Bareboat Charter Sailing Croatia
Mon 01 Sep 2014
Sitting at the a bar in a beach front town 1.5 hours drive from Antalya in Southern Turkey, you could hardly believe that I would setting sail on a charter boat in Croatia 2200 km away just 4 days later with 3 crew having organised nothing.
While enjoying an evening beer with the owner, I checked my email with a "digest" email from "Couch sailing" group on my beloved couchsurfing.org web site incoming. The message offered a charter yacht for under 1/2 price after a mess up of dates had made the boat unsuitable for the booked party... and the must-sail date was the coming Saturday.
Within 12 hours, I had turned this simple opportunity into a range of online media - posts to other Couchsurfing groups, an airbnb room lisitng and 30+ emails direct to my most spontaneous friends in Europe.
With 24 hours I had a deposit and confirmed the intention the guy offering the boat... and rerouted an incoming friend from Antalya to instead fly to Istanbul, so that I could pick her up on-route.. The other inspiration was a couple of randoms that had showed interest in coming along.
Next day Istanbul to pick up Carina at 6am IST, Next day the Greek / Albania border (where we happened on the world capital of Mink coats), Next night (god those Albanian roads, and the 4 hour Montenegro border crossing to Croatia) a 3 hour sleep in a room organised by Maria, one of the crew staying nearby to Dubrovnik.
Incredibly, we arrived as programmed at Trogir, Croatia and joined by the 4th member of crew in hotel reception to pay up the balance of charter fee and made our way to the charter base office to sign on.
As a 16 year working marketing industry veteran of the Australian / Whitsunday charter industry, 7 years living on board in the Whitsundays, qualified mariner, and gatherer of good people via Couchsurfing, I was very confident about the plan coming together, but still impressed that it had. The boat was a Bavaria 37, old but honest, ample room for 4, and ooo equipped with an auto pilot, though a little unreliable - making life simple for me.
The crew, fun loving friend Carina. Super cook and recently Phd holder Heidi and enthusiastic new sailor Maria from Finland.
Rather than pull apart the trip hour by hour, here are some highlights.
Comfortable nights in calm conditions in deep protected bays with the stern tied to the shore
This is very much the way things are done in Croatia. Less space in anchorages, calm conditions, and all-but no tide mean that you can drop the anchor 4 boat lengths from shore and back up to the shore, looking into the super clear water to back virtually right the shore. Diving in the water with a stern line, a crew then ties to a suitable rock and then you adjust yourself perfectly a foot, or metres from the shore.
Great meals on board with some Italian style cooking
Master chef Heidi had adopted a lot of cooking practises from a Phd study times in Milan and it showed in every meal she prepared.
Passing on skills, all of who could operate the anchor, sails, engine, sail the boat. Maria was a particularly excellent student of any cruising related dribble that I would pour out.
Lucky me, all the girls were interested in boat duties. Maria was a new and enthusiastic sailor who had jumped at the chance of sailing and took every chance to learn, helm, trim, tidy, etc. The other girls were a bit more casual but none the less could operate most functions of the boat.
1.5 l plastic bottles of beer and 2 litre cask wine (of varying quality)
Nothing more needs to be said about this, but card playing, dancing to "What does the fox say" and just talking was often lubricated by local brew.
Cruising without being watched
See the section on charter contrasts for more about this, but it was great to check the weather, the available anchorages and make your decisions about where to go.... and then simple do it.
Using just 30 litres of fuel
7 days of true sailing meant that we seldom used the engines while passage making - we also took full advantage of the wind directions as served up. The result being that we were way under budget for fuel use was a nice bonus.
Old port towns
I really liked Murter. A quiet place, with a large shallow harbour, the entrance is around some small islands which takes some care. Access was simple and a cheap coffee awaited on shore in the morning. Another stop over was the tourism oppressed Hvar on the island of Hvar. End of season people traffic saw over representation of USA'ns, a dock and harbour full of boats, frazzled port staff telling you to move, and similarly frazzled wait staff telling saying that you ordered wrong rather than taking responsibility for taking the order wrong. The other island town visited was Milna. Sailing in there with little fuel, we found a long queue of boats waiting to fuel, so we dropped anchor and went for lunch. A bit forgotten, it was still charming, cheap and enjoyable at the hands of attentive hospitality workers.
