We’re On A Boat: Island Hopping in Croatia

Manifesting a Dream

It’s March. The pandemic hits the world hard, and everything shuts down. Schools turn to distance learning, and all travel and visitors are cancelled. Our entire lives pull a 180º as our future plans of leaving the military, joining the airlines, and moving to Maine are no longer in the cards – and we decide to remain an Air Force family for the long haul. So many adjustments and so much coping is happening all at once. Still, we know we are in the “privileged” category, as many have lost their livelihoods and their loved ones, so we remain grateful, hopeful and positive with our attitudes. It is a difficult time for everyone, and we have certainly been feeling the weight of it all.

Believe!

We had visitors and trips planned for April, May, June and July, and since none of that could happen, we were saving up time and money for whenever borders opened back up. We knew Europe was taking the safety measures seriously, so at the end of May we expected that by late June we would see permissions granted to travel. With that, one night came a vision of something we didn’t think would be possible for our family…spending a week on a boat, sailing the islands of Croatia. “Can you imagine?” I said to Derek as I showed him the photo of the boat…

After a good amount of research we realized there were many factors that needed to align in order for this to work out, so we didn’t get our hopes up. 1. Derek needed a boating license for the Adriatic. 2. The borders needed to open. 3. We needed to book a boat – everything was contingent upon availability. 4. It needed to be affordable (it gets much more expensive mid summer).

Instead of scrapping the idea all together, Derek decided to work away at the boating license and studied for nearly a month – the course was formidable! – and he managed to pass and secure a license just in time for the borders to open and for us to book a boat. We ended up scoring a powered catamaran for the last month in June. We could hardly believe our good fortune. With all the work Derek put in and with the dream at our fingertips, we had to pull the trigger!

And boy, are we glad we did. This social-distance-friendly getaway was definitely one of the best trips we have ever taken!

The Plan

We rented a Fountaine Pajot My 37 Powered Catamaran from the Šibenik Mandalina Marina for one week – Saturday to Friday. As we were new to the boating world, we weren’t really sure exactly what to pack or how all of this would work, but we were eager to learn. All in all I think we did pretty well – the only thing I would do next time is pack less clothes and a few more towels!

On the way to and from Šibenik, Croatia, we planned to stop and visit Plitvice Lakes National Park and Krka National Park. We had these on our list for a long time and finally got to see both, in the beautiful summer, with pandemic-friendly, small crowds. They were absolutely amazing and deserve their own blog. Here’s a sneak peak – the full experience is written about here!

I gave Derek a list of places I wanted to visit around the central Croatian Islands and he got to work checking his aps and planning places to stay and eat, communicating with various mooring sites and restaurants, and nailing down safe places to anchor or buoy for the night. It was SO exciting to imagine that we were really going to do this! On the night before we picked up our “camper on the sea,” we ate delicious crepes on the waterfront promenade in Šibenik, went over our itinerary and double checked everything. We watched the sunset over the town and could hardly sleep, we were so excited!

Beautiful Šibenik at night (google image)

We’re On A Boat!

Day 1: Šibenik to Blue Lagoon

On the big day, we couldn’t get the boat until the afternoon, so we spent the morning at Banj Beach splashing in the waves, making rock forts and chasing swans. We arranged to check in “early” – which ended up being around 1:30PM, and with loading up, getting to know the boat and all the checklists and waiting, we didn’t leave the marina until almost 5PM.

We had marked Google Maps with all of our “boat stops” and contingency plans, and double checked every buoy and restaurant to make sure they could accommodate us. Luckily, in spite of it being the typically busy summer season, most places said they weren’t crowded…clearly due to the lack of tourist travel in the time of Covid-19. Our itinerary looked a little something like this:

This route amounted to over 200 nautical miles, and at least 7 islands!

The kids were SO excited when we finally got on the boat. We hauled all of our stuff over the little gangway (more like a plank!) and the kids went to work setting up their bedrooms and throwing on their swimsuits that they lived in for the next 7 days. Beau was especially meticulous about his bunk setup – he brought all kinds of little knickknacks and tools, books and gadgets to keep him occupied. One particular tool, a hammer-Swiss Army type – came in handy nearly every day! It was so cute to see how he put all of his clothes away and arranged his things on the shelves. He comes by it honestly! It was hard for them to wait over three hours to set sail, but it was definitely worth the wait. They were very patient, making friendship bracelets and coloring while daddy went over checklists and safety stuff with the marina dudes. Finally it was time to set sail*! *It was weird for us to say “sail” when our powered catamaran had no sails, but according to everyone in the bizz, that’s still what we’re supposed to say!

We carefully maneuvered out of the marina – a testament to Derek’s piloting skills, as he had never skippered a boat quite this large before, but was instinctive with the dual engine throttles – and we were on our way! As we started out kind of late, we decided to go straight to our anchor spot for the night, a cove near the Blue Lagoon off Otok Drvenik Veli (specifically, right in front of Otok Krknjaš Veli). We ate our pasta salad (well planned!) for dinner on the way, then dropped anchor. The kids were pumped to take their very first dip! There were quite a few other boats anchored in the cove, but we were the only one without a sail. The kids noticed the fish right away, as well as the noisy birds on the nearby island and a few goats, too!

