Croatia: All at sea
WE were all sailing virgins. Telling the difference between port and starboard was a feat for us. This yachting holiday was to be a learning curve, an adventure and, I am pleased to say, a laugh.
We left British shores as six strangers, split into two crews on a flotilla holiday across the azure waters of Croatia's spectacular coast. We returned as friends who had learnt a bit about sailing.
With a skipper on board, an optional extra for beginners, even we rank novices had the chance to be sailors - it was the kind of trip where you live and learn as you go along.
As we took to the waves the main determining factors were the weather, our starting point and what we wanted to see. All the boats left at different times and the only rule was that we arrived at a certain marina by a certain time.
Once we had figured out that Blue Lagoon was our lead boat, there was no obligation to follow her. Our briefing consisted of an equipment break-down, emergency procedures and explanation of how to use the toilets. Each day there were tips on the rocky bits to avoid and the hotspots to moor for a dip, but ultimately where we did any of this was up to us.
Croatia is as beautiful as everyone says. Most people speak English and the food, particularly the fresh fish, is great.
We were on a tour of the magical, little-inhabited Kornati archipelago, complete with ports that looked like they had jumped out of a postcard. "It is probably what the rest of the Mediterranean was like before being flooded with tourists," was an oft-repeated phrase.
We started from Biograd. I was on a 39ft yacht, one of three women, accompanied by our skipper Dalibor. He was a former Croatian ice hockey international and a skilled yachtsman whose knowledge appeared to have no limit.
Our home for the week was a Beneteau Oceanis 373 cruiser. Comforts and necessities included a VHF/DSC radio, Navtex weather system, stereo/CD player with saloon and cockpit speakers, 12v "cigar lighter" power socket, autopilot, colour chart-plotter/GPS in cockpit, pressurised hot and cold water, 240v shore power system, a large fridge, cabin fans, a built-in cockpit table, fitted swimming ladder, bathing platform, deck shower and a dinghy with an outboard motor.Queasy
Bit by bit we learned how to get the sails up and how to get the most out of them. The gentle lapping of the waves against the hull quickly turned into a distant memory on the second day - powerful gusts made it a harsh test of new-found sailing skills. At one point the boat, counter-balanced so it never flips over, was at a 45 degree angle. One of our crew had thrown up, another (me) felt distinctly queasy and the third was just keeping it together.
Dalibor, who we had known for less than 24 hours, simply skipped across the boat and sorted everything out almost single-handedly.
Two days of free sailing saw our group split from the rest of the flotilla and spend the night moored on anchor at the village of Vrulje. A short dinghy ride took us to a rustic shoreline restaurant in a cove where we scoffed a gorgeous swordfish dinner. Our alarm call next morning was the sound of braying wild donkeys.
Uncannily, our two crews reflected the wide-ranging characters who are game for this sort of sailing holiday. There was the would-be sailing geek, with little experience but plenty of knowledge who was willing to try everything. There were the landlubbers, who just wanted to try it out.
There were those who had sailed before - and forgotten everything. And then there were also those who were just along on a bikini ride.FACTFILE:
Helen Williams travelled to Croatia as a guest of Sunsail Clubs and Flotillas, which offers seven nights on board a Sunsail Oceanis 343 from Ł729 per person (based on four sharing). Price includes flights and transfers, yacht damage waiver, and fuel. Price excludes personal travel insurance. The only food included in the package is a welcome breakfast on the first day. A 20 per cent child discount per child is applicable if adults are travelling with children aged two to 12.
Formatted for CROWN by Marko Puljić
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