Family motorboating in Croatia

In June 2015, I spent two exhilarating weeks boating in Croatia. I would like to share this experience, in case you are planning to go or just looking for inspiration. You need to have skipper’s qualifications though — I will cover how to get into sailing in a separate post (one day), but overall Croatia has a very safe, welcoming and friendly coast spotted with beautiful islands and plenty of infrastructure for yachting.

Why is Croatia such a great place to sail?

Croatia is an exceptional sailing location, its sheer beauty is just one attraction but other reasons to plan a sailing holiday there include:

  • Perfect weather — Ideal for sun-loving sailors!
  • Location — Close proximity to most European countries
  • An abundance of islands — The Croatian archipelago is the largest in the Adriatic Sea. That makes it perfect for sailing for the following reasons:
  • 1. Sailing and staying in-between islands is safer and easier for beginners thanks to the smaller waves, smoother ride and the additional options available if the weather closes in.
  • 2. Great Island hopping opportunities that make your holiday more interesting and diverse. There are so many beautiful towns and villages to visit, lots of picturesque, secluded bays filled with well-maintained buoys and the marinas have great infrastructures.
  • 3. Excellent chartering services with super, well maintained equipment and friendly, helpful staff.

Personally, I don’t think that spending time on the Croatian shore is a great choice due to the complete lack of sandy, or even pebbled, beaches. People are literally stacked on top of one another on small, artificial, concrete ‘beaches’.

Jumping into the clear warm waters in Croatia frankly — never gets boring!
Telasica National Park — Vrulje

Preparing for the trip

I will not fully cover this topic in this post, because it requires a lot of additional information about sailing qualifications that might not interest some readers. In short, you need both practice and qualifying papers to become a yacht master and hire and operate a larger boat in Croatia.

If you don’t have these qualifications you can still a charter boat with a skipper. In fact if you are willing to learn from your skipper during the trip then this is a great entry into sailing and will give you valuable practice and a taste of the life at sea.

For me, I decided to refresh my sailing skills and skipper knowledge practice with 2 week-long excursions run by Polish yachting clubs. I spent one week sailing the Baltic Sea and a second navigating Croatian waters. I chose to refresh my skills so that I would be a safer and more confident skipper with my family and friends aboard.

Baltic in April (heading towards Gdynia port).
April 2015, Bavaria 36 and our training crew.

After the trip I passed my exam to become a “voditelj brodice” in a local port authority in Zadar. The highlight of the training was getting familiar with the Croatian Captains and getting some great practical tips and local sailing insights. Thank you captain Maciej Maciejewski for the great training and sailing tips!

Our training yacht in Croatia, Bavaria 38 in Biograd na Moru.
Murter Hramina, May 2015

Motorboat v Sailboat — My choice for charter

I decided to charter motorboats for two reasons. Firstly they are easier to operate solely and secondly they are faster, thus giving me the flexibility to make the trip more interesting for my family and friends. I also felt that a powerboat was potentially safer on this occasion, it would be easier to escape bad weather if I got caught out (or screwed up checking the weather forecasts). Finally, and crucially if you are sailing in a larger party, powerboats typically offer larger cockpits therefore more space for relaxing and hanging out together.

It wasn’t an easy decision though. The drawbacks of motorboats as opposed to sailing boats are:

  • Motorboats are typically more expensive to charter, especially when factoring in the a dditional fuel costs (approx. 80 EUR for 1 hour of cruising).
  • Motorboats offer considerably less space below deck (the engines take up a lot of room). It is practically impossible to charter a boat with more than 6 berths without getting into very expensive, long boats that typically also require a professional skipper/crew.
  • Motorboats are noisy! There is no escaping the engine noise.
  • Motorboats simply don’t have the same ethos and vibe that you get with a sailing boat.
  • Motorboats of that size aren’t very comfortable in anything other than calm sea waters due to their construction (they have a flatter bottom than a sailboat).

For our first week of sailing another family of three joined my family and me. I chose a SAS Vector Adriana 44 with 6 berths, 3 cabins and 2 bathrooms. The Adriana 44 is a great boat — very comfortable, spacious, well designed and solid. It was equipped with two 260hp diesel engines, 5 batteries, a power generator (great if you fancy an espresso on the open sea), a bow-thruster and all the other necessary facilities (gas stove, fridges, dinghy, automated gangway etc.).

She handled really well when docking and fuel consumption was actually below our expectations (50–60 lph at 13–15 knots). At the time this boat charter was competitively priced and for two families it was the only reasonable option (except for sailing boats). Adriana has very classical design; in some ways similar to Menorquin and nothing like the fancy designer plastic boats (a positive for me).

Meet Franka. She’s 44 feet, has two diesel engines of 260hp each, is very solid and well behaved. Made in Croatia by SAS Vector. Here we are docked at Vely Iz on the Iz Island.
Franka from her port side in Piskera — the furthest marina in Kornati. Beautiful place. As a bonus we got to see night sky filled with much more stars that I thought there are.
Franka offers really lots of space for 6 people.
Solid and practical command center.