We look back on this night and give so much thanks for the anchor staying put. We were by no means experts in the anchoring game, and I didn’t have much experience yet as a first mate, so the fact that we didn’t drift out into sea is pretty amazing. HA! The evening was pretty calm, and we weren’t sleeping great anyway getting used to the bilge pumps (which we eventually turned off at night) and other boat sounds around us. Derek said he was nervous about the anchor, so he was constantly checking to make sure we hadn’t sprung loose.

We realized quickly that this was a lot like camping, but on water. There were certainly a lot more risk factors involved in water-camping, so every day we reminded the kids of the rules and of our responsibilities. We know that with great risk comes great reward. As incredible as it was to experience the freedom of the seas, it was also a weight on our shoulders, and at times, stressful. “Did the anchor stick? Is it ok to buoy here? How do we maneuver into this cove with the winds? Is the depth ok? Which way should we launch from the buoy?” All of these questions and more were on our minds as we navigated the Adriatic on our adventure! I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again, nothing worthwhile is easy. And this was WELL worthwhile! We did a whole lot of learning those first few days…

Although we stayed overnight near the Blue Lagoon, we didn’t end up going over and anchoring and swimming there. Instead we opted to get a head start to Brač Island and Golden Horn beach.

Blue Lagoon (google images) We anchored to the left, at the top side of the smaller island.

Day 2: Brac & hvar

We woke up early (sunrise was around 5AM, and sunset around 9PM) and had coffee, banana bread, fruit and oatmeal for breakfast – our go-to for half of the trip! Then we pulled up the anchor to set sail for the island of Brač, where the famed “Golden Horn” beach lies dead center on the south side of the island. It was a two hour sail to get there…

golden horn

The Golden Horn, AKA as Zlatni Rat, is known for its long horn-like beach that juts way out into the Adriatic like a finger, allowing beach goers to enjoy the water on both sides of the beach. The water there was incredibly calm and clear, and there were terrific facilities (that we didn’t utilize) for anyone coming to the beach from the land. We arrived just after 9, and the weather was picture perfect. The water was glassy, making anchoring a breeze. We were the first boat to anchor up, so we weren’t sure what the etiquette was for boats, so we made a reasonable estimate for our distance to shore and jumped on some floaties to the beach.

Sky view of Golden Horn (google images)

This beach impressed me so much. I wasn’t sure if we would even end up swimming here, depending on the conditions and crowds, and we were prepared to move on if it didn’t measure up, but we were so pleasantly surprised! It really was awesome – we highly recommend it via boat or by land! It was perfect for the kids, with no sea urchins or craggy rocks. It was great for swimming, snorkeling and paddle boarding. We even saw people using these crazy powered wake boards! So cool! It’s worth noting that a corner of the west end of the beach is partitioned off as an adult/nude area. The whole swimming section is roped off as well, but that is just so boats don’t get too close to shore. We absolutely loved this beach, and we would’ve stayed longer, but we had other fun on our agenda and it was starting to get busy by noon time. We made our way back to the boat (peek-a-boo boat in the background!) and the kids took one final dip before we headed to our favorite Croatian Island about 90 minutes away, Hvar!

Life on a boat!

HVAR ISLAND

Hvar has been one of our favorite Croatian destinations since our very first trip there two years ago. We discovered “the best beach ever” (to be visited the next day again) as well as many other picturesque places to swim and explore. It was so special to be sailing around the west side of the island, as it was a whole new vantage point compared to what we were used to. We loved scooting in and out of coves to choose a beach at our whim to anchor down and take a dip. We spied a beach we enjoyed a year ago, Sviračina, on the northwest side of the island, and decided to swim nearby at a cove just to the west of there. It was so small it didn’t even have a name!

No-name cove

The girls and I climbed around on the rocks and admired the views from the shore while the boys swam near the boat to make sure the anchor was steady. We didn’t spend too long here, as we were anxious to get to our first mooring location, and I was eager to try my hand at ropes and buoys. I didn’t have much experience as a deck hand slash first mate at this point in the trip, but by the end I could moor us to buoys with my eyes closed! From the no-name cove we headed to our second overnight spot, Vela Garska. This is located a few coves west of Hvar town.

VELA GARSKA

Vela Garska was our first time using a rope or buoy, so we were glad Marco, the nice gentleman who owns the restaurant, was there to help us out. This particular mooring was interesting because it was a long rope anchored from the water to the shore without a buoy. We tied up the front end and the back end of the boat to the same rope and were very stable for the afternoon and overnight. Little did we know this rope would turn out to be our nemesis in the morning…

The cove was like something from a fairy tale. We were the second boat (of an eventual four) for the evening, and we were the only boat with children. The kids absolutely loved swimming, baiting fish, using the skiff and paddle board, and playing on the shore. The waitress at the restaurant was super friendly and sweet to the kids and gave them each a nice big seashell as a souvenir. She informed us that we were the very first (and only) Americans she’s seen this summer, which didn’t surprise us, as the EU has banned Americans for now until they get their pandemic act in gear. We are the lucky ones who have residence cards to be here, so we slipped through the borders free and clear!