Warm days, perfect nights, perfect swimming temperature in safe waters
The trip was late August which meant that perhaps the heat of summer had slightly broken. The result was warm days, perfect nights and perfect swimming temps... the bonus was the nil worry about Sharks or other water nasties. The addition of a air bed for aquatic activities was a great addition to the inventory too (hot tip).
INTERESTED IN MORE ABOUT THE CROATIAN CHARTER EXPERIENCE? THE NEXT SECTION IS FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE CHARTERED IN AUSTRALIA.
Contrast guide of the Australian Whitsunday bareboat charter experience to bareboat chartering in Croatia - the differences you will notice :
Croatia: Charters go from Saturday to Saturday, Aus: Any dates you can hope to book.
In Croatia this pressures systems as crowds move as a pack to check in, eat, shop, refuel, depart, return, etc... and the maintenance guys are super fast. I watched our guy remove our auto-pilot while holding a broken water pump in the other hand.
Fleet size: Croatian charter industry appears to be more than 1500 boats, Whitsundays, less than 200.
In Croatia, summer is when the tourist business booms and they want to maximise the $$ by having so many boats on the water. There appears to be no governmental restraint on the fleet as we have for environmental reasons in Australia.
Croatia: You better know what you are doing - there is no area brief or sail test. No radio or contact with the base unless you want to. Aus: You get a full brief on the boat, a full area brief and a sail test to make sure you know what you are getting into. Twice daily radio calls.
Chartering in Croatia places the responsibility absolutely upon yourself. Maybe its the hard times they faced in the past 20 years, or just the lack of government oversight, but its really up to you to take the boat from the marina, sail around and return it at the end as best you can. Some might not like it, I loved it. Along the way, my cruising live aboard experience solved a bunch of problems. A nav table that was falling apart. Tell tales on the sails made from plastic bag cuttings, an autopilot that rattled and clunked and poorly configured solved, water conserved and pump silenced when not in use by turning it off. The cherry on top of the fixes was stuffing the oversize fridge full of life jackets so the under sized cooling system and fan only had to chill the essential space (and beer).
Croatia: You are expected in marinas often. Australia: You might come to a marina once.
Despite refilling the water before we left (as experience would teach you), our 150 litre tank was empty with in 36 hours. Its expected that you will come to marina's often and so the amount of water need only be for a day. After the first refill, we metered use to make it last the rest of the trip.
Croatia: Anchorages are deep with the likely aft tie to a rock on the island. Australia: Anchor out in 8 m of water with plenty of swing room.
Its a bit disconcerting the first time, in a boat that is not yours, but by the end of the week you have the hang of it... and even happy to move during the night when the wind comes from a different direction - that is just the way it is.
Croatia: In harbours, ports and towns you bounce in and find a place to tie as best you can. Aus: Marina's are booked in advance and anchor areas are always free and clear in their use.
In Croatia, the stop for water was 10 Euro simply involved waving to a dock worker, who waved us to the nearest tie up. At the Karanti national park we did not stop and expected a hefty fee for even passing through, at Murter and simple anchor off the town. At a lunch break a guy came along side and tried to charge us (we moved). At Hvar, we were moved on with confused messages from the harbour guys about where we could anchor. At Milna, an arm waving guy insisted I move from a safe space because a ferry might be able to manouvre to a dock over 100 m away??
Croatia: Yachts come with the cheapest smallest dinghy and extra cost for a 3 hp motor. Aus: Your dinghy is the life raft at least 2.4 metres long with aluminum floor and a 6hp engine included
This is a serious pain in the ass when it comes to chartering in Croatia. The tiny dinghy as supplied and the overpriced 3 HP dinghy required one by delivery of the crew to shore to be safe. In Aussie, the first thing you do in an anchorage is motor ashore as a group for a look around... in relative comfort.
There are plenty of other things to be learnt, but in the end of week, you are simple enjoying the experience, lunches, a few beers and pretty much doing as your please (until someone stops you).
Theme song for the trip - 'What did the fox say"