Energy and excitement crackled in the rigging around us as we prepared to set sail on the shimmering Adriatic Sea. We, a group of 31 adventurous Canadian sailors, were setting out in a charter flotilla to explore the beautiful islands of Croatia, whose names were hard to pronounce, but whose wonders would soon take our breath away.
We began our journey at the Hotel Marmont in Split where we enjoyed some excellent local wine, beer and pizza as we got acquainted with the members of our five-boat flotilla, organized through Mango Yacht Charters. We’d spent two years planning our adventure and I could hardly believe it was finally coming to fruition.
Our crew of six—all friends from Ashbridges Bay Yacht Club in Toronto, Ontario—got settled on our home, the beautiful 44ft Bavaria, Sonja. It was quickly apparent we had a fun group as even the stressful stuff—planning and unpacking and splitting up roles—we tackled as a team.
Provisioning was first on our list, and we purchased only enough food for a few days, as supplies would be available on the various islands along the way. Croatia produces a bountiful selection of seafood and organic produce, so our meals were flavorful. Every port on every island offered at least one and often several restaurants that boasted inexpensive gourmet cooking and welcoming staff with classy atmospheres that we often found irresistible.
Once provisioned, we headed out of the harbor, set our sails and began our adventure. At last, we were sailing the crystal blue waters of the Dalmatian coast. We’d hardly leave one place before we began anticipating the beauty that awaited us at the next. For two weeks, the warm winds filled our sails and took us to ancient walled cities with fortresses dating back to Roman times. We strolled through charming villages whose beauty and ambiance rivaled those of the French Riviera. Everywhere we looked we saw another million-dollar view. It was a sailor’s haven, a photographer’s paradise.
In Korcula, on the island of the same name, we strolled through the Old Town with ancient walls and forts laced by narrow paths that have never seen a car. In Hvar City, which looked like the Cannes of Croatia, we anchored by a wide plaza lined with restaurants and shops. There was Komiza, with its massive seawall behind which sailboats huddled for protection and its commemorative plaque for the British soldiers stationed there during World War Two.
Unlike many of the places we have chartered, the winds in Croatia were varied and somewhat unpredictable. We had days with winds over 20 knots, and days with light to moderate winds. There were far too many days with wind on the nose and because we were sailing on a schedule with a flotilla, we couldn’t alter course for different destinations. We short-tacked through narrow channels and the deep water allowed us to sail very close to shore before coming about.
During one afternoon sail when we had zero knots of wind, five of our six crew jumped overboard for a refreshing swim. Suddenly the wind picked up, our boat started moving and we had to hustle to get back aboard. Within minutes the wind was blowing 15 knots, again on the nose. The wind fueled our excitement as we flew up the channel. We were dumbfounded by the constant change in wind direction, which we later learned was the result of gusts accelerating off the mountainous shoreline—a phenomenon none of us had before experienced.
At each day’s end, we joined our fellow sailors to swap stories. I learned that sailing in a flotilla has its pros and cons. We saw places we may never have visited but missed out on places we wanted to see. We would have loved to spend more time in each destination, but our organizers knew that high season meant big crowds, so they often cut our sailing short to ensure we could secure seawall parking spots by mid-afternoon. We were grateful for the extra time to perfect our Med moorings.
Mango Yacht Charters has organized many Croatian charters and were helpful in planning our trip. They helped us book flights, coordinate ground transportation and garner local knowledge. Though they mostly left us on our own when it came to dining, they did arrange two unique group meals and also a full-day excursion to Montenegro, all of which was exceptional.
During our two-week adventure, we visited 15 ports and sailed over 300 nautical miles. On the morning of our return to Split, a quiet tone of disappointment hung over the boat. Sunlight shimmered like diamonds on the sea and a pod of dolphins swam alongside. We had one last “Živjeli, Cheers!” with mimosas and agreed that with its exceptional people, history, food and sailing grounds, Croatia is a chartering destination not to be missed.
Croatian Charter Contacts
Photos by Wendy McGregor (middle) and Ben Miller