If swimming or paddling both sound like a little bit too much physical effort, then why not join the laidback boaty set? You don’t have to be an expert seafarer: Croatia is fantastic for a safe, gentle and relaxing introduction to sailing. Its climate normally ensures gentle, warm weather (the Adriatic is often so calm and flat it is likened to a mirror) and there are no major tides or currents to worry about. The sailing boats have motors too so if there is too much or too little wind, you can still reach your destination.
If you choose a skippered yacht, a qualified skipper from your charter company will be on board to show you the ropes, take you to little-known places and ease you through your learning curve. Your skipper can accompany you or not in the evenings when you dock, as you wish – they tend to know great hidden restaurants.
Don’t be afraid to get involved – you can learn how to moor, do the basic knots, unleash and take in the sail, set up the dinghy to get ashore, steer, plan your journey on the charts and check the weather forecasts. It’s very satisfying. And, crucially, you set the pace and the itinerary. You’re the boss. If you want to sail all night you can. If you want a gentle afternoon drift while reading a book, having a beer and basking on deck in the sun you can. It can be a race, a cruise, a floating bar, restaurant and hotel all at the same time.
There are plenty of reputable international charter companies and a number of good, smaller, local ones that can set you up with a tailor-made experience. Charts and guides will be supplied, plus lifejackets, safety equipment and fresh linen and towels. Space is limited, so pack sensibly before you set off. Pack a waterproof jacket, warm jumper and a good book. Don’t forget the sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, deck shoes and long-sleeved shirts to cover up. And take plastic sandals – to protect against sea urchins and for jumping ashore onto pebbly beaches.
Deals on fuel vary but the fuel and water tanks should normally be full when you depart and on return. A tender (small rubber boat) will be provided for safety and to get you from an anchorage to shore, but you may have to pay extra for an outboard engine if you don’t fancy rowing.
Happily, you’re never far from a marina in Croatia. State-owned ACI runs many of the marinas and has its own charter fleets in Vodice and Trogir. A night’s mooring in a marina will cost around €33, with a 10 per cent uplift at most in July and August, and town harbours will cost slightly less. In some anchorages and small bays, berthing is made easy by ‘lazy lines’. This is when marina staff, the harbour master or the restaurant owner will see you coming and run to the quay to pull a rope out of the water for you.
With the practicalities taken care of, all you need to decide is where you want to cruise. lstria has beautiful towns and adventurous cuisine but lacks the variety and abundance of islands in Dalmatia.
Kvarner contains the islands of Krk, Cres, Lošinj and Rab, all with their own marinas. A short sail from the busy marina of Zadar are the lesser-developed islands of Pašman, Ugljan and Dugi Otok, all ideal for finding secluded bays. Meanwhile, just nearby Biograd and the three marinas in Murter offer easy access to the stark natural wilderness of the Kornati national park, comprised of some 140 unspoiled islands.