Cavorting in Catamarans in Croatia
A bareboat charter in Croatia is the holiday of a lifetime … but when your own boat is a 26ft monohull and the charter yacht is 45ft with a 24ft beam it takes a bit of getting used to writes Peter Webb.
Reverse parking a 45ft catamaran. What can possibly go wrong? A lot apparently. Preparation is the key to success: watch endless online videos; read articles on ‘Med Mooring’ and know the theory. Ticked those boxes. Even so, it raises the heart rate.
Our first attempt was at Bobovisçe on the island of Braç. It didn’t go well. Expecting to tie up to a town quay the skipper was pleasantly surprised to be directed to a mooring. No worries, that’s how we do it at home.
Except we weren’t at home and quickly realised our approach was wrong for a fore and aft mooring. Marko the mooring attendant in his tinny-cum-tug boat was able to push, yell abuse and help all at the same time. In heavily accented but very good English, Marko outlined our shortcomings for all to hear:
“I ask him for a line and he throws me no line!”
“Do you know mooring? Can you drive boat?”
“Are you crazy?”
We had a choice of collision with another yacht, bump the rocky shoreline or wrap the submerged mooring lazy-line around the prop. Luckily it was all in slow motion and with Marko’s friendly advice and tinny-tug we were able to salvage the situation.
Now that we knew what was expected the second attempt went without a hitch. Once the lines were temporarily secured our new mate left in a huff. When Marko returned we had the yacht moored correctly bow and stern and all was forgiven. (The tip we gave him may have helped).
The Charter Yacht
Croatia is beautiful. No doubt about it, fascinating old towns with ancient buildings, some over 800 years old and still being used; water so clear you can check your anchor; and the Dalmatian Islands, like in Australia’s Whitsundays, most days you can see your next destination on the horizon. In fact, Croatia has over 1,000 islands (1,244 islands, islets and crags, to be exact), of which 48 are inhabited.
Croatia is perfect for cruising. With a season extending from March to October there’s plenty of time to explore. Our group of eight (four couples) decided to charter a Leopard 454 catamaran from Sunsail at Marina Agana, north of Split. The ‘454’ stands for 45 feet and 4 cabins, each with double bed and separate ensuite. Luxurious? You bet it was. The Leopards are designed and built in South Africa to a high standard and Sunsail are meticulous in the maintenance and quality of their fleet.
Our yacht was named El Domenico. Yacht names are always interesting and often have a story behind them but we couldn’t find out where this name came from. It could have been worse, the yacht next to us was named Major Clanger possibly an example of nominative determinism.
Our big Leopard had all the modern navigation aids and was set up for easy sailing. She scooted along in a fresh breeze and motoring was quiet and pleasant with the engines in the stern of each hull. The position of the engines gave good manoeuvrability in tight quarters – a characteristic we would come to appreciate.
The Dalmatian Islands off the coast of Split have plenty of destinations from which to choose. Comprehensive cruising guides and a pilot book are placed in the nav table on each yacht and the pre-charter briefing provides valuable local knowledge.
Most passages between islands and anchorages are around 20 nautical miles and have a small village with a restaurant as a reward at the end. The only provisions we loaded were some easy breakfast and lunch options, snack foods, beer and wine. (Croatian wine was a pleasant surprise. You can only buy it in Croatia as they consume all they make … and we enthusiastically helped with that.)
No cooking or cleaning for the galley crew. We ate out every night, fresh and delicious local seafood, traditional lamb peka, truffle risottos, olives, cold meats and more. Washed down with a renowned red wine from the island of Hvar, all the crew were happy.
Bobovisce was our first port and after we’d knocked over our bum-clenching mooring experience most of the apprehension disappeared. Beware hubris. Full of bravado we set off early the next day for Starigrad on the island of Hvar.
In our initial planning we had no intention of going to Starigrad – the name is redolent of communism – but the lack of wind meant motoring and as it was the closest port in the general direction we wanted to go, Starigrad was it. What a gem!
A beautiful marble-paved traditional fishing village with locals going about their daily business. Fishermen with small work-scarred boats mending nets on the quay, lazy dogs sprawled in the shade, cats slinking along the alleys, restaurants and bars with open air tables and wine making, lots of wine making.
It was harvest time and the sweet smell of crushed grapes and fermentation wafted through the back streets. They may have heard how much we had already consumed and needed to restock Croatia.
Now back to Med Mooring, this time to a stone town quay. We had done the study, here was the test. Motoring slowly into Starigrad Bay and examining the chart we saw there were moorings to port and wide open spaces to allow for a bit of wobbling, but that would be too easy. We had called ahead and booked so the crew had their eyes peeled looking for some sign of the harbourmaster.
There he was over to starboard waving calmly and pointing to a spot on the quay between a 65ft motor cruiser and a 40ft yacht. Our cat is 24ft wide and the space we were being directed into was just wide enough for our beam with fenders either side.
The crew were briefed and knew what to do. Interested observers had stopped on the quay to watch. (Success of a difficult manoeuvre is inversely proportional to the number of rubber-neckers watching.) We had the stern lines prepared, boathooks ready, fenders out, breeze checked and ready to go.
Reverse slow enough to keep out of trouble but fast enough to keep control in the slight crosswind. As mentioned earlier, catamarans have great manoeuvrability with an engine in the stern of each hull.
Once the boat is going slow there’s not enough water flowing over the rudders to give steerage so you centre the wheel then let it go and do the final approach using the engines. We nailed it. Relief all around.
