The much awaited day of boarding our two week charter yacht arrived. We were not due to board until 4pm so we had plenty of time for last minute supplies and a general relax. Fortunately, our Air BnB hosts in Trogir were happy for us to stay as late as we needed. With all the gear and provisions, we deemed it best to get transport to the marina. While we were in the process of getting an Uber, our host kindly offered a lift in her mother’s car. Christine, Helen and all the luggage were squeezed into the car and Mario and I walked across the island to the ACI Marina.
We entered the charter office in high spirits but the end of a long summer charter season was reflected in the manager’s eyes, along with dollar signs. He skipped through the necessary papers as quickly as possible to get to the money part, where huge piles of cash seemed to mount up in front of him, all of it ours.
We located our boat, aptly named “Aquaholic” and met our skipper, who announced that we were sailing in half an hour. This was news to us because our instructions were that we were to spend the first night in Trogir. In hindsight, this would have been the best thing because it would give a good chance to thoroughly go through all the things about the boat while there was at least a slight chance of having problems rectified. One of the difficulties in chartering at the end of a season is that the little unattended maintenance issues mount up and as the cruise progressed, we were to discover the hatches that leaked, the lights that didn’t work and the plumbing issues that annoyed. As a whole, the boat was very good, with three double cabins and a set of bunks. With Lucy and Alex no longer able to join us, we had the luxury of the bunk room to use as storage and a changing room. The galley was well equipped and the fridge big enough to keep us going without the need to buy ice. Talking to others along the way, the condition of our charter boat was much on a par with others, with everyone having a list of things that need attention.
Aquaholic had been recently fitted with a new main sail and new bimini and dodger so things looked trim. She sailed very well and was extremely comfortable even in quite big seas. Our skipper was always happy to put the sails up and make use of the wind whereas we noted that many boats simply motored a lot. It is always a lot more comfortable with the sails up.
Our skipper, Lordan, was a middle aged Croatian national who spends the season skippering charters with some time away working oil rigs. He had done 14 weeks straight to date. He has a wife and two children so I guess he doesn’t get to see all that much of them. Still, the whole economy seems geared up to work flat out in the summer and back off for the winter.
Our first night was in a small cove near Maslinica on the island of Solta. We motor sailed in light conditions and picked up a buoy near last light. This was to be our introduction to the system of anchorages in Croatia. Basically, there are five choices for spending the night.
- Anchor. Our skipper dislikes this option for anything other than a daytime swim because the water is often very deep and the anchor is OK but not brilliant. I concur with his assessment.
- Take a buoy. Some buoys are owned by restaurants and they will let you stay for free as long as you go to the restaurant (they tend to be expensive). Other buoys are owned by the local port authority. Buoys can cost anywhere between $45 and $100 a night depending on location. Staying on a buoy means we have to use the dinghy to go ashore.
- Back on to the harbour pier. This is convenient but more expensive, costing between $75 and $120. It can also be a noisy night or a fun night, depending on your neighbours.
- Go into a marina. This is the most expensive option, with most being over $100 a night.
For our first night, we had little choice, the skipper pre-arranging a buoy owned by a restaurant which proved to have a limited and rather pricey menu. All in all, the crowds and number of boats are so much bigger than we anticipated that in the end one has little choice and you just go with the flow. Backing on to a wharf is probably the preferred option because it gives us complete freedom to explore the towns at will.
Life over the two weeks of sailing was so relaxing and enjoyable far beyond our expectations. Most people charter for one week only but we were so glad that we had organised two weeks because as the first week came to a close we all knew that we would have been upset to get off. After initially fussing a bit over our exact itinerary, we came to realise that everywhere was good and yet everywhere is different. Most towns have an “old town” with medieval origins but each has its own unique character. Each port is also quite unique and although the actual facilities differ, most are adequate for at least an overnight stay.
