off with his hands thus avoiding a disaster. Mooring lines were snagged. Boats were being pulled in wrong directions. Vessels were in places they were not supposed to be. Screaming staff with colouful language could be heard in every corner… what a shemozzle!

During one of our many conversations, we learned a German word from Dennis – Hafenkeno – which literally translates to “harbour cinema”. One would sit on their boat already anchored, with drinks in hand and watch others struggle to moor or anchor as if watching a movie, commenting and enjoying the scene that unfolded.. At this point, however, we were all actors in the HafenKeno, ensuring that we refuelled safely and without damage.

But all’s well that ends well. We managed to top up our fuel for the rental and discovered we used only half of the 400 Litre fuel we started with. We arrived at Trogir Marina around 3pm and were greeted with a record 27 degrees C – the hottest day in two weeks.

A staff from Pitter yacht charter came on board to settle the paperwork while a diver checked under the boat, as they do with all charters. A conversation overheard nearby – Diver: Where is your anchor? Charterer: Oh! We dropped it.

Sounded like they had more interesting tales to tell!

We finally disembarked Rosa at 6pm and headed to our accommodations in Old Town Split but not before making plans to meet up for dinner and drinks that evening.

One more wonderful surprise lay in wait on this last day! Glen and I spent the afternoon strolling through the farmers market in town when we ran into Choy from CSC and his wife Nicole! Small world indeed! They had spent the last week sailing around Croatia and although we knew they were sailing in vicinity, we did not expect to bump into them. So, the last meet with everyone, including Choy and Nicole, was indeed an evening of great camaraderie… each sharing stories of a voyage we would all soon not forget!

“The sea, once it casts it’s spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever” – Jacques Cousteau

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