SAILING IN THE MED: ONE WEEK IN CROATIA WITH MEDSAILORS
Embarking on a Croatia Sailing trip as a couple
When MedSailors invited us to tag along for a week sailing in the Mediterranean on their Croatia Voyager tour from Dubrovnik to Split, we were pretty thrilled to say the least. Then reality kicked in: let's just say Mandy has a history of seasickness (we'll spare you the gory details)... And as for me? Well, I was having nightmare visions of being trapped with a bunch of strangers in the tight confines of a boat and tending to a pale-green Mandy-goblin. Imagine the horror...
Can you tell we generally consider ourselves landlubbers? We would, of course, later discover that sailing is a lifestyle we could happily take on. The Adriatic sea along the coast of Croatia is probably as tame as it gets in sailing terms and the region offers access to some of Europe's most idyllic old port towns and Mediterranean landscapes that could keep us exploring for months. As if that weren't enough, excellent fresh sea-food, more ice cream than you can imagine, a vibrant nightlife and a selection of wines that may leave your head spinning (at least they did mine) were all part of the experience that MedSailors was offering us. It definitely seemed worth doing as a couple.
After some light reading, I replaced my horror visions with the prospect of kicking back in the sun, a cold beer in hand and a happy Mandy at my side. A bit of sweet-talking (aka shameless begging) on my part seemed to do the trick: Mandy was on board. I should probably also add that all the inflatable unicorn snaps I found on instagram had me pretty excited to say the least.
Armed with a dragon's hoard of motion sickness tablets (one box picked up at Boots in Gatwick airport) and our body-weight in cameras, we climbed aboard our 45 foot catamaran, aptly named the Summertime. We didn't realise it at the time, but we were embarking on what might be one of our most fun and memorable weeks all year. Looking back, our only regret is probably that we didn't find enough space in our luggage to fit an inflatable unicorn. This is, of course, the sad reality of being travel photographers.
making friends at sea: sharing a yacht on a medsailors trip
The night before we left was our standard pre-trip routine: a whirlwind of packing and tying up loose ends fuelled by a fruitless ambition to get to bed at a reasonable hour. Alas, sleep was never part of it, so when we turned up at the marina in Dubrovnik, we must have looked like a couple of zombies. (The problem with zombies is that they're not usually the most sociable, and these two were about to meet the people they'd be spending a week with.)
Relief washed over us as we saw the MedSailors flags amidst an armada of parked yachts. Sophie, our Guest Experience Leader (GEL) spotted us and made sure we ended up in the right place without any further wandering. She checked us in and kindly looked after our bags so I could run the most important errand of the day: purchasing beer for the week. Oh, and of course soy milk for Mandy (thanks Google Live Translator app thing).
Right off the bat, hanging out with Sophie while they readied our yacht felt more like making friends than interacting with staff. We were pretty thrilled when we found out she'd also be spending the week with us on our boat. As we waited with a few other guests, we met our ship mates for the week to come: Matt and Bessie, a lively couple that live in Australia. Also sailing with us was George, who was in training with MedSailors and actually became a skipper during our trip (spoiler alert: the other skippers initiated him by throwing him in the sea, fully dressed on the last night). It was becoming evident from the characters around us that there’d be plenty of banter on the Summertime in the week to come.
With everyone accounted for, Brendan, our skipper introduced us to our yacht. The sun was shining as we set sail from Dubrovnik and there was a buzz in the air. Despite our complete exhaustion, we seemed to have found a second wind. It didn't take long before we all felt comfortable around each other and the jokes started rolling. Thankfully with that, I could also put my nightmare visions of being trapped with crappy company to sleep...with the fishes.
It all made sense when Sophie explained to us that MedSailors matches you with your shipmates based on a questionnaire you fill out before your journey. In our case, they seemed to have done a damn fine job of it. We couldn't have ended up with a better lot for the week, and think it's safe to say we made some friends for life.