Week 1 — National Parks of Kornati, Telasica

On Sunday we set off from Sukosan, the largest and most professional marina in Croatia. I originally intended to leave on Saturday but we had been too tired from the road and we still needed buy food and supplies. I also wanted time to familiarise myself with the vessel, which I did and I discovered some minor problems (windshield and cabin light switch). It is always great advice to turn on all the appliances on the boat to check that they all work.

On Sunday we set off to Pasman. I knew of a great bay there where it was safe to practice manoeuvring the boat. My ‘crew’ and I spent 2 hours practicing ‘docking’ to a buoy so we are prepared for real docking in the packed marina. The bay has a great restaurant called Konoba Kiss, Uvala Soline . I ate the best fish in my life in this restaurant — fresh catch, simply salted and grilled on open grill of aromatic twigs and leaves. We had as absolutely fantastic experience in this super simple restaurant.

Uvala Soline, Pasman.

The next day we moved to the small city of Vely Iz and found yet another great restaurant, the Konoba Galija. We stayed in the city marina, which had all the facilities you would expect, including showers, water and electricity. We paid approximately 50 EUR per night which is more or less what you should expect to pay for docking everywhere in Croatia. We took a swim in a small bay across the marina and walked around it. We finished off with some great food in Kobona Galija (some thought it was the best meal of the trip).

Early morning view from Vely Iz Eastwards.

We spent the next day in the National Park Telasica, moored to another buoy in another beautiful bay — it was water splash fun day ! Literally every waking moment was spent jumping into the water, splashing and swimming around. The water in Telasica is very warm and we had a ‘floating market’ come to visit. The day was finished with a meal in pretty expensive restaurant with average food. Despite this we still had such a great, fun day!

Meet Toni. When was the last time supermarket came to see you?
Girls were getting into water jumps.
After sunset view from our stern. Tranquil.

The following day was spent cruising along the National Park Kornati, with a stopover for lunch and more splash time in Vrulje. We moored for an overnight stay in Piskera — a very beautiful and remote marina. The power comes from generator, so electricity is only available from 8–10am and 6–12pm In return I got to see a million more stars than usual across the night sky. The evening was spent playing different family games — super fun for both kids. I took a lot of board games, so we would have something fun to do when we were tired of swimming (or if we were stuck somewhere due to a weather). Overall I strongly recommend taking a few games for a bit of fun and bonding time.

ACI Marina Piskera.
Sunset from the cliffs.
Piskera pier and crystal waters.

Next we set off to Murter Hramina. Winds were up to 20 knots and we got some serious waves on Murterske Mare. I was thankful for working windshield wipes. Small powerboats don’t handle the waves as well as sailing yachts due to the lack of keel ballast and the flat bottom. Motorboats smack the water during rough sea instead of gently cutting through the waves like I was used to with a sailboat.

I reduced our speed to 11–12 knots, instead of the 13–15 knots I would usually cruise at and we made it.

We spent some time in marina (great showers!) and visited the City twice for groceries and later for dinner. The following day we cruised back to the homeport of Sukosan with a leisurely stop for a swim, lunch and more games in a beautiful bay we had spotted outside Murter.

Murter Island.

Asta Yachting was great during both check in and departure of the boat. They are an excellent organization, with friendly skippers, great boats and a great service.

Total distance 168km (google maps don't show nautical miles) which is about 91 nautical miles.

Week 2

For the second week it would be just my family; my 7-year-old daughter, my wife and myself so we decided on a Bavaria 29 Sport. A very sleek looking boat! I wanted to see what it is like to have a boat with open top. Bavaria is mono-engine and very agile — you can turn the propeller left and right and it has a bow-thruster. The Bavaria consumed more fuel than the Adriana, around 60–70 lph at 20 knots cruising speed. Unfortunately it didn’t have a power generator (e.g. to enjoy espresso when not connected to the grid) but this was no biggie. She had everything else that we needed; 2 fridges, a shower, and 2 batteries. We also purchased mobile Wi-Fi to ensure that we had Internet connection but we rarely used it.

The cockpit and cabins of the Barvaria have a very practical and compact layout. It did seem small but only because we embarked straight after the 44-foot long Adriana. In reality it offers sufficient space for a family of 4.

I found the Barvaria’s manufacturing to be less solid than the SAS and I had problems with the anchor winch and porthole. It confirmed my general suspicion, that the manufacturing of the Bavaria is becoming more plastic and aimed at the charter companies. That said — we still had plenty of fun with it!

Bavaria 29 Sport.
Wandering small streets of Trogir at midday, waiting to take over the boat at 5pm..

Day one of week two was spent in Trogir (130 km south of Sukosan) waiting for the new smaller boat. The Seged marina was in chaos — there were over 50 yachts and likely 500 people getting into The Yacht Week. It looked like a cool party crowd (and some people we talked too confirmed they party hard) — so virtually everyone we talked to tried to keep off their itinerary.

