Monday, 4 August 2014

Croatian yachting cruise


This was our home all last week and we had so much fun. I wouldn't have gone yachting with a random group of Englishmen, Germans or people most of whom I didn't know, and none of whom I knew well, of any other nationality but Romanians. David, the Welshman who is building a road in Bosnia (not with his hands, he's a project manager) has worked in Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. He agreed that he would not have gone with Serbs or Bulgarians and certainly not with English people who would, he said, have had tattoos. 


When we arrived hours late (don't ask) at the newly built marina, a few miles from Split, Mario said quietly to me that the boat was ‘intimate’ and so it was. 41 square metres is not very much for nine people. My cabin had a wedge shaped bed only really big enough for one and certainly not for two if the two were two fat men like David and me. I don’t know what I expected. Perhaps the royal yacht Britannia. 

We sailed through the night to our first port of call. I slept soundly and woke to life at sea and decided that this was fun. 

One of the great things about going yachting is that so many clich├ęs acquire meaning, like fossils coming to life. Port of call, steady hand on the tiller, taking another tack, sailing close to the wind. There was a lot to drink but we were never half seas over. Well, except the second night perhaps.

Someone had asked me why I was going on a yacht with a bunch of people I didn't know and the question seemed silly. In fact it was seven days of utter fun but it could have been different with different people. We were what my father would have called a nice bunch of fellas and girls and got along wonderfully. We danced and sang. At times it seemed like living a musical

I had the idea that a yacht cruise might be more relaxing than my usual holidays which involve dashing around on buses, trains and planes to get from one old town to another. I even thought briefly about a proper cruise until I discovered they were nothing like Doctor at Sea, and angling to sit wearing black tie on the captain's table, but full of people over fifty. 

The yacht cruise at least was nothing like that. We ranged in age from late twenties to sixty but most people were in their thirties, as I think I am. And we behaved as if we were twenty-five. I think I had imagined there would be time to read books and indeed I did get through one but it was not that kind of week. It was a very unintellectual holiday and that was its great charm. Contemplation, as the Comte de Chamfort said, makes life miserable. Much better learn to tie knots. (I failed completely at this as I did when my father tried to teach me when I was eight.)

Nor was it sailing from one lovely town to another though Croatia abounds in them. What is was was mooring in the dark blue sea, which Mario told us was what the Greek poets meant when they described the sea as wine-black and swimming far from identifiable other human beings, in waters sometimes twenty metres deep which is something like ten fathoms. It was about learning to raise and lower a sail to race our sister boat and to drink a great number of cocktails that Razvan endlessly produced in odd combinations. They were fittingly submarines and one cocktail sank into another.

In the evening we moored at marinas. The second night was spent in Skradin, a picturesque little town which is proud of being Bill Gates' favourite place (why?) Otherwise, except the night we moored in the old cathedral city of Sibenikwe were on islands empty but for a marina and restaurant, and ate a lot of good food and good local wines. It was not living wild though. Every morning began with a cappuccino. 

This is called, it seems, an active holiday but in fact it is much less active than walking around streets, churches and museums all day long. It was sitting looking at the sea interspersed with swimming and eating and just occasionally steering the ship or hoisting the sail. But now, days after I came back I am still exhausted.

Madalina Pascu organised everything extremely well from beginning to end. I do not like being organised. I am not a team player. I think I am an extroverted loner. But I did what I was told and am glad I did.

The cruise she had organised was a hybrid. It was both a week long training course in yachting and half a fun cruise. She had done it last year and Zivko Matutinovic, who runs RYA Croatia, affiliated to the Royal Yachting Academy, in the UK. He is a local minor celebrity. Madalina had said,
‘a senior skipper, amazing cook and above all a great man.’
All these things turned out to be true, especially the bit about cooking. I don't especially love fish and seafood but tuna we ate a plenty and tuna is wonderful but so was the octopus and everything else.

A South African told me last year that tourism is a branch of the entertainment industry. We were talking on the remote island of Ibo, off the far northern coast of Mozambique, and I was sorry to hear him say this. I had hoped it was about solitary adventure, but he is right. Gertrude Bell, as she left Samarkand, a place she reached with very great difficulty, found they were organising charabanc trips there. 

If travel is entertainment then yachting has a lot to be said for it. First, it is very entertaining. For some reason it is never boring, even though there are long gaps when nothing happens. Secondly, it achieves effortlessly what for me is the first object of travel, which is to get as far away from other travellers as possible. In a yacht in the island dotted Adriatic Sea I was really alone, except for the eight intimate strangers with whom I was travelling.

Yacht cruising, which I hadn't really heard of, is the big thing in Croatia (especially, for some reason, with Australians) and we were not off the beaten track but it felt like it. A yacht, by definition, keeps the vulgar profane away. A boat is exclusive: it excludes the whole world except the sea and sky. 


  1. The nice thing about sailing for me is the solitude, away from the hum drum the land lubbers have to cope with, The sound of the engine cruising out of the port and then everyone to the sails turn the boat into the wind and raise them manually -engine off and cruise sail what ever you may call. just the wind whisking through the sails the silence, its wonderful..

  2. Looks like a tragic way of spending time.

  3. I would be interested to know why "Anonymous" considers yacht cruising a tragic way of spending time. I understand that not everyone may thrill to the call of the sea, but tragic??? Seems an exaggerated reaction to me.