We were part of a flotilla of five other MedSailors yachts, which travelled to the same stops together. En route, we didn't see much of the people on other boats. For swimming breaks and evening outings, on the other hand, our yachts were rafted together in bays or docked next to each other in marinas. "Permission to come aboard?" became a familiar term as we got to know our fellow sailors. This was probably our favourite aspect of the trip, because it meant making more friends. Quite a few memorable evenings were spent on other decks with our comrades, enjoying drinks and playing cards late into the night, before clambering over the edges to crash into bed back on the Summertime.
The medsailors experience: life on the mediterranean
The private double room gave us just enough space to feel comfortable, and for a boat, the bed wasn't half bad. It certainly didn't offer the comfort of a luxury hotel bed, but by the end of a long day of swimming, sailing and exploring towns, we weren't feeling all too picky. Mandy insists her hips disagreed later though (she also doesn't know I snuck a pea under her mattress).
There was something really serene about waking up every morning on a gently rocking catamaran somewhere in the Med; especially when it was to the smell of freshly brewed coffee that was waiting for us. While there was no obligation to crawl out from under the sheets by a specific time, we found ourselves waking up the second our boat started moving, which was usually somewhere between 7:30 and 9:00. It always surprised me how easy it was to be up and out of bed so early on a holiday (*especially* after nights of sampling local wines), but I suppose the prospect of taking in stunning morning views from the deck of a yacht was a pretty good incentive. If that wasn't enough, breakfast served by our skipper usually did the trick. Brendan's breakfasts ranged from scrambled eggs, pancakes or french toast to continental breakfasts with cereal and oatmeal. Lunch was usually served in a similar manner. After a few hours at Sea, we'd pull up in a quiet turquoise cove, and enjoy a variety of fresh and light salads, pastas, or even gnocchi.
By mid-day, the Mediterranean sun got pretty hot, tempting even the most water-shy for a dip. It was usually around this point that the swan, donut, popsicle and, yes, the coveted unicorn inflatables came out. Sadly, Mandy and I were confined to using boring old life jackets or the stand up paddle board that came equipped with every MedSailors yacht. Alongside daring synchronised dives and rooftop boat yoga, the entire flotilla competed in a paddle board race; teams arranged by boat. Naturally, team Summertime took the contested grand prize: an ice cold bottle of Prosecco... Sure there was a bit of jealousy, but it was all forgotten when it came to an evening of wine tasting on a sunset-drenched farm a few hours later.
Aside from stepping off the boat and wondering why the land wobbles, evenings were a time to put on some nicer clothes and head on shore. They were also a great opportunity to hang out with the wider group. Whether it was a stone-oven bbq on a rustic remote farm or a modern dinner in one of Croatia's beautiful old towns, views from the table were always stunning. My favourite on-shore experience was cycling around the emerald salt lakes at the centre of Mljet island's national Park. Mandy's was sampling various flavours of Gelato in Starigrad, but there was definitely something in it for everybody.
A Dream for Couples and Solo Travellers
What surprised us both was that it was the time we spent on the water that we treasured the most. It was enjoying the company of the new friends we made. For me, it was the refreshing morning swims pre-breakfast, plunging off the deck into the cool blue waters of the Mediterranean. It became a bit of a ritual, and a great way to stave off any leftover lethargy from the night before. For Mandy, it was the gentle start to each day, lounging in the sun and socialising with Sophie and Bessie. But mostly, we both came to agree that the best part about the Catamaran was the "trampoline net" strung between the two hulls at the front of the boat. It was the perfect place for us to enjoy each other's company. Pretty much every day, we found ourselves napping on it in the sun as the Summertime made her way up the Croatian coast. In the end, our journey turned out just as I had hoped: kicking back in the sun with a happy Mandy by my side.
before you set sail in the mediterranean:
Tips and tricks for landlubbers
If you're considering booking a trip with MedSailors or have already made the plunge (lucky you), here are a few things we wish we would have known before the trip.
Packing for a Summer Sailing Trip in the mediterranean:
You are going to be on a boat. Even the catamaran rooms are not massive. Less is more here. Besides, evening wear, expect to be in swim wear about 90% of the day.
Bring something warm, it will get windy from time to time... it is sailing.
Pack your belongings in a soft duffle. You will be grateful for the extra space in your room when you don't have a giant roller bag taking up half the space.