The actual itinerary was mostly out of our control, with the skipper coming up with a whole raft of reasons why we could not go where we wanted to go and should, in fact, go where he wanted to go. The motivation for these conflicts was hard to fathom. At times I leaned towards the negative viewpoint that he wanted to go where things served him best (he had a friend he wanted to catch up with, his brother was going there, he knew a restaurant owner, etc). Sometimes, the positive view held and we considered that he was just trying to do his best by us. The weather was often used as a reason why we could not go to some place we nominated. It is impossible to argue with a skipper when they play the weather and safety card because they are ultimately responsible. However, we had many dire predictions of horrendous storms and winds, none of which ever eventuated (just as the online forecasts predicted). I would show him the predictions but we would just shrug and suddenly his English would get worse. The overall consensus is that it is probably a mixture of everything. Sailing people around the Croatian Islands for 14 weeks straight would test anyone’s integrity. It was strange though that his brother kept popping up everywhere we went in the first week.
Skipper Lordan had a strict daily routine. He would rise at 8:30 no matter what and would wander off either along the wharf or in the dinghy to find coffee. He would return an hour later bearing an assortment of sweet breads to sustain him through the day. We would get underway between 9:30 and 10am, even if he had previously announced an “early start”. On big sail days, we would pull in somewhere in the early afternoon for lunch or a swim, which meant that it was time for Lordan to retire below and sleep. The time after lunch and a swim was mostly spent waiting for Lordan to wake up. Once we reached our destination, Lordan would head off to catch up with acquaintances before returning for a quick nap. This guy could sleep. He did dine with us on the boat a few times and sometimes at a restaurant. The terms state that we were responsible for feeding him so when he did accompany us to a restaurant, we paid. He usually ordered the most expensive meal of all of us. Still, he was a jovial character with a good sense of humor. His English ability was good but his hearing not so, resulting in some difficult conversations at times. A question along the lines of “How far is it to Stari Grad?” might get an answer of “There is a bit of cloud so you can’t see the stars.”
Whenever practical, we sailed and shut down the engine. Our skipper was good that way. A boat load of New Zealanders we spoke to were peeved that they had been out for five days and hadn’t put the sails up. The boat sailed very well indeed and the few times the sea got up a bit she showed that she could handle bad conditions if needed. Fortunately, with the relatively light winds and the many islands that provide shelter, we seldom had much of a sea to contend with.
We swam most days, with the water a little chilly on entry but otherwise a good temperature. The water clarity here is amazing, it often being easy to make out the bottom in 40 feet of water. The fish life is limited and restricted to small fish and there was no coral growth. The sea grass beds look to be in reasonable condition but the bottom in areas where yachts had been anchoring was often a garbage tip with bottles, cans, clothes (mostly undies), plastic pegs and assorted bric a brac.
As always on our trips, we ate like kings, both on the boat and at restaurants. The waistline damage is yet to be fully assessed but it won’t be good. We had some excellent meals cooked on board, with Helen’s beautiful pork dish, Christine’s amazing chicken and a decadent meal of mussels, purchased from a floating mussel farm on the way up the Krka River to Skradin. One of the memorable restaurant meals include one in the old town at Stari Grad in an old three level building that reeked of ambience and boasted outstanding food. At another restaurant in the little cove of Senjska on the island of Solta we had a local dish called a Peka. This was a delicious mix of beef and lamb cuts with potatoes, carrot and cabbage slow roasted over coals in a large iron pan with a big iron cone acting as a lid. It was tender, packed full of flavour and equally full of calories. Of course, home made bread was used to soak up the juices. In Sibenik, we enjoyed a marvellous seafood mix with sardines, red mullet, shrimps and squid. There was so much food that we took home a “doggy bag”. Icecream excursions were common, with so much cheap and top quality icecream available. Bread was a bit of a mystery. Bakeries are common but they focus on sweet fare or long French style sticks. Occasionally, we managed to find some good rolls or loaves that suited but the next stop would be different again. The supermarkets tended to sell packaged white bread only suitable for toasting. The bakeries did sell some delicious pastry pieces that were filled with pork mince, a type of cheese curd or cheese and feta. They were excellent “munchy food”. We usually lunched on the boat and things seemed to build up from just a sandwich to huge spreads of continental fare, pickled octopus, olives, three types of cheese, salami, mortadella, tomatoes, etc. After a few such lunches we checked our waist lines and went back to the sandwiches.
