Chantal Borciani writes of the delights of chartering a Jeanneau Prestige 46 Fly in Croatia
Torrents of rain lash down as the sky turns to a swamp of black clouds. Running in our now ankle-breaking flip-flops, we battle through the horizontal deluge from Split marina’s minimart, holdall over one shoulder, baguette in the other. At last Sanja 1, our 46ft Jeanneau Prestige 46 Fly charter, comes into sight. Hurtling up the pasarelle we sling our sodden bags on the cockpit floor and take cover in the saloon.
The irony is lost on no one. After two awful English summers, which have dished up July monsoons and more aborted attempts to venture to the West Country than we had patience to remember, we had booked a bareboat charter in Croatia to revel in sunny skies and blue seas. Yet here we are, a mass of dripping hair, broken flip-flops and decidedly floppy baguettes with not a sun-drenched anchorage in sight.
There is, however, a silver lining to our omnipresent grey clouds; we are not freezing cold – it is a pleasant, if soaking wet, 23°C – and according to Vanda, our contact from Croatia Charter Yachts, rainstorms here pass quickly.
Vanda, thankfully, knows her stuff and we wake to clear skies the next day. Shades on, throttles forward and warm spray flaring up from the bow, holiday mode returns. Heading south, and out to sea, a necklace of green islands and flickering sapphire-blue sea stretches out to the horizon.
An hour later we are lightly baking under the hot Adriatic sun and tracking along Brac’s indented west coast. We glimpse the old town of Milna at the end of a long channel but meander a little further south and drop anchor in a wide bay encircled by pine forests. With plates of local cheeses, a juicy tomato salad, cold meats and a crisp, cold bottle of white we toast a successful first leg and spend the afternoon lounging on the myriad flybridge sunpads and sofas.
The narrow shuttered houses that wind along Milna’s waterfront smack of Southern Italy and the whole sleepy air of the town is most appealing. We drift past the town moorings and cruise into the slightly more sheltered ACI marina. Cue our first stern-to mooring and a barrage of irate Croatian from the marina staff – not the warmest of Croatians. Slimy lazy lines all secured at the bow we smile impressed by our smooth crewing. They don’t.
At €65 for the night it’s steeper than we were expecting but we are a 14m boat and facilities are good with a large, modern shower block on the south side of the inlet and a laundry area. We take an early evening stroll – the little town is circumnavigated in all of 15 minutes – and then watch the last of today’s visitors, a classic wooden yacht, moor up at the town quay.
We follow our noses for dinner and find the marina restaurant with its giant outdoor charcoal bbq serving up crispy-skinned bream and bass.
A stiff wind blows up the next morning and has us weathered-in till lunch but that afternoon we stretch our sea legs and head for Hvar island. By the time we are tracing along the undulating coast dappled with pines and vineyards, the rays are beating down again. The Jeanneau doesn’t miss a beat the whole holiday and we are impressed with the agile and comfortable ride. Though she could normally hammer about at 34 knots, our charter boat is limited to 25 but gives more than enough wind-in-the-hair exhilaration.
Rather than moor at Hvar town marina, a calling card to superyachts and thus costlier mooring fees, we cruise west to the staggeringly beautiful Pakleni Islands. Nestled in among the pine forests, the small ACI marina at Palmižana on the north-eastern side of St Klement Island could rival any Med idyll. Even in the marina the water is breathtakingly clear but pootle around to the other side of the island and you are greeted by a mind-blowing turquoise lagoon.
This archipelago gets busy in July and August, but in late June it’s bustling but not swarming, and offers the perfect amount of activity for an afternoon of sunbathing and rubbernecking on the bow cushions. Water taxis run from Palmižana marina to Hvar town for €10 return, but we are so taken with our new home we dine here. Under the cover of fruit trees and low-hanging fairy lights, this is one of the most charming marina tavernas I’ve ever visited. With views across the bobbing masts, it also boasts one of the most delicious seafood risottos this side of Sicily. We order the local wine – well, when in Rome and all that. We are most definitely not in Rome. The wine could strip gel-coat and for the rest of the holiday we find that anything below €15 will have you wincing as you slurp.
Breakfast on the flybridge with a few pastries from the island’s minimart, some strong coffee to aid aching heads – we found an all-too-quaffable Italian red in the end – and then we head south-west towards Korcula island down the broad sound of Korcula Kanal.
The weather turns quickly. An hour into crossing the channel, our longest leg so far, the north-westerly Bora rolls in. The winds strengthen quickly and soon we are see-sawing through uncomfortable swells. Loviste, the closest port to us, is too exposed to easterlies and we have no choice but to press on for Korcula town, another choppy 40 minutes away. Down to 12 knots in intermittent rain, the mountains of Pelješac and Korcula island fall away beneath an encroaching blanket of mist.
At last Korcula’s ancient ramparts come into view but relief turns to disbelief as the marina promptly tells us they’re full. Stunned they won’t find us one berth but pitching too much to argue we are told to try Lumbarda, a small marina further south. It is gusting 5s as we enter this low-lying enclave and thankfully there is one space left. It’s a tight and tricky berth but neighbouring boats come to help in the rain.
