Between the ages of 5 and 18, I spent more time every summer on the water than on land. Sailing and racing across Lake Ontario, I came to see all points on the horizon as possible destinations. Then I moved to Manhattan and didn’t set foot on a boat for 17 years. So when given the chance to charter a 45-foot Beneteau Oceanis around Croatia’s Central Dalmatia coast, I wondered how quickly it would all come back.
The charter company my wife and I used, Yachts and Friends, is a more refined offshoot of the phenomenally successful, waterlogged bacchanal known as The Yacht Week. Whereas the latter program—operating in Croatia, Greece, Italy, Thailand and the British Virgin Islands—caters to groups of affluent, sex-crazed twenty-somethings like a seabound Spring Break, Yachts and Friends offers bespoke charters to a more civilized clientele.
The skippers are from all over the world. Ours, Charlie Gardiner-Hill, a 21-year-old, Eton-educated Laser racer with a Peter Pan charm and well-placed friends, was happy to let me get reacquainted with the ropes—though prior sailing experience is not necessary. His seafaring acumen was matched only by his ability to smoothly circumnavigate any potential obstacles on the trip (like booked marinas, late reservations, evenings with nothing to do). Hiring a hostess, as we did, is optional but recommended, unless your idea of a good time is getting up early, cooking breakfast and scrubbing the galley.
As soon as we arrived in Split, Dalmatia’s largest city, the wind picked up after what Charlie tells us was a dead-calm summer. “You must have brought it with you,” he beamed. We set course for the island of Vis, a sleepy, untouched patch of old Europe that is quickly waking up thanks to chic and unobtrusively modern establishments like the Konoba & Bar Lola (Ul. Matije Gupca 12; 385/958-497-932).
From there we rode rented scooters through rosemary-scented brush to the picturesque fishing village of Komiza. After a four-hour meander, we doubled back and stopped by the winery Vina Lipanović (Vinska Puti; 385/21-711-386). Retrofitted into a Tito-era bunker, it produces a rosé, reds and a rich, unctuous white from the local Vugava grape.
The worldly became otherworldly on the way to Hvar. I’ve always resisted mandatory tourist stops, but by that point, I’d grown to trust Charlie enough to listen when he said the Blue Caves on Biševo island couldn’t be missed. We weren’t allowed to photograph the grotto, with its pure azure light refracted through the water, but a snapshot wouldn’t have done it justice anyway.
The island of Hvar is as loud as Vis is quiet. It’s a splashy, marbled, thump-thump town. We could have stayed out all night with the ravers and the oligarchs at the club Carpe Diem. We could have had cocktails at ultra-luxe hotels and eaten the fancy cuisine at Gariful. We chose instead to dine simply, as locals do, at the family-run Konoba Luviji (Jurja Novaka 6; 385/915-198-444), where we feasted on mussels, squid and fish that had been swimming in the sea just hours before.
Over five days, we had hit all the essential stops. With six hours to kill before our departure from Split, Charlie improvised what turned out to be the climax of the trip. This is the nature of Yachts and Friends—and of the sea: that best-laid plans can change at any moment. He made a quick phone call and minutes later, we were on the terrace of Laganini Beach Club (Uvala Duboka; 385/217-846-715) on nearby Ciovo island, drinking perfect mojitos and swaying to the soft beat of euro-electronica that, in this sun-swept context, sounded as good as Beethoven’s Pastoral.
Later that afternoon, a strong puff of breeze—a good 20 knots—reminded me of everything sailing can be. Charlie gave me the helm; my wife, Kim, dangled her feet; and I started feeling the familiar freedom to go anywhere the wind would allow. I remembered a line by the French poet Jean de la Ville de Mirmont: “Car j’ai de grands départs inassouvis en moi”—For I have many great journeys unfulfilled within me.
Yachts and Friends can arrange a seven-day itinerary, from $6,295 for a boat that accommodates eight, or customize one for your needs; 44-2/035-146-775; yachtsandfriends.com.