Interaction with fellow cruisers was surprisingly limited, with few English speaking groups around and many European crews being insular to the point of not even returning a wave. Very noticeable was the number of boats crewed by large groups of young German men, who were almost universally loud, drunk and extremely late to bed. Tying up in the vicinity of such a party boat is not recommended. We did come across a boat of New Zealanders who would shout out “Hi Aussies” across the water when we met up. They were fun and far more friendly than most others. One group of young German men had few inhibitions about showering on the rear deck after swimming. Helen and Christine were particularly interested in one young man who was very generously proportioned. Much over rated I’m told. Mario and I were somewhat put out that males appear to outnumber females by about 10 to 1 in the cruising set.
Life did get to be dominated by toilets. We were all surprised to find that our boat, and many others, was not fitted with a sullage holding tank and that the toilet was a straight “pump out to sea” type. Of course, use of this in a port for “Number 2s” is definitely not on and so regular trips ashore were required to find a land based toilet. The quality of the shore toilets varied widely, as they do with caravan parks and long waits for a shower or cubicle could result in peak times. The boat did have a couple of showers, although one had very poor pressure. One of the two toilets also wasn’t functioning correctly. We all ate high fibre breakfasts and focussed on regularity.
Places we visited:
Maslinica – a small town on the north end of Solta. We used a restaurant buoy in a small cove to the south. A pretty little stop.
Kut – on the east side of Vis. Two small towns occupy a lovely deep cove. Kut is the old town and Luka the newer town. Restaurants abound, along with a few small swimming beaches. We took a buoy and enjoyed an afternoon and morning wandering around the villages and admiring the many big expensive boats entering the harbour. We were delighted to find a pretty little foreshore restaurant in Ku that was used for the filming of Mama Mia 2.
Palmizana – The Pakleni Islands are a beautiful group of isles made up of the tops of a submerged mountain range and so create a myriad small bays and coves, most filled with boats at anchor. We took a buoy in a cove called Palmizana which has a restaurant and bar, both very reasonably priced and with a varied menu. It was a short walk across the island to the ACI Marina, from where it was possible to catch a water taxi to Hvar Town on the nearby island of Hvar.
Stari Grad – Stari Grad is a very old town situated on the east coast of the large island of Hvar (pronounced Kwar). It was first settled by the Greeks in the 3rd Century BC but most of the old town dates from medieval times. The town is situated at the end of a long deep inlet, which contains a ferry terminal and a hotel resort complex. We moored stern on right in the middle of the old town where we could watch all the preparations for the upcoming traditional boat festival. The old town itself is simply gorgeous, with a labyrinth of tiny cobbled alleyways separating the many beautiful stone buildings and secluded courtyards. Walking through the alleyways at night with the soft glow of the street lights reflected off the marble and stone walls is one of the best experiences we have had. We enjoyed an amazing meal of local food at a three level medieval restaurant that simply dripped with ambience.
Hvar Town (Pronounced Kwar) – We caught a bus over the island to the popular tourist town of Hvar Town. The town was the usual collection of old stone buildings but had a large and vibrant front quay that was full of ferries and tourists. Hvar is often called “Britain’s Bali” and has a reputation stained by the sometimes poor behaviour of the younger set. We found it charming and a trip to the Spanjola, a massive fortress that overlooks the town. Not fancying the walk up the hill, we taxied up and down and spent an hour taking in the spectacular views over the town and the nearby Pakleni Islands. A visit down into the ancient dungeons opened our eyes as to just how horrible things must have been in times past if one was to fall foul of authority.