Definitely bring a decent wind/waterproof jacket. If you're lucky enough to get some good sailing wind, you will be thankful you have it.
If you're a light sleeper, you may want to bring some ear plugs. On less windy days, the yacht relies on diesel engines, which are hard to ignore from below deck. Besides, try sleeping next to a super yacht packed with drunk Germans singing Schlagermusik at 3:00AM in a Marina. I dare you.
Pick up any drinks or snacks you want to take on the boat before departing. You don't need supplies for the whole trip, but might regret not having them on your first night.
Whatever you do, don't forget your inflatable unicorn, for god's sake!
Drinking Water on yachts
MedSailors yachts are equipped with a large tank of potable water. We never ran out (probably for a reason).
If you're reading this, you probably haven't spent much time on boats. But here's a secret: The drinking water aboard tastes like cork, plastic and rubber combined into one delicious cocktail. It's harmless, but there's only so much of it we could stomach before breaking. Do yourself a favour and pack a big drinking bottle you can fill up when on shore, or at the very least, take something to flavour the boat water (Or just take a boat load of beer). Try to avoid single use plastic if you can.
Electronics at sea
If you absolutely must, it should be safe enough to bring a laptop. We did it. That being said, the boats are never really locked, and neither are the rooms, which isn't really a concern at sea, but there are nights when you're out for dinner, and the boat's docked in a marina.
While sailing, there generally won't be any power flowing to the sockets, but when docked in marinas, you should be able to charge your electronics. Our boat had Continental European 240v sockets, so bring an adapter.
Consider packing a 12-24V adapter (cigarette lighter) to USB if you want to charge your phone or any other USB device. We had a few outlets for them that actually worked, even at sea.
Seasickness while sailing
There were two days on our trip that delivered us with a wee bit of chop. Mandy took the brunt of it on the first one as she was still laying in bed when it hit. The minute we managed to get her above deck, she was fine. The moral of the story is: no matter how crappy you feel, try and drag yourself outside. Seeing the horizon works wonders, as does fresh air. Pack some motion sickness pills - although Mandy found these made her nap... a lot. Oh, and while your up there, don't forget that raincoat. Nothing like getting soaked by ocean spray on a windy day.
Trip Costs for a medsailors trip
Check MedSailors to find the cost of your yacht. It varies depending on the time of year and your preference of boat. Thankfully, it includes breakfast and dinner. You'll still need to sort out your own flights, and don't forget your travel insurance. We prefer World Nomads.
Budgeting and Cash on a Sailing trip in croatia
Ok, we saved this one for last, because we hate talking about money, but let's get dirty, shall we?
There's a "Tourism Tax" of roughly £85 per person that you pay in cash to your skipper at the beginning of the voyage. Double check the website for exact prices, and make sure you have the cash to avoid any hassle.
Cash is thankfully pretty readily available, and you'll come across ATM's to pick up your Kuna in most towns and marinas. However, a lot of the places you stop for dinner take cash only, as do the taxis. Make sure you're carrying enough money for the day, and maybe keep a bit to spare.
That being said, nobody EVER seems to have change, and most ATMs spit out large denominations. Keep the shrapnel for when you're sharing a cab, and try to break down the bigger notes at shops and cafés while you can.
The exchange rate can fluctuate pretty drastically. While we were there, we only received around 6 Kuna to the Pound, whereas some of the trip documents estimated it at about 10 Kuna to the Pound. Keep an eye on it so you don't get caught off guard.
At the more remote stops, you won't have a choice as to where you eat because there simply are no other options. You'll generally get to choose from a pretty wide menu, but you won't be able hit a kebab shop and eat cheap those evenings.
We suggest budgeting around 40-50£ a day per person, which should cover any snacks you might want to take on the boat, evening meals, drinks, local attractions (bike rentals, park entry etc) and ice-cream, which is very important. We were caught slightly off guard by prices in Croatia - especially meals. The good news: Gellatos are dirt cheap and among some of the finest we've had in all of Europe!
That's all for now. If you have any questions, or thoughts please feel free to let us know in the comments section below. We'd also love to hear about your sailing experience if you do decide to go. This trip is 100% worth doing, and we're hoping to do another one sometime in the future.