Sailing Croatia

croatia sailing boat

I never had Makarska at the top of my desired destinations list. In fact it wasn’t in the middle or at the bottom either. It wasn’t there at all simply because I never knew it existed. So I was curious when, after only meeting our skipper Merino for an hour, he had referred to Makarska more than handful of times whilst we plotted our sailing route through the Croatian archipelago.

A well written voyage in the travel section of The Sydney Morning Herald on sailing in Croatia had inspired the formulation of a trip to follow in its so called wake. Having convinced friends Dave and Lesley to join Allison and myself aboard a sailing boat for 5 days was the easy part. Now we were aboard a plane bound for Split to sail a 40 foot yacht with absolutely no sailing experience between us.

Our arrival into Split had us make our way to Kastela Marina to meet our boat ‘Eva’ and our required skipper, and young buccaneer, Marino. Barely a day over 21, a freshly engraved tattoo of a tall ship on his exposed shoulder was the only sailing credentials sighted, apart from his detailed knowledge of Makarska of course. Would we visit this proverbial garden of Eden on our Croatian sailing adventure? Only time would tell.

Day 1: Split – Milne

We set sail for the island of Brac located 7 nautical miles (13km) from Split.  The need to have an entire new unit of measurement and supporting vocabulary as soon as one sets foot on the water is a perplexing concept for the land lover. Left becomes stern; right becomes starboard; and every other common land term has it’s matching sailing counterpart.

A more immediate concern though was our course, sorry bearing. Merino was below decks when a few cursory glances between us seemed to silently agree that we were directly in the path of a large cargo ship. Our concerns were acknowledged in the form of a reverberating fog horn which sounded across the harbour. Merino popped his head up quickly, shouted something in Croatian presumably, and made a quick course correction. The bulbous nose of the determined cargo ship plowed past, rather than through, us leaving Eva bobbing in it’s bow wave.

We reached the coast of the island of Brac for a refreshing swim, the June Adriatic waters were still quite chilly. The water was such a deep inky blue it was difficult to see past the surface and I imagined leaving the water looking like a Smurf. We moored for the evening on the shoreline of Brac at the marina in the town of Milna. It was a small picturesque harbour with impressive church spire.  It was a serene view for our first evening before the sun disappeared for the day.

Milne, Croatia

Milne, Croatia

Day 2: Milne – Hvar

Lonely Planet was quoted on Hvar as where the ‘swanky internationals’ come out to play. So we felt in elite company as we waltzed down the main esplanade lined with alfresco diners enjoying a sumptuous lunch in the sunshine. Our swankyness was however reserved to visual stimulation only as we travelled back like refugees on the water taxi to the marina at Palmižana. The Hvar mooring fees were a little out of our budget. Hvar fortress though is a cheap accessible sight for mere mortals and has overlooked the town since 1282.

Multi-day sailing it seems is a lot like caravanning. Back at the very full Palmižana marina, boats were lined up together in tight orderly rows to the moorings with water and power connected. Sailors were cooking meals and enjoying a drink on deck conversing with fellow sailors talking about their respective yachts or past sailing adventures. Then, come morning everyone shuffled along in flip flops to the communal bathrooms on shore in a towel or bathrobe carrying their obligatory toiletry bag.

Hvar fortress, more accessible than the pricey marina

Hvar fortress, more accessible than the pricey marina

Day 3: Hvar – Vis

Continuing further into the Adriatic we hoisted the sails toward Vis. Vis was once a navy base for the Yugoslav army and was less developed than other islands as a result. It is also on of the furthest ports from the mainland so this limits sailing traffic even more. The marina is located on a modest street along the shore and was very laid back. Swimming was had at a nearby pebbled beach reached by our dinghy. It was a perfect place to spend a day smack bang in the middle of the Adriatic sea.

While it had been ‘plain sailing’ so to speak to this point Marino, apart from mentioning Makarska consistently and a taking a liking to our stash of Karlovačko beer, had been talking about the ‘Bura’. A weather pattern common to the region known for it’s fierce winds as super cooled air rushes down off the steep Dinaric Alps which run the length of Croatia’s extensive coastline. When the cool mountain air is mixed with the warmer air at sea-level it causes some havoc at sea. As Merino pointed out ‘When the Bura sails, we don’t!’ Although he was on to his fourth beer of the afternoon at this point and was starting to sound like Quint from Jaws.

Pebbled beaches of desolate but delightful Vis.

Pebbled beaches of desolate but delightful Vis.

Day 4: Vis – Korcula

With no murmurings from the infamous Bura we were good to set sail to our fourth island in as many days. Croatia boasts over one thousand islands dotted along it’s coastline. Now, not to cause further disharmony in this troublesome neck of the woods, but Croatia did get a lion’s share of what is quite a stunning coastline. Together with the islands, each with their own unique charms, makes a very attractive tourism package.

Korcula is both an island and a town, the latter housing a decent medieval tower with fortified walls guarding its harbour. It may have been cabin fever of being at sea for 4 days, but our pronunciation of Korcula, for those familiar with Sesame Street’s Count Dracula, was followed by the drawn out echoed emphasis that Count is known to place at the end of his words. So ‘Korcula-ha-ha-ha’ is how we pronounced this town then and ever since. The small bar at the top of the fortified walls may have had something to do with this also.

Fortified Korcula-ha-ha-ha.

Fortified Korcula-ha-ha-ha.

Day 5: Korcula – Makarska

Merino woke with anticipation. ‘Today we sail for Makarska!’.

To ensure our bearing he also advised it is best we be at the mooring early as the Bura might come today.

“Of course!” we replied.

By now we were convinced that no Croatian sail is complete unless you’ve seen Makarska. Makarska we discovered was on the mainland and the mainland looked a little menacing as the dark clouds of the supposed Bura were building in the mountains.

Croatian Sailing into the 'Bura'

Croatian Sailing into the ‘Bura’

Merino made some preparations in the event of a storm but and also made a few calls. Could this be serious? The menacing clouds though remained high in the mountains long enough for us to reach the safety of Makarska marina. Waiting at the port was a girl on a scooter. It became clear, all this talk of Makarska and it was just for this buccaneer’s booty call! Merino quickly wished us well and pointed us towards town before he took off on the scooter with his lady clutching on behind.  To be fair Makarska is known as the ‘hidden riviera’ and contains a laid back mix of beaches, restaurants and nightlife.

Makarska, a small town on the mainland with dramatic cliffs of the in the back drop.

Makarska, a small town on the mainland with dramatic cliffs of the in the back drop.

Day 6: Makarska – Split

The final day was a commute back up the coast to Kastela Marina in Split. Merino, with an extra spring in his step, talked further about Makarska which is his home town and presented us with a bottle of his grandfather’s version of vodka. We docked Eva in the Marina and had one more night onboard in port before we departed for home.

Croatian sailing and tourism in general has boomed since 2007 when this trip was taken. Some things may have changed but the sailing in the Adriatic is a magnificent experience and the small island towns have a distinct charm. While I wouldn’t rush back to Makarska you may find it a decent stop on a drive between Split and Dubrovnik which is only a 3 hour drive should you want to see the famed walled city now featured in Game of Thrones.

About The Author

Warren

Ever since venturing out the back gate into the bush as a kid, I've had a curiosity to escape and explore as often as I could. It's fair to say that my curiosity has continued to grow instead of fade as the years go on. Sixty countries later it was about time to turn a few scribbled notes into some legible stories and tips to share for anyone with a similar curiosity as me.

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This looks great!
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