Bobovisce – A little village on the northern end of the island of Brac. We tied up on mooring lines and used the tender to go across the inlet to the one restaurant and bar for a afternoon drink. Although small, the village was pretty and provided a cheap night anchorage.
Primosten – a very old island fort town just off the mainland north of Trogir. We moored stern on alongside some huge luxury yachts and took in to beautiful surrounds. The town is a very popular tourist resort, boasting three excellent beaches on different sides of the town so no matter what the wind direction there is a good beach. Being a Friday night, the town pumped up with a live band in the town square. The music went on until 5am and life was a lot slower the next morning. There are lovely walks around the island and up to the large church at the top of the town. Primosten would make a great holiday destination.
Sibenik – A large town and port a short distance into the Krka River system. The town features a long waterfront and promenade. Three fortresses of varying sizes look out over the town from the hills above, an indication of the strategic importance of the town in times past. The large Church of St James dates from the 15th Century and dominates the skyline with its gothic domes. As with most of the old towns there is a maze of lesser roads, alleyways and small piazzas. We backed onto the town promenade and explored the city, coming across a wedding in full swing at St James church and stopping for a beer at a small bar deep within the old town. A superb evening dinner was had at one of the many restaurants that line the foreshore. We found the seafood to be abundant and surprisingly cheap. The serves were very generous so we ended up taking home a “doggy bag” of assorted seafood.
Krka River – We motored up the Krka River from Sibenik to Skradin. The river snakes through a series of spectacular gorges and lakes, becoming progressively fresher. Oyster and mussel farms are common and we stopped to buy 5kg straight from the farm. Two huge bridges span the river.
Skradin – this is the town that gives access to the beautiful Krka lakes and waterfalls. The town itself is little more than a village. There are a few harbour side moorings available (if you know the harbour master) or a well equipped but expensive ACI Marina. We tried to get a spot on the wharf but were rejected and sent to the marina. On the way up the Krka River, we had stopped to buy 5kg of fresh black mussels so it was mussels on the boat for dinner. We stayed for two nights and the second night we secured a spot on the town wharf, more than halving the cost and increasing the ambience no end.
Krka National Park – this large park covers 109km2 around the Krka River. It is most famous for its lakes and waterfalls and attracts a huge number of visitors each year. The main area to visit is the Skradinski buk, a large series of waterfalls surrounded by walk trails through beautiful lush forest and a small hamlet. We accessed it via a boat trip from Skradin, access by yacht being impossible due to a low bridge upstream of Skradin. Swimming is popular but we didn’t bother due to the crowds and concentrated on enjoying the walk and the magnificent scenery.
Rogoznica – A quaint little fishing village and tourist town south of Primosten. It lacked the appeal of Primosten but had the usual line of waterfront restaurants and a couple of beaches that were more concrete than sand. We came across a restaurant called Restaurant Mario so we felt we had to give it a go. It was very good fare and a pleasant atmosphere.
Senjska – A very pretty small cove on the south side of the island of Solta. The only buoys available are owned by the small family restaurant in the cove and they can be used free on condition one dines at the restaurant. Unfortunately, we occupied the most inshore buoy and the slight groundswell was funneled down to the end of the cove and we found the anchorage to be very rolly.
Trogir – The last two nights were spent back in Trogir, as rain and strong winds suggested that Milna, our last destination, was full up with most people electing to stay in port. We were happy enough after two weeks at sea to take in a bit more of beautiful Trogir.
What was the pick of it all? Probably the lovely town of Stari Grad with its gorgeous maze of alleyways. The sail from Vis to the Pakleni Islands was wonderful, with a great breeze and a steady 6.5 knots. We came across a few dolphins but the best site was a school of large tuna feeding on sardines, leaping from the water across a large area of ocean.
Would we recommend the experience? Absolutely. The bucket list was well and truly served. Great company (thanks Helen and Mario), amazing cruising and an unforgettable experience.