This lovely cove was also our first experience with boating life. The people are all SO friendly, welcoming, generous, and helpful. It felt like the epitome of vacation life to tie up in a beautiful cove and float in on our skiff to a restaurant that served us the fresh catch of the day. We were officially in paradise!

Before dinner we sat on the beach and watched the kids play with a glass of wine and shook our heads, feeling like the luckiest people on Earth. It felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. It helped us take our minds off the worries of the world, if only for a week…

We enjoyed a delicious (and the priciest of the vacation!) meal at Mareta Tavern of wine, fresh fish, meat and cheese plate, octopus salad, bacon potatoes and goulash – which we took back to the boat for leftovers as we were stuffed! But not too stuffed for a chocolate covered, almond stuffed fig! Yum! I was so impressed with the kids, who tried everything and generally liked it too.

The night was so peaceful and calm, and we slept like babies as the boat rocked us to sleep. This was the view as we drifted off, before we had our first “incident” the next morning…

Day 3: hvar & Otok šćedro

We woke and had another breakfast of coffee, banana bread (great prep!) and fruit, and we were VERY excited to get to our “favorite beach ever” today. When we were all ready to head out after our obligatory morning swims, Derek started up the engines and we got ready to set sail.

Trusty deck hand Bri made the crucial error of dropping the ropes at just the precisely wrong time (as Derek revved the engines against the waves) and just as it occurred to me that I probably should’ve held onto the ropes until we were clear of them, the rope got caught in the left rear propeller. And when I say stuck, I mean STUCK. It was so stuck that our boat neighbors (German and Croatian) couldn’t budge the rope. They used snorkels to get a look at the situation and established we needed a professional to help! Luckily Marco sent his buddy (who also happened to be the chef who cooked our fish the night prior) to help get us free. We waited a couple of hours, tied up to the opposite shore for safety, while the kids swam and played on the beach and were entertained by the sweet waitress who returned with Marco’s buddy. We agreed if there was a place to be stuck, it was here! While we waited for help to arrive, Derek took the skiff a few coves over to Hvar town for supplies (more cash, water, snacks) with the old man next to us who helped us get to a safe position. What started out to be a very nerve racking morning ended up a huge relief. We learned this wasn’t all that uncommon (we noticed the mooring rope had been cut and retied several times – phew!) and we were grateful no real damage was done. The folks from Mareta Tavern were SO kind and helpful and really saved the day for us! We were oh so grateful, and we were sure to $how our gratitude to the superman who dove down for 40 minutes to cut us free! We can’t say enough great things about this place and highly recommend it to sailors!

There she is, the rope tightly wound around the propeller under the catamaran…

Sveta Nedjelja Bay Lučišća

The snaffu had only set us back about 3 hours, and since we didn’t have much on the agenda that day, we were still in good shape. With the drama behind us – and lesson learned – we zoomed past Hvar Town to the gorgeous Sveta Nedjelja Bay Lučišća.

The view of Hvar Town from the water as we passed.

This beach was one we discovered nearly 2 years ago on our first trip to Croatia, and we tried to return the next time we were on Hvar but the road was under construction so we couldn’t! Beau was super disappointed then, but this made up for it and then some! We floated into the cove and anchored up, but before we could even gather our things, Beau already dove in and was making his way to shore. There were a few families there, but it didn’t matter. We were the only boat! We chilled there for the afternoon.

The perfect day (minus the morning flub up).
Incredible!

The kids made friends everywhere we went, and this was no exception. This time, two families from Czechia had kids and enjoyed our floaties in the water with the girls while Beau tossed a water ball with a beautiful 16 year old girl and her little brother. What an afternoon! It sure made up for our stressful morning. We waited until the sun was starting to set behind the tall cliffs surrounding this beach before heading to our buoys for the night in a cove on the small island of Otok Šćedro.

What fun at our favorite beach!

At the time, we had yet to visit the world-renowned Stiniva Beach on nearby Vis Island, but now that I have seen both (and so many other Croatian beaches), this beach right here remains our favorite. It is by far the most beautiful pebble beach we have ever seen! It has the perfect combination of crystal clear water, cliffs to jump off, trees to provide shade, and incredible rocky peaks as a backdrop. What more could you ask for? It can be reached from the land or sea, but is never really that busy. It’s just remote enough and a well kept secret – you’re welcome!

Loving life – and a little cliff diving!
Living their best life, “camping” on the water!

Otok Šćedro

The ride to Otok Šćedro was fairly short, about 30 minutes from our “favorite beach.” Šćedro is a little island between Hvar and Korčula that is mostly a protected nature preserve. A very deep cove on the north side serves as a great mooring location and it also boasts several restaurants for boaters. Most activity here is by boat as there are no proper roads on the island.

