Caribbean sailing charters, while always special experiences, become fairly routine in execution after you have a few of them under your belt. The boats, provisioning, and planning are all familiar. On two occasions, Rick and I took British Virgin Islands trips on a few days’ notice, and turned up on Tortola ready to roll—we know where and how to provision, had a good idea of our itinerary, and even had the charts and cruising guides on hand at home. Even when we’ve sailed in Caribbean destinations we’d not visited before, we were comfortable with the culture, knew what to expect in terms of availability of grocery shopping and dining opportunities, and with the shortest of briefings, were ready to drop the lines and sail away.
This year, we are leaving our comfort zone and have booked a week’s sail at one of my “bucket list” destinations: Croatia. While we are not neophytes at European travel, European sailing is another matter altogether. I have to admit to feeling a bit out of my element. To maintain some semblance of comfort, we are using an American charter company, but the similarities to our prior experiences end here.
I knew we’d be sailing in unfamiliar seas when we were required to hire a captain for our charter. Despite our crew collectively having thousands of nautical miles under our hulls, completing overnight and open-ocean crossings, and navigating waters riddled with raging currents, jagged reefs, skinny waters, and uncharted shoals, without a particular license (which none of us has), we’ll need to make room for one more crew member. Drago, Goran, or Bogdana: welcome aboard!
Despite my bemusement about having a stranger aboard, I’m not-so-secretly relieved that I’m not going to have to learn to speak Croatian. Although I imagine we’ll be humbled by how many Croatians we encounter will speak serviceable English, and even though my knowledge of Polish and Russian languages will be a huge help, Croatian is pretty exotic for most of us. We would probably feel a bit lost without our captain to help us out.
Provisioning is another area in which I’m feeling somewhat lost. We’ve sailed places where we had to provision for almost every single meal because there would be no stops to pick up extras or dine out. By contrast, when we chartered a canal boat in France, we only bought a day’s worth of food at each stop, knowing we’d pick up fresh ingredients along the way. I have no idea what to expect in Croatia, both in terms of what kinds of food we’ll find, how readily available it will be once we leave port, and how likely it is that we will eat off the boat. I need a de-brief with a more experienced galley wench!
Because we are sailing with a captain with local knowledge, any concerns about unfamiliar sea conditions and weather are eliminated. Likewise, local practices such as Med mooring (which we’ve done, but seldom) or rafting up with other boats at crowded quays, will not be left to us. But will our men be expected to pack skimpy Euro-style swim trunks to do as the Romans do? Will we look like tacky American tourists slapping around villages in our ubiquitous Keens and flipflops?
I suppose I need to remind myself that the Caribbean was not always my home away from home. I arrived there on my first visit, and my first charter, as an utter neophyte. It was only after preparation and research, and repeat visits, that it became second nature to sail there. And it’s “work” that I’ll gladly undertake to prepare for sailing the uncharted (to me) seas of the Adriatic.