We took the boat (it seemed SOOO much smaller after Franka and her 44 feet) and set off Southbound to the island of Solta. We moored for the night at the City pier in Rogac and took it easy the following morning before setting off to Hvar/Vis.

Hvar is the crown jewel of Croatian islands — large and beautiful. We stayed around the island for 5 nights.

Our second night was spent at Parmizana. This is a wonderful marina located opposite Hvar on the island. You can take a trip into the hills and see some stunning views. We decided to skip on a visit to the city of Hvar (you can take water taxi to Hvar city from ACI Marina Parmizana), as we had been there already twice.

Few steps from Parmiżana.
One or Parimizana piers.

Night three was spent moored to a buoy at the very end of Duga bay, where we spotted fallow deer on the beach. It was an incredibly tranquil place with very clean water and a nice beach. When we discovered the buoy I examined it carefully during a snorkel dive to ensure that it was secure enough.

Night four was spent in Bol on the Brac Island. I had been there before. You can stay at City pier, which is right next to the main pedestrian street and filled with restaurants and clubs. The water is beautiful. Unfortunately staying at Bol means difficult docking (waves), lots of waves during the night and noise from the nightclubs. I still think that the entire experience is worth it and Bol makes up for those inconveniences. If you want to sleep like a baby in Bol then buy some earplugs! Side note: I always take silicone earplugs; they guarantee good sleep and good sleep means a great holiday. A great sleep for just 1 US Dollar!

Bol. We were docked next to some good restaurants!

Night five was spent at Stari Grad followed by a day in one of the bays next to it. Stari Grad is absolutely beautiful — I texted some of my friends with this news. I rarely do that so it illustrates how much I liked it.

Stari Grad — for me the nicest city visited.

Night six was spent at Luka Zavala in the Stari Grad Bay. We enjoyed our final night in this peaceful bay, chilling out, splashing around and making the most of our GoPro.

Night seven was back in the marina in Seget. It was the only night I could not sleep because of the heat (it was 30 C at 22hrs) with no wind. I slept for a while outside in the cockpit.

The marina in Seget is undergoing some serious expansion and I can visualise how great it will be soon. For now, it is difficult to fuel — you should expect up to 45 minute waiting line. This was stressful, trying stay clear of other boats but luckily wind was minimal, so we managed it (as did everyone else).

Route of the week 2 - concentrated around west part of Hvar Island.

Top Tips & Things to remember for next time

  • Forward planning — plan your trip in advance, it really pays off.
  • Take fewer clothes that you think you need. You end up in swimsuit & T-shirt 90% of your time. No need for warm clothes whatsoever in July.
  • Take board games — fun activities for all.
  • Check the boat carefully — test all there is to test and ask questions.
  • Take recommendations from everyone. Compare notes.
  • Practice manoeuvring with a new boat. Find a peaceful bay ideally with a buoy and practice alone and then with the crew. See how boat behaves, how it reacts. IT will be far less stressful when docking in a tight, packed marina.
  • Explain the docking procedure with your crew in plenty of detail so that they understand their roles — do it every time.
  • Consider doing a checklist for docking in/docking out.
  • Download apps and maps to your tablet. It’s much easier to work with these than maps and the different GPS plotters that each boat is equipped with. I used Navionics.

How to make sailing holidays with children (5–10 years old) work?

I get asked this question a lot — isn’t it boring for a child? Well, it wasn’t for our kids, but we followed certain rules.

  • Safety first — Never let them feel scared and don’t take ANY unnecessary risks (eg. make them wear safety vests at all times when cruising).
  • Minimize cruising time per day — 1–2 hrs max, if you have to do more then try to split it.
  • Have games and activities ready — Splash fun, land trips, family games etc. It should be easy to keep 7-year-olds enthusiastic and excited.
  • Be engaged & enthusiastic — I would have loved to read book and chill, but I chose to focus on having fun with my kid (and her friend in week one). I read once that “Daddy, can we play?” is replaced by “Daddy, leave me alone” very fast as she grows, so I try to make the best of now.
  • Get them swimming vests and lots of water toys — Show them how to snorkel so that they are not afraid to swim in a sea. Buy many water toys (I would buy more) and games. The more you animate, the better fun they will have. That leaves no time to read, but again, I’ll have plenty of time when I retire.
  • Get them stuff to do on the boat — There might be rainy days and it’s your responsibility to keep them entertained.

Our typical day on a boat would consist of: breakfast on-board, a short ride to a beautiful bay with swim spot and then have splash time for 2 hours. Then we’d have lunch on the boat and have some more swim time or take a dinghy to land for a short walk. In the afternoon we’d ride to the next marina, shower up, go for dinner, take a walk on a land, play games and go shopping etc.

Thanks for reading & good luck!

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