Beautiful view of Sveta Nedjelja town on the cliffs of Hvar on our way to Otok Šćedro

When we arrived we were greeted by a gentleman in a skiff in charge of the buoys. He helped us connect to 2 buoys (our first time doing it this way) so we were quite stable in the calm cove. He took our buoy payment (approx $30, which is a bit more than usual as catamarans are a wide craft) and came back later to take our trash. What service! Shortly after we were buoyed, another nice man came by in his little boat full of goodies. He was selling his family’s wine, olive oil, and jarred fruit items, and he even took our order from the bakery on Hvar for the next morning, to be delivered at 6AM sharp! We picked up olive oil and wine and gave him our order for yummy pastries for breakfast. He was great – the prices were reasonable, and he was friendly and reliable!

We took another swim (this time skinny dipping – when in Europe, right?) and then got ready for another delicious dinner at the coveside Porat Grill. We rowed our skiff in and settled into a beautiful table as the sun was setting. We were one of about 3 families who ended up dining there that evening overlooking our “mini yacht” in the quiet cove. The hosts were incredibly welcoming, friendly, and accommodating, and even had coloring pages out and ready for the kids, which they loved. We ordered a ton of food – so we were surprised when the price was less than the previous night’s meal in Vela Garska. Perhaps it was because it didn’t include our buoy price this time, as it did in Vela Garska. Often it is the case that if you decide to eat at a restaurant, the buoy is free. This particular place, likely as it is a nature preserve, has different rules. You pay for the buoy and dinner separately as they are unaffiliated. We ate a delicious meal of steak, lamb chops, potatoes, bread and olive oil from the island, Croatian cured ham and cheese platter, vegetarian couscous plates, and octopus salad (again – quickly becoming one of Derek’s favorite).

Porat Grill
Rowing our skiff to shore for dinner – nice water camper in the background!
A beautiful sunset view of the cove, our boat, and a restaurant all to ourselves.
What a meal!
Sun goes down, its time for bed!

DAY 4: OTOK ŠĆEDRO TO KORČULA TO VIS

We awoke to a beautiful morning, with pastries dropped off by our little boat delivery man, and took our morning dips in the sea while we drank coffee and planned the day. The girls were sunning their buns when we decided to set sail.

This day, in the middle of our trip, was probably our least favorite. We had planned to anchor in the evening wherever we found a comfortable spot on the island of Korčula, but our plans turned to contingencies as soon as we discovered unfavorable anchoring conditions everywhere we went on Korčula (although in hindsight, a likely factor was poor anchoring strategy combined with a rock or seaweed covered sea floor). We accepted our anchor failures and opted to head directly to the island of Vis for the night in hopes of a buoy in Mala Travna, a cove adjacent to Stiniva. The day was long, at around 65 nautical miles, but it was beautiful in spite of our anchor troubles. “This is a great tour!” We agreed at one point. We certainly couldn’t complain when surrounded by beautiful islands and the open sea!

OTOČIĆ PROIZD

No luck at Batalo Beach…

We stopped at two beaches on Proizd island and attempted to anchor, with no luck. Batalo Beach was the first stop, followed by the neighboring Uvala Donji Bili Bok, two beautiful coves that we reeeeally wanted to be able to swim in but we just couldn’t find a way to stay put in the waves without proper anchoring or tying to shore. [By the end of the trip we had solved this problem, but I sure wish we knew what to do this day!] We gave up and happily continued on knowing each little cove was a new opportunity to anchor.

Donji Bili Bok, Proizd (google images)

BEACH LUČICA

We coasted around the inner coves of Korčula’s main harbor area, Vela Luka, and decided to pass on most of them as they were either unprotected from the winds, busy with boats, or had buildings and “too many people” for what we were looking for that day.

We continued on to the region of Potirna where we found the beautiful Lučica beach where we had semi-anchoring success. What that means is, we were able to swim for the afternoon but we had to reconnect the anchor several times. I’m sure Derek wasn’t able to really relax with the boat slowly drifting around the cove, but it was the highlight for us on Korčula so we were grateful for the little break from our boat tour that day!

The girls and I floated to shore and climbed around on the rocks while a dude nearby filmed us with his drone. We found fish everywhere we went, and Beau enjoyed snorkeling around the boat and casting his line to try to catch some (without success). We found tiny crabs on the shore and that entertained the girls for a while. The water was just perfect there, but we knew we couldn’t stay all afternoon as we had given up on our vision to anchor anywhere here on the islands of Korčula and still wanted to make it to Vis island for the evening. Also, we noticed that the mornings and evenings were generally calm, but between 12-2 the winds tended to pick up and the seas became rougher, so we didn’t want to be traveling across the open sea to Vis when it was too rough.

