As it has been so long since we have managed a holiday (cough). We made plans to fly to Croatia and sail the seas of the Adriatic with MedSailors. Tam organised a few of her school and university friends with a few partners crew on a couple of yachts. The voyage was a clockwise loop of the Croatian islands of Brac, Vis, Korcula and Hvar with some sailing and plenty of sun and swimming.
Our flights to Split were booked a long time ago, when budget beat time hands down! At the time, our 7pm Friday flight from Heathrow seemed reasonable, the only catch was the 8 hour stopover in Stockholm and 6am interconnection! The great idea of a night out in Stockholm city was quickly smashed by the £50 train tickets to get into the city. Mitch instead managed to find a Swedish burger bar and fight off the other tight arses in the departure lounge for the corner under the euro exchange desk to sleep. Luckily we packed our free blow up pillows from Tour de France making sleep almost possible!
On arrival to Split, we were greeted by blasts of heat beating both down on and up from the tarmac. Jeans and jerseys quickly became unbearable as we hunted for the rest of our group in town amongst Diocletian’s Palace. We met a few Australian ex-pats who had just completed a sailing trip and were on their way to find a bridge to jump off as they didn’t think any amount of fun was ever going to eclipse their last week of drunken debauchery. Unfortunately we never booked on one of these big party boats, opting for more homely 33ft 10 person yachts where we could learn to sail.
After gathering some much needed supplies (Mitch managed to find a 5L plastic jug of red wine for 50 kuna (£6 or $12NZ)) and meeting some of the crew, we got into briefing from Giovanni, our trusty Italian skipper. Gio explained to us the basics of the boat; using the toilets; which side means what etc. From here, we pulled up the lazy line and set sail for Sesula, our first port of call. Thick black smoke rose from the far side of the port and covered part of the city, we later found out to be a boat catching fire. This wouldn’t be the last we saw of smoke over the trip… Unfortunately the weak headwinds didn’t make for good sailing and we instead opted to catch sun rays and try remove our cycle jersey and short tan lines.
At the first port of call, our boats were fixed together in a flotilla near a restaurant that sported a large Batman symbol. After arriving, Mitch quickly found old rugby and university team mates (small world) and we had a good meal of tuna steaks and pesto pasta.
Our second day was an early depart to the town and island of Vis. After not having much sleep in the Stockholm Airport, we managed to sleep much more than the rest, but woke in time before breakfast was packed up. We managed to teach the group how to play the card game Yaniv, not too popular at first, but later proved to be an addiction amongst the boat. Later, some deep ocean swimming and more sailing by motor took us into the Vis harbour. Some of the shipmates learned first-hand not to flush the toilet while everyone is swimming. A few shredded turds emerged in the water. Luckily we were still putting on sunblock and could only watch, laughing at their misfortune. We could have pointed out the flotsam for everyone to avoid, but it was much too entertaining. We were sure they eventually saw the funny side of it!
Vis was a tourist port for sail boats, without many of the luxury liners. Like most of the islands, there weren’t any sandy beaches as such, with more rocky karst shores. However, this made for crystal clear waters. The white stone and brick alleyways lined the harbour with locals selling honey, fruit, beach wear, equipment and counterfeit goods. In Croatia wasps are the equivalent of flies. Watermelons in the market were covered in swarms of bright yellow and black. Eating a meal or drying yourself off managed to welcome a few also.
After a few hours a fire started on the island, allegedly from a few barbeque coals dumped in the bush behind the town. The small fire quickly spread up the hillside with the wind, engulfing the road and developing into a full blown inferno. Our captains were prepared to take the boats from the dock as the fire started moving down the hill. Luckily, a trio of sea planes with integrated spill buckets came in from the mainland and proceeded to dump large volumes of water, dousing the flames, saving Vis Town and the village downwind of the flames. It was quite a bit of excitement watching the drama unfold as we waited, unsure if the military tour we booked was still going ahead.
