Sailing in Croatia

, September 2, 2012

When a plunge into the warm waters of the Adriatic Sea serves as your morning stimulant – as opposed to several cups of caffeine – it is a sure sign that the anxieties and rat race of city life have long been forgotten. As you sail around the coast of Croatia, whilst weaving in between the many islands that punctuate its coastline, terra firma is (mostly) out of sight and (always) out of mind.

Our sailing trip began from the island of Vis, which is where we alighted after a 2-hour ferry journey from the busy town of Split. Vis is a unique island that served as a military navy base during the socialist Yugoslavia, during which time it was closed to tourism. The island was recently re-opened to the public in 1989, retaining much of its authentic and local charm without tourism corrupting its cultural integrity or the price of beer. The island was founded in 397 BC by the Greeks and is characterised by many fortresses, monasteries, archaeological ruins and varied architectural styles as a result of numerous invasions. Although perhaps unpleasant and unwelcome at the time, these attacks have left for us a wonderfully diverse island to explore.

Yet the island of Vis is charming not only because of its amalgamation of various ancient cultures, but also because it possesses many of its own unique traits: most notably its local red and white wines, made from ancient grape varietals. Wine tastings at the many vineyards, diving excursions, and tours of underground military tunnels are just some of the many activities available on Vis. Vis town is located on the north-eastern part of the island and it is in this protected bay that most yachts choose to anchor.

From Vis we decided to aim for the coastal town of Drvenik. The wind was opportune, enabling us to sail for the greater part of the trip, during which I busied myself with the task of pulling, releasing and cleating ropes under the direction of our captain, Piet. One of the beauties of sailing is that one travels at a speed slow enough to appreciate and enjoy the landscape, but fast enough not to tire of it. At Drvenik we anchored the boat in a protected bay, after which I swam a few metres to the side of the bay. There was not a soul in sight, as the local community was seated in front of their television sets, offering support to Federer during the men’s final of Wimbledon.

I decided to take advantage of the deserted town by exploring the dusty streets winding their way between the white-washed and aged houses, accompanied by the sounds of cicadas and the murmur of several TVs. That evening we enjoyed the refreshing, Croatian-produced Karlovacko Radler – a lemon-flavoured beer – celebrating a successful day of sailing, whilst the town’s people celebrated a successful day of tennis.

From Drvenik, we set sail for the island Zirje, which forms part of the Sibenik archipelago. The island is characterised by its dense vegetation and transparent blue sea, which is conducive towards both agriculture and good fishing. The isolated nature of this small island was a welcome respite from the busier towns of Vis and Drvenik, where restaurants and coffee shops line the harbor fronts. Zirje, however, is lined with thick Mediterranean vegetation, with olive and pine trees dominating the rocky landscape. We anchored in the sheltered bay of Velika Stupica, where boats of various nationalities and people of various dress sense (if that)* were moored around us. The island itself is well-worth a visit, with magnificent views from the Hellenic fortress that sits atop the Gradina hill, and walks along its old, crumbling stone walls retrace the outline of this 6th-century stronghold. The island also has a lovely restaurant that is tucked beneath native pine trees, from where sailors of all nationalities can gather to have a generous meal from the no-nonsense and no-vegetarian menu with two options: fresh fish or meat.

From Zirje we set sail for the inland town of Skradin, which is situated along the Krka River. This specific route was by far my favourite, due to the diversity of the landscape which changes with the course of the river. As the expansive view of the sea is left in one’s wake, the lush and vegetated hills rise up to guide sailing boats along the winding river and into the depths of this estuarine environment.

We passed many mussel farms along the way, which offered mooring and a chance to purchase fresh mussels. Skradin has a wonderful harbor, with great facilities at the port (fresh water, bathrooms, and showers) and with easy access to the bustling town centre.

Due to its location, Skradin acts as a gateway to the Krka National Park, which is characterised by its unique travertine waterfalls and clear pools where visitors are allowed to swim. Boats leave from Skradin for the Krka National Park regularly throughout the day, and it is also possible to hire a bicycle and cycle to the park. It is well worth spending a few days at the Skradin port, as there are many activities on offer in the town (such as cycling and kayaking) with beautiful hikes in the Krka National Park.

Sailing is a very peaceful way to travel, with a minimal impact upon the environment, as one harvests the wind to fuel the journey, very little food goes to waste and fresh water is used sparingly. Many islands in Croatia are only accessible by boat, and sailing thus provides one with an opportunity to see these unique and as yet untouched landscapes.


  • Many folk in Croatia prefer to sail in the nude, and it is common to sail past other boats, in the middle of the Adriatic, manned entirely by crews in the buff.
  • Croatia is a wallet-friendly country to visit, especially the islands where the food, drinks and accommodation are very good value for money (and the people are generally friendlier than those on the mainland). However, Croatia is set to join the European Union in 2013, when the prices may increase and these unspoiled landscapes may become crowded with tourists.

There are three ways to go sailing in Croatia:

  • If you own a valid skipper’s licence then you can skipper your own boat.
  • If you own a skipper’s licence but lack confidence then you can join a small flotilla, whereby a group of sailing boats are assisted and led by a leading sailing boat.
  • One can join a chartered boat in order to learn the technicalities of sailing, without the hassle and worry.