Mala Travna

We decided to head to Vis a day early in hopes of having better luck with a safe overnight mooring. The cove and restaurant we were planning to patronize the following night was fine with us coming a night early, and we figured if it was nice enough we would just stay there for two nights! However, once we arrived, we realized pretty quickly that this may not be as dreamy as our previous buoy-restaurant experiences. First of all, they only had ONE buoy outside of their restaurant, and it was first-come, first-served. It was taken when we arrived, so our only option was to anchor in a nearby inlet. The anchor finally seemed to take, so we were relieved. We planned to have dinner on the boat that night and eat up all of our leftovers, so we weren’t in need of a restaurant meal, but I paddled in to talk to the folks at the restaurant anyway to see how their system worked. I wasn’t greeted with the familiar warmth and friendliness of all the other coves. Instead, these folks looked at me like I should already know the answers to the questions I was asking (“how does the buoy work for you guys? Are there other options nearby for mooring? How much is the buoy?”) and they were generally dismissive and unhelpful. Needless to say we do not recommend Konoba Senko Restaurant. Nevertheless, the boys stayed on the boat fishing and swimming and the girls and I went in to enjoy the beach and rocks along the water’s edge. To our surprise, this also was clearly a nude beach area, and the girls got an eyeful on their float into shore! So, with that lukewarm reception, we decided not to stay for the night again and move our plan ahead even further, which turned out in our favor. Derek booked a buoy for the next night at a place we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to stay – the Fisherman’s House – and it turned out absolutely perfect.

We brushed off our “bad luck” for the day, grateful to already be on Vis and be able to go earlier than we had planned to Stiniva in the morning. What was a day of relative disappointments (anchor-wise) ended up being a day that got us ahead of schedule and we were grateful for that! We had a lovely meal on the boat, followed by a great game of Yahtzee as the sun went down. The kids still talk about that night as being one of their favorites, so we must’ve done something right! I loved our dinner on the boat, too, and will probably plan a couple more of those in the future. The kids spotted a tiny jellyfish, which ended our evening of swimming, and should’ve been an omen for the night ahead…hahaha

Yahtzee on a yacht!

We were all super tired that night, so of course this was also the night Derek woke me up at 2 am with a flashlight and in an urgent tone saying, “we’re drifting.” Sure enough, we had dislodged from our anchor position, likely due to the slight tide change and wind shift, and were slowly floating out the cove and out to sea. We had only made it halfway up the cove, so I wasn’t a bit worried, and I reminded Derek in good spirits that we are all set because “we’re on a boat!” In spite of my fatigue, I was welcoming of the challenge. Derek and I used our high powered flashlights and the big halogen spotlight on the boat to navigate back to where we originally anchored and try again. We were surrounded by a sky full of stars and a big beautiful moon – something we never would’ve seen without this little mishap! Derek wasn’t going to be able to relax without keeping a lookout, so we agreed to take turns. Luckily, he said, keeping a lookout and late nights were something he was used to as a pilot in the Air Force! He snuggled up, lounging at the top of the boat while I went back down to the cabin to try to rest. You can be sure we needed coffee the next morning! It sure was a fitting way to end a day that didn’t quite go our way.

DAY 5: VIS ISLAND TO PAKLINSKI ISLANDS

The funny thing about day 4 that we didn’t realize until we scooted over to the next cove and Stiniva Beach, is that we were just one cove away from FREE buoys for the night! Our anchor problem could’ve been solved at neighboring Stiniva. HA! We were kicking ourselves for not doing the research, but admittedly, cell phone service was pretty crappy out on the water and without wifi, we weren’t always able to DO the research. Another lesson learned!

STINIVA BEACH

Early that morning, we expertly maneuvered into Stiniva cove and navigated to a buoy. I was getting quite good at hooking and looping our ropes to get all tied up by that point, and we even managed to tie to shore with a rope, too! We finally were getting our confidence by then, and we were glad to beat the crowds to this, supposedly the most “beautiful beach in the world.”

The entrance of Stiniva Beach

What I’ll say about Stiniva (besides that it is overrated), is that it is very unique. The tiny beach with huge, round, white rocks is nestled in a big ravine and pinched in by two large cliffs. It is accessible most commonly by boat, but also by steep hiking route down the ravine. It may not be the ideal spot to spend a day with the family, but it makes for great photos and some fun exploring! There is a little restaurant there (we picked up more bottles of water for the boat – score!) and even what appeared to be a little Sobe, or apartment to rent right on the beach. This beach would not be the best place to catch rays – it wouldn’t get much full sun due to the geography of the place – but it is definitely worth a visit.

There’s our boat! Nestled in the cliffs of the cove…
Pretty small beach, actually.
This pano makes it seem much bigger than it really is…
No boats allowed through the mouth of the beach – only swimmers and floaties!

GRADAC BEACH

As Stiniva began to get busier, we decided it was time to go find a place all to ourselves to hang for the afternoon. We unhooked our ropes from the rocks and buoys and slid right out of that cove like we knew what we were doing! Haha!