Now we could relax with a cold drink and watch the other yachts try to make their moorings. Some skippers looked as if they had been doing it all their lives, others had our sympathy. All up it was the best show in town.
Leaving Starigrad was only made easy by the thought that the island of Vis lay on the horizon just 30nm away. Vis is the westernmost of the inhabited islands of Dalmatia. The rugged terrain made Vis an ideal World War II hideout for Marshal Josip Broz Tito, the leader of the Yugoslav Partisan resistance movement and later dictator of modern Yugoslavia.
Today Vis lies peacefully in the Adriatic and is invaded regularly by boatloads of rambunctious young folks enjoying Yacht Week and the hard won freedoms of modern Croatia. They gather in Vis town on the eastern end, so, for that reason we sailed to Komiza at the western end which is a quiet fishing village.
Sailing into Komiza is dramatic. As the bay opens up the town slowly reveals itself nestled snugly into the base of the mountains. Katabatic winds feather across the bay and slam into the unwary sailor, backwinding sails and tossing caps and towels overboard. The town quay is a bit more protected but once again the challenge of the Med-mooring loomed.
Ivan the harbourmaster directed us to a berth alongside a large motor yacht. No tight squeeze this time, just a slow ferry-glide into position and throw lines ashore. Now that we had successfully Med-moored several times it didn’t seem so scary.
The yacht was secure and it was a sunny afternoon so with beers in hand we settled back on the quay to watch the other yachts coming in. The wind had picked up considerably which presented the likelihood of a good show.
Enter a very large catamaran aptly named Catastrophe. The skipper on the helm looked confident and used the wind to ferry-glide into his allocated spot. It all looked good until he pushed starboard engine instead of port. The breeze grabbed the yacht and in a trice he was sideways onto the bows of two moored yachts. Defensive fenders popped out from the other yachts and suggestions flew thick and fast.
It’s amazing how humans can babble in many languages at once and be mostly understood. Recovery seemed certain until he snagged the mooring lazy-line with his port prop. It twanged like a country guitar. The harbourmaster neatly summed up the situation: “Oh you have big problems now captain!”
It can go from smiles to tears in a heartbeat for anyone. In the end only pride was damaged and it was entertaining.
Free Mooring with a Bonus Restaurant
Our final island night was spent in the bay of Sesula on the island of Solta. A narrow winding bay with good protection, ideal for an afternoon of paddle boarding and swimming. Two entrepreneurial restaurant owners have laid moorings and with small dinghies surrounded by fenders they nudge the yachts into position, take lines and secure them fore and aft. The aft line is wrapped around convenient large rocks on the shoreline.
The moorings are free but the expectation is that you will dine at the restaurant. We chose Sismis restaurant and our waiter Goran never missed a beat. Croatian waiters take their profession seriously and the friendly and efficient Goran made the evening memorable.
At his suggestion we had a delicious locally caught fish baked in the stone oven. Succulent and perfectly cooked it was enough for eight. It was the best meal we had in Croatia and that’s a big call. The prices were higher than other restaurants we had dined at but as the mooring was free it was very reasonable.
Sailing home with a bone in her teeth
Dawn broke and brought the Jugo, a 20 knot sou’easterly from the Sahara Desert, kicking up a bit of chop but giving us a beam reach for the run back to Marina Agana. El Domenico picked up her skirts and with a reefed headsail coasted along at a comfortable 9 knots. These big cats are a thrill to sail. We ended up with enough time to anchor at Drvenik island for a lazy final swim in the clear turquoise water of the Adriatic.
The final night was on board El Domenico at the Sunsail base in Marina Agana which is a requirement of the charter. That’s OK but be prepared to spend the first night there also as it may take some time to turn around the yachts from the previous charter.
The weather gods had been kind to us – we mostly had a breeze with no name. The weeks before and after our charter had several days of harbour hugging bad weather. Over by Sicily the ‘Medicane’ (Mediterranean Hurricane) was causing chaos. On the good ship El Domenico it was sunshine and dolphins.
Our trip was filled with hiking and exploring, good food, laughter, lively sailing, warm breezes and cool nights. We explored the Dalmatian islands of Brac, Hvar, Vis, Bisevo and Solta.
Most of us have busy lives with work and family commitments and are happy to be that way. But we need a good holiday every now and then.
Chucking it all in and sailing over the horizon sounds tempting and one day it may happen.
In the meantime Sunsail has bases located in some of the world’s best cruising grounds – Thailand, Tahiti, the Caribbean and others. Where to next? We need to keep up our new Med mooring skills so Greece sounds nice.
|Sailing the Adriatic||Useful Websites|
Enable your phone for global roaming (if you can afford it) or buy a local SIM card. Having the ability to call ahead and book a berth or mooring is a great advantage as there are limited spaces available in most ports. Guide books advise calling ahead by VHF or phone but we were never answered on the radio.
To bareboat charter in Croatia at least one person on board must hold the International Certificate of Competence (ICC) or higher and have a VHF Radio Operator’s licence
The wind rose of the Adriatic Sea has a variety of breezes to throw at you, all named and each with specific characteristics. There’s the Bura (strong, cold north-east wind), Jugo (strong, warm, wet south-east wind), Mistral (benevolent north-east wind), Sirocco (southerly wind), Tramontana (northerly wind), Levanter (easterly wind) and a few others. The prudent skipper learns the different characteristics and plans anchorages accordingly.