Sailing Croatia’s Waters with My Captain

Red tile rooftops make each town or village along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, like this old town area of Split, look like something from a storybook. Janis Turk photos.
Red tile rooftops make each town or village along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, like this old town area of Split, look like something from a storybook. Janis Turk photos.

Stepping Aboard a Lucky Man’s Private Yacht in Croatia

By Janis Turk

In my next life, I’d like to come back as Marinko Kolanovic.

Crew members on the Adriatic Breeze take the day’s fresh catch give it to the chef on board to prepare for supper.
Crew members on the Adriatic Breeze take the day’s fresh catch to give it to the chef on board to prepare for supper.

Captain and owner of a splendid private yacht, the Adriatic Breeze, anchored off the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, Marinko is a modern-day Peter Pan, a guy who dreamed of pirates and sailing ships and never seemed to grow up entirely.

Sure, Markino is a highly successful New York businessman, yet somehow he’s managed to continue to remain just a big happy kid at heart. Living life on his own terms, holding his family tight, and keeping his priorities right, he has been careful to carve out space in his life for truly important things like fishing, swimming diving, and sailing.

The moment I met Markino, it seemed to me that this immigrant New Yorker is one of the luckiest men alive, living in one of the world’s greatest cities for much of the year and then spending the sunniest seasons aboard his own custom-built yacht.

Sailing a Goolet in Croatia

Diving in cobalt waters, eating the day’s catch under a sea of stars, and wandering narrow streets of red-roofed villages that hug island cliffs beside cerulean waters, O Captain, my captain, what a life! Son of a son of a sailor, Marinko is certainly a lucky soul.

A fisherman cleans his catch on a nearby boat as the Adriatic Breeze sets anchor in Brač, Croatia.
A fisherman cleans his catch on a nearby boat as the Adriatic Breeze sets anchor in Brač, Croatia.

And so am I. For on a dreary September day, while staring blankly into the glare of my computer monitor and feeling stuck in the darkest kind of funk, I received an invitation to join a friend and a group of other guests on Marinko’s yacht in the Adriatic Sea. I had only to make it to Croatia by Monday.

Salt Water Cure
Although a wiser soul might have thought twice about running up credit card debt for a last-minute airline ticket, that ain’t me babe, at least not if it means taking a bucket-list trip as beautiful as this.

I’ve been feeling desperately low lately, and I figured the Adriatic might help: “The cure for anything is saltwater,” Isak Dinesen writes, be it “sweat, tears, or the sea.”

 

I’ve traveled widely, flown in private jets, rode camels across desert dunes, kayaked in the Indian Ocean, helicoptered over Hawaiian volcanoes, puttered past Patagonian glaciers in a zodiac boat and much more– but I’d never sailed on a private yacht.

Smooth sailing along the Dalmatian Coast means vistas of cobalt waters and green hillsides.
Smooth sailing along the Dalmatian Coast means vistas of cobalt waters and green hillsides.

Sure, I worried I might get seasick, but I needn’t have; this trip would be smooth sailing all the way.

Superb Stay in Split

I flew to Split, Croatia, arriving the evening before we were to sail. By 8 pm a little rainy downpour had turned into a deluge as I checked into a little hotel I’d found on Booking.com, the historic Plaza Marchi.

I could hardly have been more pleased if I’d spent weeks researching great properties: the Plaza Marchi hotel in the old town was not only replete with Old-World, almost Venetian-style charm, but it was also sparkling clean and remarkably comfortable.

The friendly English-speaking hotel staff pointed me toward a quaint little restaurant nearby, and when the outdoor café area tarps began to drip rainwater on the table and into my linguini with tiny white clams, the waiter handed me a glass of wine to take to my room and said to come back tomorrow to return it and pay for dinner—the café was closing because of the storm.

And so I did: I went back to my fourth-floor room with my wine and watched it rain through a wooden window overlooking the red tile rooftops of the old village.

