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‘Our charter holiday in Croatia 2020’


Words and photos by Rachael Crofts

Last year I dragged my family of three novice dinghy sailors and one self-professed landlubber on a sailing holiday in Croatia.

Enthusiastic they were not, but they loyally followed me, albeit with the look of lemmings heading over a cliff. What ensued was an amazing family holiday beyond even our wildest expectations, which made sailing converts of everyone and left us all eager for more.

On our return, we set about booking up for 2020. This time everyone was involved. Could we have a bigger boat? Where should we go? Croatia again or what about Greece? In the end after perusing Helm’s various packages, we opted for Croatia and the slightly bigger Dufour 460 Grand Large.

No-one was worried or apprehensive this time – I mean we were practically professionals now – planning what to pack, discussing routes and itineraries.

And then Covid 19 happened. The world changed overnight. Many faced hardship and heartbreak. The future looked bleak, our plans redundant as lockdown loomed. Foreign travel was forbidden, airlines grounded, holidays cancelled and quarantine imposed. No-one was going anywhere it seemed (apart from Dominic Cummings of course).

Fast-forward to the start of July. You could only travel abroad if you were the Prime Minister’s father… Our flights from Gatwick with Easyjet were still going ahead at the end of the month, but the government was advising against all overseas travel.

Our annual travel insurance would not cover us if we went against government advice, but if we cancelled ourselves our claim would not be upheld. The balance was due on our yacht – what should we do?

With grave doubts that the holiday would go ahead, I rang Peter at Helm. He knew the situation on the ground in Croatia and advised that our charter company Under the Heavens would defer the booking to next year if we wanted.

But he also believed that Croatia would be on the list of approved countries as there had been very few cases of the virus there.

The Croatian authorities had closed their borders early and taken early action to limit the spread of Coronavirus from the very start.

After an agonising wait for the government to publish the list of “green” countries, and wondering if we were doing the right thing, we flew out of an unrecognisably quiet Gatwick airport at the end of July heading to Split.

The Croatia we arrived in was open for business as usual, notwithstanding the mandatory wearing of facemasks in shops and taxis and those worn by all restaurant staff.

Our boat took a little longer to get ready than we had initially hoped, but it was being thoroughly cleaned, which was in itself reassuring.

With our Croatian skipper Vinko, we decided to head south to the usually busy islands of Hvar and Vis, which he believed would be quieter than usual. He was right. There were plenty of visitors around, but nothing like the crowds that can descend on Hvar Town in August.

We were able to explore the riva, admire the superyachts and the narrow streets without jostling for space and even ate at a restaurant in the main square without a reservation (something which would usually be unheard of in high summer).

At Vinko’s advice we had moored in a picture perfect bay on the island of Palmižana for a lazy afternoon of swimming and sunbathing before a short and speedy water taxi ride into Hvar Town for the evening. (So speedy in fact that daughter number three, fresh out of the shower, set off with wet hair and arrived fully blow-dried).

On Hvar we also spent a night moored in the exclusive Tiha Bay, sharing the idyllic spot with superyachts, one of which had even brought its own helicopter. Another short sail, on which we were chaperoned by dolphins, took us to Vrboska, a charming stone town dotted with restaurants and wine houses selling the local Hvar wine.

While visiting Vis we moored on the riva in Vis Town and explored the delightful old stone streets which line the shore.

In the evening we ate Peka (traditional Croatian lamb and potatoes slow cooked under a bell) at Roki’s Winery, a short drive inland provided by Roki’s own drivers. Yorkshire-born husband, not given to praise lightly, branded it the best meal of his life.

The wine too, produced at the onsite vineyard, was divine. Like Hvar, Vis felt lively but not swamped by visitors.

Our favourite island by far was, however, the sleepy little paradise of Drvenik Veli. Home to around two hundred permanent residents, including the mum of skipper Vinko, this little haven was just perfect.

Here we dined in the town’s only restaurant and were welcomed like old friends. We ate home-grown olives and capers with Vinko’s family and the local mayor. We swam at dawn and watched the sun set over the ocean with a glass of wine.

And before we knew it, our week on the waves was over. The Dufour 460 lived up to all our expectations. It was more than comfortable for the six of us and extremely well-equipped. The ice maker enhanced the on board gin and tonic service and the excellent coffee maker eased any sore heads the following morning.

Vinko was an amazing skipper, working quietly to arrange moorings and restaurants ahead of our arrival in places so that our holiday passed seamlessly from one brilliant location to another.

Oh, I almost forgot – the sailing. The wind did not favour our itinerary – even on the 20-odd mile journey to Vis – and we spent most of our time cruising under motor power, except for the last day when we raised the sails and crested the waves majestically back to Kremik.

So if you are itching to get away – what better way to enjoy a socially distanced family holiday than on a yacht? Let’s face it – it’s the perfect solution – there’s plenty of ocean to share. Apart from your immediate travelling companions you couldn’t be more socially distanced.

Croatia’s Dalmatian Riviera was beautifully quiet, and extremely welcoming. And there was no quarantine on return to the UK. Our decision to go away may have felt, at first, like we were sailing into uncharted waters, but in reality the harbour couldn’t have been safer.

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