Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Croatia's crystal coastline

Jared Savage joins a yacht trip that opens his eyes to high-spirited fun on Balkan waters.

The turquoise waters of Stiniva beach on the Croatian island of Vis - and ice cold drinks - lie at the bottom of a sheer cliff which takes 20 minutes to scrabble down. Photo / Jared Savage
The turquoise waters of Stiniva beach on the Croatian island of Vis - and ice cold drinks - lie at the bottom of a sheer cliff which takes 20 minutes to scrabble down. Photo / Jared Savage

Sound travels a long way on water, so we could hear them coming. Until that point, the only sound was the screams and splashes of those brave enough to leap off a cavernous Soviet submarine bunker into the clear Croatian water.

The faint beat of music gets louder and louder, reaching a crescendo of Eurotrash dance-pop as the offending boat rounds the coastline into the bay. The catamaran circles endlessly in the middle of all the moored yachts with speakers, smoke machines and confetti cannons all blaring.

The crew on board? Just four men, probably German, judging by the lyrics, dancing by themselves in matching red trunks.

They soon send out an inflatable boat to pick up (scantily clad) women from the neighbouring yachts and, before you know it, there's a full-blown dance party in Submarine Bay. At 9.30am.

It's a laugh, but as the noise bangs on the joke wears thin, so we set sail for our next destination.

The Jagermeister-swilling catamaran crowd is the cliched Croatian sailing trip. Remember the tourism official who wanted to ban "drunken and crazy" New Zealanders and Australians from Dubrovnik a few years back because of their debauched behaviour?

Or the horror story of the Kiwi woman who nearly lost her hand in a steamy encounter with a fellow traveller in the bathroom? (The sink broke and she cut her left hand, almost severing it.)

There are plenty of sailing companies in Croatia offering "Spring Break" experiences for tourists, but there are options for those who want to explore some of the most beautiful water in the world.

There's nothing quite like stopping in the middle of a glassy sea for a quick dip with no one else around - just because you can - or having a drink on the deck as the sun goes down.

We're travelling with MedSailors, set up by three Kiwis, on a week-long holiday that starts in Split and moors each day in a new port: Sesula, Vis, the mediaeval city of Korcula, the party town Hvar, Stari Grad and Bobovisca.

It's a great way to see different parts of the country at leisure, with plenty of time to explore each. One highlight was hiring a scooter to find an absolute gem of a beach on the island of Vis.

Stiniva sits at the bottom of a sheer cliff which takes 20 minutes to scramble down - but the effort is worth it. A small, sheltered cove awaits with turquoise water, white rocks and a bar that serves ice-cold beer. Heaven on earth.

Landlubbers without sailing experience need not worry. The skippers, who are all accredited, show you the ropes (literally) and crews can sail as much - or as little - as they please.

However, with an amateur regatta pitting the MedSailor boats against each other at the end of the week, it's worth getting to grips with the basics. The skippers may only shout instructions, not physically help, leaving one helpless Kiwi at the helm in a tacking collision when the other yacht failed to give way.

In true America's Cup-style drama, the boats were disqualified and a post-match inquiry held.

Potential sailors should be realistic about what's in store. With up to 10 people aboard a 13m yacht, the boundaries of personal space, privacy and comfort can be stretched. But last time I checked, the German party boat was looking for a crew.

CHECKLIST

Tip: Take "aqua socks", or sandals that can be worn in the water. Croatian beaches are rocky and it's difficult to get in - or out - of the water barefoot.

Getting there: Emirates flies daily from Auckland to Zagreb via Dubai.

Further information: See medsailors.com.

Jared Savage travelled in Croatia with the assistance of MedSailors.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 29 Dec 2014 16:18:08 Processing Time: 373ms