As with many twists of fate, Lumbarda turns out to be a great spot. The berth is a good €70 cheaper than Korcula marina (and only a ¤10 taxi ride away), the showers are basic but there are two minimarts, a restaurant and beach bar. Rained-in for the rest of the afternoon we are glad of the roomy and light-filled accommodation of the Jeanneau. With a pan on the boil – there is no kettle or toaster in the otherwise well-decked-out galley – we can all recline in comfort. The three cabins are a lot roomier than I’d imagined too, with good changing headroom. And with the master’s ensuite and a shared heads ensuite to the VIP, we never felt cramped or lacking in luxuries.
Light winds remain the next day but powder blue skies have returned and heading back towards Korcula we thread through the low-lying skerries and small islands to explore the azure coves behind. We anchor in Racisce for lunch, a wide bay encircled by rocky outcrops just south of Korcula town. A population-doubling five sun worshippers are baking themselves on the flat stones by the shallows and it’s a nice change to have some company – now where can you see yourself saying that in Spain? We dive off the passerelle into the clear waters and spend the afternoon splashing about like excitable kids. To be safe we have booked a berth in Korcula town, it adds 10% to our mooring fee but means we can stay in our tranquil anchorage for sunset. Swinging off the hook as the sun slowly melts away and bathes us in gold, I flip open the flybridge’s mini fridge and grab some more ice-cold refreshments.
Korcula is teeming with Balkan romance; a maze of narrow streets, market stalls and ancient spindly towers. A cool breeze blows up in the evening but with captivating views across the channel, we still dine alfresco at one of the excellent pavement restaurants. Even with the 10% booking fee and wonderful backdrop, the whopping €120 bill for our one-night mooring in Korcula is exceptionally expensive.
Preferring the idea of short hops back to Split we hook up the Pelješki Kanal and plot a course for Vrboska in Hvar’s north side. Gliding along at 24 knots, with a few sails dotting the horizon we carve through the deep blue looking for our next bay. And this, I decide, is the joy of chartering; each day is a new adventure, a new two-taverna town or turquoise bay, and you can call the shots. As if to prove my point we anchor in a stunning sun trap just south of Jelsa and spend the day just diving off the boat.
Cruising down the deep channel to the gorgeous town of Vrboska we are met by the town quay owner on his speed boat, who offers us a berth for €40 – bargain! The two brothers who run the town quay are fantastic, already recommending us restaurants as they take our lines with – my god – a smile.
Better still, our €40 gets us the best seat in the house, overlooking the village’s boat roundabout and quaint cafés. With town quays being just as picturesque, we would definitely stay at more on our next charter. After a sunset walk we find a walled restaurant just by the bridge and enjoy our last night in style with fresh tuna, stone-baked bruschetta and lots of red.
The next day we laze in a beautiful anchorage behind Zecevo, miss out Bol beach as it’s teeming with tourists, and instead cruise to a sheltered unnamed anchorage just a mile or so east. With the cove a kaleidoscope of emeralds and blue, rocky mountains rising up on all sides and warm clear water, it is the perfect last sun-baked afternoon.
Charter in France and you’ll pay €8 for a Coke, choose the Balearics and you’ll have zillions of people doing the same. But Croatia is truly unique, full of exotically named ports, deserted bays and wild, engaging coastline. True, it may not quite the bargain it once was – our fuel bill is €800 – and August is very busy, but for adventures, Boras and all, there’s nowhere better. We might even miss that gel-coat stripper in a few days.
Croatia Yacht Charters runs sail and motor charters from Split. A one-week charter on the Jeanneau Prestige Fly 46 cost €8,000 in mid June. Be aware they do not accept MasterCard for final payments (paid on arrival). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
See p129 for other charter companies.
Imray Adriatic Pilot, fourth edition ISBN 0852887000; Imray M26 Split to Dubrovnik. Admiralty SC5767 Zadar- Dubrovnik. Charts were supplied with our boat.
Marinas ACI Club marinas (www.aci-club.hr) have good facilities but berths are expensive. We paid €60-70 a night for ACI berths, with Korcula town ACI marina rocketing to €120. For those on a budget it may be wiser to stay in Lumbarda (€65) and visit Korcula by taxi (€10). Town quays are an excellent, cheaper option at €30-40.
: Always cruise more than 300m from the shore. We were stopped by the police and given a slap on the wrists for being 100m out. This was not noted by any of our pilot books.
Shops and minimarts only accept kuna. You can use euros in the marinas but it is best to take more kuna with you as it is easier to use.
Weather: July and August are hot and busy. Expect higher chartering costs and full marinas. June and September are cheaper and quieter and fantastic times to charter. The north-easterly Bora can blow up quite suddenly and may last for two or three days. The Sirocco, a warm south-easterly, develops over 36-48 hours and often brings mist. Forecasts are available at marinas.