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Šolta, Croatia

PostPosted: Tue Sep 01, 2015 8:06 pm
by Richard Hunter
The best boats for summer sailing in the Adriatic

I’ve twice chartered boats off the Croatian coast. Firstly a Bavaria 34 and then an Elan 31. Both holidays were fine, but I must admit to feeling disappointed with the sailing itself. Rarely was there enough wind to really have fun. Being a teacher, I can only take holidays during July and August, and these are months in which the winds around the Croatian coast are very moderate, and the sailing generally, well, a bit boring.
I have now lived in the Czech Republic over 20 years, and for the past 10 I’ve been trying to work out what sort of boat I can justify owning in a landlocked country. I didn’t want anything so big that I’d have to leave it most of the year, no doubt costing a fortune and not being used, in a distant port. Nor did I want a little fibreglass daysailer. I wanted something that would be ideal for my girlfriend and I, but which would sleep at least 2 of our 4 kids as well. This directed my thoughts to a trailer sailer with a lifting keel, so that I could launch and recover her myself. And then the hardest condition of all, she had to be beautiful. I didn’t want a boat I couldn’t love.
And finally I found her, a Cape Henry 21, built in the UK by Gary Wallis to Dudley Dix’s design. Before committing myself and handing over the cash I read everything I could find about the Cape Henry 21 and the Cape Cutter, and one of my considerations was how she would sail in the conditions I’d find in Croatia in July and August, and this summer I found out.
It’s about a 1200Km drive from where I live to Split, and after leaving at 6am, I parked at the last rest area off the motorway before my exit to Trogir shortly after midnight. I towed the boat with a 1.9 VW Transporter, and it was super easy just to pull up, roll out a mattress in the van, and send all the kids (we had 3 with us, 15, 17 and 18) to sleep in the boat). We arrived at Vinisce, where I had hoped to launch her on the municipal slipway, late morning the following day. That didn’t work out as the ramp was too short, and a lift in at the ACI marina set me back 50E. Most frustrating, however, was having to drive to the harbour master’s office in Trogir, negotiating the crowds of tourists and near stationary traffic to buy my vignette, allowing me to use Croatian waterways. They make it particularly difficult by insisting on payment in Kuna, and not taking plastic. I hope that sometime soon they will put the whole process online. An hour later, though, we motored slowly out of the port of Vinisce, and that’s where all the hassles ended.
Clear of the harbour we hoisted the sails in the late afternoon breeze, and made a steady 4 or 5 knots to a small bay on the northern tip of the island of Šolta. There are so many ways in which this area is perfect for sailing boats the like of the Cape Henry. Firstly the winds; there seemed to be a fixed pattern in the wind strength, if not always in direction. The morning would be calm, by 11 there would be a few ripples and a slightly cooling breeze, by 12 or 1 this had increased to an ideal sailing wind for the CH21, I didn’t have any instruments, but I’d guess force 3 to 4, about 5m/s. This would push us along at, again a guess, 4 to 5 knots. In these winds the boat is both fun and easy to sail, the wind constant, such that I often sailed along with the tiller lashed.
The second reason is the geography of the region. I’ve done most of my cruising off the West coast of Scotland, where experience tells you to plan for changes in the weather and always be aware of the nearest bolt hole. Very often, though, the nearest good shelter is hours away. But the coasts of the islands of Šolta and Brač in particular, are littered with small bays offering safe berth for small craft. Larger yachts are forced to make for the bigger bays, leaving the smallest and prettiest largely empty. Most nights we were alone, or one of two or three boats. We would creep in closer and closer to the shore before dropping anchor, and swimming ashore with a stern line.
As the wind followed regular patterns, so did our days, which meant lazy mornings, uping anchor at 11ish or later. We would have a picnic lunch under way, and sail all afternoon and into the early evening. It became the norm to see flotilas of charter boats motoring in all directions. Perhaps because the winds were too light for boats weighing 10 tonnes, perhaps because their crews wanted to stick to an itinerary at all costs, which prevented them using the wind, perhaps, it seemed at times, because they were just more into partying than sailing. We were passed by a number of 50 foot boats with a crew of thirtysomethings, a big sound system and no shortage of alcohol. Beautiful boats, capable of ocean passages with ease, used as floating dancefloors. I definitely felt that we were having the most fun.
We spent five days circumnavigating Šolta. Maybe that sounds like a long time given the size of the place, but as the years pass I find myself focussing less on what I have done, and more on the doing itself. This is the opposite of bucket listing. How many hours have we spent on a really nice tack, not how much ground have we covered, we literally couldn’t care less. If we ended up only a couple of bays along the coast, so be it. To us they were new, unexplored bays, just as lovely as any other. On the fifth day we entered a port to drop off a crew member, our middle teen, who was taking a ferry to Split, then a bus to Zagreb and a coach to Prague. Hardly had we tied up before the harbourmaster was asking for his dues. We decided we’d skip this part of the Croatian yachting scene, anchor in a bay around the corner, and come back in the morning in time for the ferry departing.
It has to be said that the charter boat business and sailing generally is a cash cow for the Croatian economy, and this grates on someone who grew up sailing in a time before marinas, where we took showers up narrow staircases in harbourside pubs. When harbours were places to harbour. A public amenity to provide protection from a common threat. And yet this is another wonderful advantage of small trailer sailers. We cruised the coast of these islands in a Cape Henry 21 with all the food and water we needed on board for five people for a week, steered clear of marina’s, and paid only for the vignette and the lift in and out again. We did, in the end, lift out in Vinisce, where we started, but there really is no necessity to end where you start. One frustration of Scottish cruising is that before you are half way through your holiday you have to start thinking about the return trip. Not so with a trailer sailer. When your time is up, a driver needs to tak a bus to where you left the trailer and towing vehicle, and then simply come and meet you, thus you can use your holiday from the beginning to the end.

See a video of the trip at:

Tips on trailer sailing in Croatia:
• I’d take 500 miles, or 800km as a reasonable 12 hour drive on motorways.
• Avoid Slovenian motorways, they charge about 100 pounds to use their 50km of motorway. Even with a heavy load, I’d find an alternative route.
• We paid 50E each operation for a lift in and one out again. The hidden advantage was being an ‘client’ of a yacht club, we could all take unlimited showers. They also provided safe parking for the boat and trailer at 5E per day each.
• Fit a solar panel. We had a 12V car fridge, and our new solar panel, 70 cm square 65W which occupied the whole of the hatch garage, just about kept butter solid, and cheese and vegetables edible for a week in temperatures in the thirties.

Re: Šolta, Croatia

PostPosted: Tue Sep 01, 2015 10:51 pm
by ianrmaciver
Fantastic , an inspiration to us all.
Ian , Minnie CC19

Re: Šolta, Croatia

PostPosted: Tue Sep 01, 2015 11:45 pm
by seasickwhale
Hi Richard,

what a wonderful holiday you must have had. Croatia is heaven for good sailing.

I met Gary at the Semaine du Golfe in 2005 - i think it must have been shortly after him completing the boat. She was a real beauty and still is judging from your video.. Attached I send you a few pics from 2005 (bad quality - 10 years old and then the size restraints on uploads here) for your boat history album.

A couple of years later Gary offered me the boat. I was soooo tempted, but also was very happy with Herr Nilsson (my CC19). It is good to see that Gary's work of love is still going strong.