Croatia’s beautiful coastline has long drawn affluent sailors, but with thousands of operators now selling moderately priced bareboat (no crew) sailboat charters, it no longer has to be an exclusive cruising ground for the wealthy.
This is our sailing guide to the Central Adriatic’s most rewarding harbors and anchorages.
Krknjaši Blue Lagoon offers idyllic solitude.
While it is just 13 nautical miles (24 kilometers) from Split, the Central Adriatic sailing center, this breathtaking anchorage seems a world apart.
Just a few local homesteads pepper the rugged and forested slopes of Drvenik, the island that shelters the lagoon’s shallow azure waters to the north and west, and the picture-perfect desolate islands of Krknjas Mali and Veli Krknjas to the east.
The lagoon’s cool, crystal clear waters are perfect for a soothing swim or a kayak or stand-up paddleboard exploration.
On Drvenik, there is a small restaurant nestled in the woods, accessible by dinghy at the lagoon’s north end, that serves simple but delicious seafood dishes.
The sunrise at Krknjaši is mesmerizing, so resist the urge to sleep in.
Luka Rogacic’s Cold War dreams
This incredibly secluded natural harbour on the small island of Vis is the location of a stealthy-looking submarine pen, as if right out of a James Bond thriller.
The pen, which was abandoned two years before Croatian independence in 1989, is the most visible relic of the island’s Cold War history.
Vis, the farthest populated Dalmatian island from the Croatian mainland, was once cloaked in darkness, but after WWII, it became the largest naval base for the Yugoslav People’s Army.
There is no such military activity today; the island’s economy is based on tourism.
It’s a strange sensation to drop anchor next to this gaping, submarine-shaped chasm hewn from a rocky hillside in what is normally a paradisiacal landscape (and so is touring the pen by dinghy).
There are no amenities at Luka Rogacic, but Vis Town is just a 2.5-kilometer stroll along the south bank of the harbour (or you can call one of the nearby taxis to take you there).
Luka Rogacic is a 23 nautical mile (42km) sail due south from Krknjaši Blue Lagoon on the north coast of Vis.
It’s a 28-nautical-mile ride from Vis (52km).
Vis Town’s innovative cuisine
Vis Town is the largest port on the island of Vis.
The picturesque marina, where boats will moor to the pier or hook up to one of the several fixed buoys in the wide horseshoe-shaped harbor, spills down the hillsides.
Although less tranquil than Luka Rogacic to the north, there is more to see here: ruins of an English castle, a Greek cemetery, and Roman baths, as well as some prominent pebble beaches, are all within walking distance.
The services are vast, with excellent bars and restaurants as well as stores for restocking materials.
While there are several restaurants with water views, a visit to Lola Konoba & Bar, which is tucked up a stepped alley a short walk from the marina, can convince you to spend an extra night in port – its innovative fusion dishes (a blend of Spanish and Croatian cooking) enticed us back for a second sitting.
Vis Town’s harbor is just two nautical miles (3.5 kilometers) from Luka Rogacic, 14 nautical miles (26 kilometers) from Hvar Town, and 30 nautical miles (55 kilometers) from Split.
The Pakleni Islands have a variety of secluded anchorages.
The waters surrounding these tortuously formed, densely forested isles are enticingly transparent, and a little exploring will reveal plenty of secluded anchorages, hidden beaches, and abandoned lagoons.
On most of the islands, there are few, if any, people, and footpaths (let alone roads) are almost non-existent.
Sveti Klement is an especially rich hunting ground, and it also has the best opportunities for shelter during high winds; on its northeast coast, it also has the well-run ACI Palmižana marina.
A quick walk south from Palmižana leads to a quaint bay on the south coast with a fine pebble beach and a few excellent restaurants (good for anchoring, even during southerlies).
Boaters can also reach a couple of excellent seafood restaurants on the island’s central north shore via jetties (for dinghies) and footpaths on both the south and north coasts.
This magnificent chain of islands is situated just south of Hvar Island, 10 nautical miles northwest of Vis Town and 20 nautical miles north of Split.
You can take one of the regular water taxis to Hvar Town if you are moored at ACI Palmižana (KN80-100 per person).
In Hvar Town, see and be seen.
When you enter Hvar Town by sail, it’s convenient to be impressed.
Terracotta-roofed villas, Gothic palaces, and 13th-century ramparts climb into an elegant citadel, carpeting the hillsides surrounding its quaint harbour.
While within the bay’s confines, the Franciscan Monastery, St Mark’s Church, and Cathedral of St Stephen’s spectacular bell towers can’t help but steal your breath away.
You’ll be drawn to shore for a number of reasons after you’ve moored: to walk up the marble streets and stairs to the Fortica for an unrivaled view; to discover the Franciscan and Benedictine Monasteries; to tour the ornate palaces and the Arsenal; or simply to enjoy a cafe and ice cream in St Stephen’s Square.
It doesn’t take long to realize that fashionable Hvar is a destination for those who want to be seen (especially yachties).
The island of Hvar’s largest town has no lack of great restaurants and pubs, as you’d expect from one of Croatia’s premier destinations (though noise from the latter can cut into your sleep if moored here).
Hvar Town is a 23-nautical-mile (43-kilometer) sail south of Split, and Krknjai Blue Lagoon is a similar distance.
Stari Grad’s society and history
Although it is located on the same island as Hvar City, the town of Stari Grad is a far more laid-back affair; visitors come here to rest and enjoy the culture.
With charming historical houses along its southern shore and modest homes scattered among the pines on the north, the long, narrow harbour is painfully picturesque.
The harbour is a peaceful spot to explore on a stand-up paddleboard in the early hours, with the modern ferry terminal many kilometers west of shore.
A medieval Dominican Monastery (with a tower you can’t miss) and Tvrdalj, a fortified 16th-century castle are both within walking distance of the harbour.
Antika, a restaurant that covers three floors of an old house and spills out into a quaint square (where the occasional concert is held), is without a doubt the best spot to eat in town.
Make it a reality
During the summer high season, bareboat charters of six-berth sailboats (sleeping four comfortably) arrive at less than €1000 a week, with prices increasing by up to double.
All charter companies in Croatia are required by statute to get at least one of the following introductory sailing certificates: an International Certificate for Operators of Pleasure Craft (ICC) or a Day/Bareboat Skipper license from a recognized national sailing organization (ie. the Royal Yachting Association in the UK).
Experienced sailors must schedule (and pass) a realistic sailing examination with their national yachting association in order to apply for an ICC.
Sailors with five days, 100 miles, and four night hours on sailboats are qualified for Day/Bareboat Skipper courses (theoretical and practical sections).
The latter courses are fun and can be taken overseas as part of a satisfying trip.
Skippers must also have completed a GMDSS-VHF radio course, which can be completed in a single day (with a few hours of training beforehand) at accredited centers.