The ride around Vis was lovely. We went past Green Cave, a very popular destination for day boat trips from nearby Split, and noticed it was a big operation and probably not worth our while. We had heard of its popularity but were not interested in spending half of the day waiting in lines to pay to take a boat inside of a little blue cave. We were lucky enough to see something similar on the Istrian Peninsula of Croatia last summer, so we weren’t desperate to do it again. Destination for now – beach!

Around the other side of Vis was Gradac Beach, a spot that looked totally deserted, uninhabited for a long time. The beach itself was beautiful – the only downside was it was covered in trash! We were surprised to see this, as no other beach we had visited in Croatia was so unkempt. To our surprise, the kids were excited to see all the “treasures” on the beach, and after we tied up to the rocky beach borders (anchoring wasn’t working there and we were determined to stay anyway), they made their way to shore and spent the entire afternoon crafting things out of the trash! HA!

Let’s jump in!

Derek and I took a little hike up the side of the mountain to investigate the abandoned building, platform, and paths. The views from up there were spectacular! The rocks were fun to climb around on, and the water was perfect – no sea urchins! – for swimming and skinny dipping! We lovingly called this “Trash Beach” even though it was one of the most gorgeous coves we saw!

Amazing view from the cliff top of what we lovingly called “Trash Beach”
Do not go on that platform!
Hiking along the rock walls and spider-infested trails
Look at that water!
Its a good day for no tan lines…

We soaked up all the sun and seawater we could until we decided it was time to head back towards Hvar to the Paklinski Islands, where we were scheduled to buoy in a cove near Sveti Klement and eat at FisherMan’s House.

FISHERMAN’S HOUSE

It took us just under 2 hours to go from Vis to the Hvar side of the Paklenski islands. It was a beautiful day, and whenever we cruised the seas in the afternoon, the kids inevitably napped!

The Fisherman’s House is located in a fairly large cove with ample buoy options that were all full by the evening. The shores were craggy with rocks and the beach had tiki umbrellas but was fairly small. There were a lot of sea urchins, so the kids stuck to the water near the boat or right on the beach. It was a peaceful location, and we were very happy to be finally buoyed up again instead of relying on the anchor!

If we are ranking places, this one is tops – but not because of the cove or the beach/swimming area, and not because of the views from the restaurant. FisherMan’s house has the most friendly hosts, a Danish man and his family who live and work there and have wonderful stories to tell.

Our Danish neighbor’s sailboat as the sun set…

The food was delicious, and the price was generous! They were so accommodating and helpful, we were glad to be in a place where we felt like we were in good hands. We also met the sweetest Danish couple who were sailing around for 5 months (2+ of which they were stuck in Italy at a shipyard during the pandemic – the pits!) and were our buoy neighbors for the evening. Their two tiny kids were so cute and they played with our big kids after dinner, chasing the goat and cats round the olive groves surrounding our dining area. They told us stories and we exchanged great conversation. We can get the hang of this boat life thing!

This place was so magical – a real taste of paradise – and it can be enjoyed by boat or by land. They have lovely cottages and rooms for rent that we would highly recommend if by boat isn’t an option! The buoy was just fine, although in gustier conditions it may not be as comfortable. We climbed around the rocks, paddle boarded to the shore, and enjoyed plenty of water time while moored here. It was a beautiful end to a very memorable day!

DAY 6: PAKLINSKI ISLANDS TO SOLTA

The next day we planned to have breakfast, take our normal morning swims, and head straight for the island of Solta to make the most of the coves and beaches there. Paklinski’s St Klement Island to Solta’s Uvala Tatinia was 16 nautical miles away, so it took us about an hour and a half to get there.

Stračinska

Our first stop was Stračinska cove. We stayed away from the busier areas and found our own little inlet (of course!) to swim in. The entire cove was beautiful! We managed to get our anchor in and spent some time relaxing in the clear green waters. I took the pineapple floaty to shore to explore a little bit while the kids practiced swimming with their fins.

From this gorgeous spot we cruised slowly around the south side of the island, dipping in and out of coves and finding some amazing cliffs, caves, and rock formations! Then we made our way to Uvala Tatinja, where we would have dinner at a most picturesque spot – Lonely Paradise on Solta!

Uvala Tatinja

We arrived early in the afternoon to the cove where our restaurant, Loney Paradise, was located. A nice dude met us in his skiff to help us get buoyed up – just a single buoy again – for the evening. “Wow you’re strong!” He said to me as I grabbed the ropes and tied us up to the buoy. “I’ll take it!” I said. This was among the smallest and also, eventually, the busiest cove we stayed in, but it was a lot of fun to watch the huge catamarans (that dwarfed ours) navigate in and buoy or tie to shore. There were probably 10 fairly large boats in a pretty tiny cove.

We did some swimming and even had to retrieve a floaty that went rogue, so it was a terrific sunny afternoon. The kids took turns baiting fish and watching them swarm around them with their snorkels – so fun!

Lonely Paradise Restaurant, with many eating and seating cabana areas – so cool!