Luckily we managed to get on the packed land rover and start our tour. Vis is an important strategic military location in the Adriatic and has changed hands many times, coming under Greek, Roman, Venetian, British, Italian, Austrian and Yugoslavian rule at various stages. We started with a walk through Fort George, a British Fort at the Harbour mouth, now a scene for nightclub parties. From here we saw the smouldering fire and the planes filling from the sea (one plane almost collided with a small yacht!). From here, we ventured into the Yugoslavian military tunnel network throughout the island complete with gun placements. A submarine tunnel, large enough for 3 Yugoslavian army diesel powered subs was a good spot for a few jumps. Mitch took the first leap off the 17m drop, despite his best pin drop and his feet breaking the water, his backside took a big slap, bruising for the next few days. Our tour was finished with a drive to the top of the island and a wine tasting at a local winery. Grapes on Vis were spared the Phylloxera plague of the 19th Century and due to the demand for wine, many islands were reshaped into terraces and rows ideal for vineyards. This region ended up filling a large part of the European wine deficit. Now, there are less vineyards, but they are all long established. We tried four generous portions of white, rose, red and dessert wine, with local anchovies and sheep cheese before rushing back to the boats to catch up with the rest of the crew. For one of our boat, Jodie, it was her birthday and we made the best of the occasion, dining out in a charming local outdoor restaurant, complete with olive trees, an open fire and cats.
Our next stop was in Vela Luka, on the island of Korcula. En route, we passed through the Blue Caves, a massive dome 20m high where the water glows a bright blue, lit by a small opening in the top. We even managed to get some sailing in as we headed east. On docking, we enjoyed a long swim, company of several nudist themed boats, a great lunch prepared by Gio and took a bus to Korcula Town to see the Italian walled port and fort bars. Korcula claims itself as the first town to abolish slavery and the birthplace of Marco Polo, the famous Venetian merchant sailor, with many boutique stores selling wares in his honour. We got a good look at one of the other sailing company boats, complete with 40 beds, a bar and a disco dance floor.
The following night near the island of Hvar was billed the night for us to party. We joined a massive marina of about 70 boats in the Palmizana bay with the music starting early. Mitch finally ditched the disgusting red wine in favour of 2L bottles of Croat lager and crew produced a powerful batch of punch. Unfortunately, we never made the water taxi to Hvar Town that night. Mitch unintentionally feeding the fishes, then looking after a wayward walking Tam who was busy breaking her jandals and almost falling into the dirty water. The few that did make it out were treated to “helmet shots” where a helmet was placed on their head, a long glass mix of drinks was bashed against the helmet, then the frothy mix downed.
The following morning, benefiting from a bit more sleep than the others we opted to check out Hvar Town and see what we missed last night. By day, the town was a busy tourist Mecca, we managed to get Tam some new jandals and trek to the Spanjola Fort on top of the hill. The fort was largely reconstructed after a thunderbolt had hit the powder store, but still retained many original furnishings, including cannons and a prison. After the worst lunch ever at the local Pekaria (bakery), complete with fatty pastry and cream cheese, we caught a full bus to Stari Grad to catch up with the boats who had sailed around the peninsula. Along the road a car pulled out in front of the bus causing a crash, dragging the car for 10m. The driver didn’t look in the best shape, but was awake and responsive while we helped divert traffic. A replacement bus eventually came with an ambulance and we carried on our journey.
Stari Grad is probably the most popular name for a place in the Balkans. It means “Old Town” and an old town it was, full of old town smells and small boutique cafes and popular restaurants. Here we took another wine tasting tour, complete with donkeys, chickens and more wasps. All wines and platters were made on the farm, probably by the hessian tunic wearing American with reebok sneakers. We decided, against past judgement, to try the local bakery again discovering Krafna buns, small jam filled doughnuts, which Mitch quickly had to have them rationed by Tam. Dinner at Stari Grad we were told could not be missed, it seemed that everyone else was ahead of us too, with all places seemingly booked! At a local ice-cream parlour Mitch managed to persuade the waiter to strain the ice-cream through a colander, making a sundae that looked like spaghetti bolognaise.
On leaving Stari Grad the following morning it was to be a day of mishaps. First the lazy line became tangled with the dingy. Gio dived under the boat, cutting the line with his knife, cutting himself in the process. Once out and into open waters with good conditions we again tried our hand at sailing and performing pirate raids (waterbomb attacks), Tam getting a turn in the captains’ seat. Unfortunately, we lost both Gio’s radio and glasses overboard during a failed crash tack and spent a small while trying to track them down to no avail. This set a bit more sombre mood for the evening in Bobovisca. Some of the other boats had a race and we joined them in sharing stories of our sailing prowess. The local bar was a converted shed with a stripper pole installed. The stone and sand floor was pumping to DJ beats inside while outside a local cover band (worst we have ever heard) played the classic hits on a small keyboard and tambourine.
Our final day was under light sail with a few swim stops in the deep water on approach to Split. We saw a few large cruise liners making their way in and out of the harbour as our action backed week was about to come to a close. We said our fond farewells to our trusty skipper Gio, who was a very good sailing instructor, cook, planner and babysitter for us over the course of the week. We also said our goodbyes to the rest of the crew as we continued our adventure inland.