Learn to sail!

Party and drink in Croatia

Find your sea legs and learn how to helm a yacht off of Croatia’s sun-kissed Dalmatian coast.

My track record with learning to pilot vehicles both great and small is not what you’d call admirable. I’ve been catapulted from horses, thrown sideways by Segways, and the less said about the great Milton Keynes go-kart pile-up of 2005 the better. So you can understand my anxiety at the thought of helming a yacht containing my crewmates during a week’s sailing holiday off of the Dalmatian coast. Not that it’s compulsory to get involved with anything other than sunbathing, swimming, partying drinking and girls, but if you’re anything like me then you’ll want to try everything.

Yet a mere 48 hours into our adventure on the waves and everyone’s remarkably – mariner pun alert – buoyant. But then when your days consist of lazy lunches at secluded spots, a cloudless sunny sky, spontaneous swimming stops and worrying about nothing but the wind in your sails and what time it’s polite to start drinking.

I’m not going to lie – after clambering aboard our hefty yacht and getting acquainted with my cabin crew, the skipper sits us down for a nifty debrief. “By the time you leave here you’ll be able to tie the stern line under the pit, through the fairlead and around the cleat with your eyes closed,” he advises. I have been honest I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.

The group is mercifully varied – from complete nautical newbies like myself to those who have crewed before on smaller vessels – and while there’s a cavalcade of boating and meteorological terminology to get my head around, this is no strict schooling.

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Komiža town on island Vis, Dalmatia, Croatia, where parts of Mamma Mia 2 movie were filmed. Photo made with drone DJI Mavic Pro from above.

Within five minutes of leaving the quay I’m plonked behind the wheel and encouraged to reverse the massive, very expensive and very dent able boat back into the harbour for ‘a bit of practice’.

The bewilderingly trusting teaching continues and within a couple of days the crew is working in sync to surprisingly satisfying effect. The moment we learn how to tack, gybe, winch and hoist the mainsail without clattering each other around the head is a eureka one, and basically ensures we can steer the boat in all directions – powered by nothing but the wind.

Admittedly, there’s the occasional hiccup as we, quite literally, learn the ropes. An attempt to up anchor confines my sunglasses into the sea, a belly flop style dive after them (I didn’t impress the girls with that one) quickly hammers home quite how deep the watery abyss truly is. This I where I met my new worst enemy for the first time, the sea urchin. If a fish, hedgehog and a wasp were to make out then the sea urchin would be the creation. Cruel enough to stab me after my epic fail with the girls when I keep treading on it.

Ey Ey Captain

Shiver me timbers

Apart from sailing our days consist of grabbing fresh food supplies from whatever remote island hideaway we’re moored at – unsurprisingly, the region’s fish is mouth-watering, plotting a course (I left this to the skipper), getting lost (and this), spotting a dolphin, stopping for a cooling splash in picture-postcard turquoise waters, and sailing on to our day’s destination while taking turns to sunbathe on the boat.

It’s at night when things come alive and go wild on the Dalmatian coast. Nightlife in Croatia is great, beer is cheap, and DJs spin the newest tunes. When the weather warms up city dwellers head to the coastline to party with visitors alike and parties explode into action on Hvar, Pag islands, Pula and Tisno and depending on when you go Croatia is home to a whole host of music festivals.

My boozed up face and beard may have left me looking like the illegitimate love child of Captain Birdseye, but I can’t help but feel like a newly nautical convert.

See you there this year.

Matt Risley

%TNT Magazine% med sailors