The people here were so friendly and welcoming! Its worth a sailing stop for sure. Our delicious (and reasonably priced) meal consisted of two types of fresh fish cooked over an open flame, sides of spinach and potatoes mashed plus grilled vegetables, bread, fish pate, wine and a meat and cheese platter. We were also sharing our meal with swarms of hornets, which were quite distracting this time. The kids were uncomfortable, so they mostly played and came back to eat and then run. They made friends with a little Polish girl who was buoyed two boats from us, and they spent the evening exploring around the beach and paths along the cove. Derek and I sat and reflected on the trip and were sitting there in that moment totally relaxed and blissful, albeit pretty well spent! It was a beautiful last evening to spend as boat people.

Willow on walkabout, exploring the paths around our cove barefoot!

We all slept really well that evening, except that there was no reception whatsoever, and we had plans we were arranging the next day with friends. Also I didn’t want to lose the video snaps I took (that disappear in 24 hours if they don’t get saved), so I was worried about that a bit, but I figured they would load the next day out on the water like they usually did. Sure enough, it ended up being just fine. What a way to say goodnight to the an incredibly memorable week.

Nearly a full moon over the cove.

DAY 7: SOLTA TO PRIMOŠTEN AND ŠIBENIK

Primošten

We heard our friends Pete and Ashley were in the area and since we would be passing right by them the day we had to return the boat, we figured we’d invite them on the boat for the afternoon! It was so easy to coordinate – we went straight to Primošten from Solta (about 2 hours in the morning with the water conditions) and snatched up a free buoy in the harbor. On the way it was quite choppy, and it was the first time I experienced some form of seasickness the entire trip. Imagine! The very last day. The kids did well (I think Didi had a little motion sickness as well) but laying down helped me a lot. The kids spotted some dolphins on the way – it was amazing!

When we arrived, I swiftly snagged up a buoy while the whole harbor of sailboats watched. It was just after 9AM when we settled into the bay. Derek paddled the skiff to shore, tied up, grabbed some supplies, and picked up our guests. The kids had a great time swimming while we waited. They were ready for an afternoon of beach hopping, sunshine, and swimming in the sea!

We started off slowly (luckily the seas had calmed) and made our way to the islands between Otok Zlarin and Primošten. There were so many terrific places to anchor down, it was hard to choose! We just started randomly choosing places based on how private they were and how well we were able to anchor.

Our first stop was at the tip of the Grebaštica peninsula. We were able to swim a bunch and explore ashore before realizing the anchor wasn’t quite sturdy.

Eventually, a huge yacht came to anchor nearby us and we watched their technique carefully – and learned a little something! Instead of sticking around sharing the cove with the yacht, we made our way next door to the island of Otok Krbela Vela, a tiny place with what turned out to be one of our favorite little swimming spots of the trip! We finally anchored in solidly, and I swam a rope to tie to shore. Next level boating! Pete and Ashley brought goodies and put together a lovely lunch for us to enjoy on the boat together. We did all kinds of diving, swimming, floating and exploring for the whole afternoon before we dropped them back off (on our floaties to borrow) to paddle into shore for the rest of their vacation in Primošten. It was a very special day indeed!

Cheers with Croatian beers!
What a fun day!

From the swift drop off of our friends, we sailed just under 2 hours to get back to our marina in Šibenik, gas up, and moor the boat one final time. It was extremely windy (of course) so we had our work cut out for us in the gas-up and “parking” of the boat. All in all we felt confident navigating in tight spaces compared to when we first picked up the boat, and we breathed a sigh of relief when all of our stuff was loaded off and the scuba diver had checked the underside of the catamaran, giving the “all clear” sign. For the record, we did a damn good job and we knew we had taken good care of their boat!

Returning into the main harbor of Šibenik, Croatia

FINAL THOUGHTS ON BOATING…

It is worth noting a few things we realized about boat life. Aside from this being a rented boat (with the typical insurances of course) and all of the weight that comes with being a responsible boat skipper and first mate, we realized that it takes a while to get your sea legs – literally and figuratively. We were very lucky that our weather and sea conditions were favorable and we didn’t have many issues with sea sickness, but we knew that was a real possibility. Derek commented at one point, “I haven’t even checked the weather – it’s been perfect all week!” And it really was. Shortly after we left, the seas turned rough with a storm and it made us even more thankful for the amazing seas we were gifted for our week on the Adriatic. We rolled with everything in terms of mooring, gassing up, entering and exiting the marina, and communicating with sea-savvy neighbors and restaurateurs, but there’s no question that at first we felt like fish out of water! Most people we met were experienced sailors, and if they weren’t, then they likely had a skipper to rely on. We were definitely a daring duo, taking a big leap into the world of boating!

On the boat there were some little inconveniences we learned to live with. One, when the boat was moored somewhere near land, it was expected that hornets would come make themselves at home. The hornets in Croatia, we noticed, were more of a pest than a danger, and we learned to live with them, as they disappeared as soon as we got moving again. Nobody got stung! They also were a bit of a menace during our evening dinners, but many places had various deterrents to help with that. It was noticeable, but not really that problematic until our last night, where the waiter brought us a smoking pile of coffee grounds to help with the swarms of hornets!

Toilets on a boat are something to get used to. They are reminiscent of an airline lavatory, except you’re not permitted to flush paper products. All toilet paper needed to be bagged, which was an inconvenience but totally manageable. Additionally, the fresh water that is used to help flush toilets is the water you use to shower off and wash dishes, and it is limited. We learned to be very conservative with our water usage, which made a nice warm shower at the end of our journey at our apartment even more amazing! I did love the little hose at the back of the boat which made things very convenient for an evening rinse off of all the sticky salt before bed.

Happy Captain D!

Boat safety is one of those things we discussed with the children constantly. It may be like camping, but it’s camping on the water, which carries extra risks. We realized right away that if someone fell overboard we wouldn’t even know it as the engines (and our cruising tunes) were too loud to hear a splash or anyone yell. Therefore we made a point to know where all people were at all times, stay put when we were cruising, and follow all safety rules when moving about the catamaran. We had only one mishap where the fin of our inflatable SUP went overboard and we couldn’t rescue it, but a couple of times our floaties got away from us and we had to row or paddle out to retrieve it. We were lucky that nobody got seriously injured (most of us came away with minor bruises, rope burns or cuts) and we didn’t lose a single beach towel! HA!

Sleeping on a boat is generally comfortable, as long as you’re safely moored and don’t have to worry about an unsteady anchor or rough seas. I liked the gentle rocking of the boat and the sounds of the sea the same way I love sleeping at camp in Maine on the lake. But – in the summer – it is HOT. Our boat didn’t have air conditioning, so we were constantly adjusting the windows while in motion for air flow and trying to make sure the four rooms downstairs didn’t get overheated. There were little fans that helped, and luckily the evenings cooled down for the most part, but we did have one night where it was awfully hot and it was difficult to get comfortable. I would be sure our boat has A/C next time!

If we are looking for a totally relaxing, care-free vacation, this probably isn’t it. If we are looking for an amazing adventure with challenges to navigate together, the freedom of the seas, incredibly rewarding beach experiences and a super-bonding family vacation, then this is definitely it! There are things you can do on a boat as a family with no technology and only the sea, and sky to entertain you that you’d never be able to do on land. Derek commented that he wasn’t able to truly let down the whole time as we had the responsibility of the boat and everyone’s safety on our shoulders, and that’s totally understandable. He had a fantastic time and feels accomplished, as he should! He kept us all safe and did a phenomenal job. It was memorable in every way, in spite of the pressure and the learning curve. Still, when we dropped off the boat and that weight was lifted, we looked back longingly and said, “I can’t wait to do that again.”

8 comments

  1. Brilliant! I have sat here reading through your great account of Croatia….we have been to Croatia, driving over the border at Zagreb…it was very slow for us too. We were heading for the island of Krk. Love your fabulous photos, makes me want to go back again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such an absolutely incredible post! You and Derek should be so proud for taking on such a huge undertaking. I’m so thankful for friends documenting their travels and adventures! The picture of Willow on her walkabout–I think my heart exploded. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My husband and I both enjoyed reading this boating story. Your wonderful writing and photography skills draw us into your adventures. Thanks for sharing the bad stuff as well as the awesome times.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Bri,
    What a great account of your holiday in Croatia. The way you write is so interesting and captivating. And such a blessing to have your three beautiful children enjoy your holidays with you – do it often, they grow up so quickly and then go off to make a life for themselves “somewhere”. Your images and experiences brought back wonderful memories. Our three “kids” live in the US, UK and Oz.
    We’ve sailed Croatia on three different occasions; but always for two weeks at a time, as SA is so far to travel to the Med. And we intend to sail the northern area, from Zadar, in September next year. I’ve got quotes already.
    Anyway, about your anchoring concerns: This was the main problem we encountered in the early days of sailing. And even although your ‘Thunderball’ wasn’t a sailing yacht, the anchoring is similar. It took us quite some time to learn the art from trial and error – we pinpointed these main failures: (1) Deploying too little rode/chain, which should be at least 4 to 5 times the depth (2) Not allowing the anchor to settle long enough on the seabed before backing up slowly (3) Not “testing” the anchor by reversing from idle to 70% throttle at a slow progression to speed, in order to give the anchor time to imbed itself – it must STOP the boat; otherwise, re-anchor in a new sandy spot.
    My suggestion is to watch a few of the (quite boring) anchor testing clips on YouTube before you go boating next time. Understanding the unique way the various anchors function helped me a lot in the early days. There’s nothing worse than being unsure of your anchor holding – you never rest properly.
    All the best,
    Malcolm
    South Africa

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! Thanks for the great info, Malcolm! Your suggestions are precisely what we ended up gathering from trial and error, YouTube videos and fellow sailors. It makes all the difference! Just wish we had learned it sooner on our trip, but all in all it went swimmingly.

      Thank you for your kind words and I wish you the very best on your future travels. They will mean so much more when we are finally able to explore again! 🙂 And we do hope to make it to SA one of these days…

      Like

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