Each day, guests of the Adriatic Breeze get time to explore villages along the Dalmatian Coast, like this one in Sibenik, Dalmatia, Croatia.
Each day, guests of the Adriatic Breeze get time to explore villages along the Dalmatian Coast, like this one in Sibenik, Dalmatia, Croatia.

In the morning, I awoke to brilliant sun and cloudless blue skies, and just as it had that day in my attic office when I was invited on the trip, I knew my luck had changed. But yacht captain Marinko Kolanovic doesn’t believe in luck.

Marinko believes in hard work and making your own good fortune, and that’s how he has lived his life and achieved what many would say is the epitome of the American Dream.

Born in Croatia, Kolanovic, for the past several decades, has owned a thriving construction business in New York but has always kept close ties to his family and homeland in Croatia.

The Adriatic Breeze

Born to a long line of ruggedly handsome hard-working seamen, Marinko has owned many yachts, and the Adriatic Breeze is his newest one, a gleaming luxury sailboat, custom built in 2017 out of white oak and teak.

Marinko painstakingly finished the interiors in mahogany and walnut interiors he personally designed.

Luxury at Sea

The grill master at the Puteus Palace hotel and restaurant heats the coals to get the fire started for dinner at the terrace restaurant of this historic property on the island of Pučišća.
The grill master at the Puteus Palace hotel and restaurant heats the coals to get the fire started for dinner at the terrace restaurant of this historic property on the island of Pučišća.

The Adriatic Breeze boasts four spacious cabins (each with roomy modern en-suite bathrooms) and one larger master cabin on the main deck; all are fully air-conditioned.

The yacht is available for private chartered trips with individualized itineraries along the picturesque Dalmatian coastline, with pretty ports of call villages of limestone and red-tile roofs.

By dusk, the island towns seem to glitter and gleam against the aquamarine waters that lap against ancient stones.

The yacht has two masts and full sails, but it also is motorized, so its movements aren’t solely dependent on the whim of the winds, and the yacht can quietly putter into little emerald coves so those on board can stop to swim or fish each afternoon in their own private paradise.

The Adriatic Breeze’s main salon has a well-stocked bar, a sleek streamlined full kitchen (with a private chef, who once cooked at Delmonico’s in NYC), and a roomy table and seating for guests indoors. The teak upper deck offers a roomy round dining table, and plenty of space for dancing and sunbathing.

Smooth sailing along the Dalmatian Coast means vistas of cobalt waters and green hillsides.
Smooth sailing along the Dalmatian Coast means vistas of cobalt waters and green hillsides.

It also has a full barbecue grill and wet bar up top, and on that deck I spent the better part of a week enjoying the sun and sea breezes. It was my favorite place to have coffee each morning and dinner each night.

Within walking distance of Old Town Split is the marina, so I wheeled my suitcase over to the dock and looked for Marinko’s yacht. There were so many beautiful sailboats in port that I asked a woman in a nearby shop if she knew where the Adriatic Breeze might be.

Pretty little marinas like this one in Vis, Croatia, line the islands along the Dalmatian Coast.
Pretty little marinas like this one in Vis, Croatia, line the islands along the Dalmatian Coast.

“What a coincidence!” she laughed, “I was just on board that yacht this morning!” and she pointed me to the boat.

Ready to Come About

In a little marina like this, often the boats are often anchored side-by-side, and one embarks by walking through other boats, an odd but interesting way to see what other ships look like. I was pleased because the Adriatic Breeze was the best and last ship I saw as I crossed through two other boats to get to her.

The Adriatic Breeze is 25 meters long, or about 82 feet, making it little smaller and somehow more special than a big gaudy fiberglass boat. The upholstery with classic nautical touches of navy, anchors, and white rope, was understated and comfortable.

The teak finishes on tables and mahogany touches in the main salon were elegant, too, yet there was nothing posh or intimidating about anything on this yacht.

The Adriatic Breeze is a boat to be lived on and enjoyed, a comfortable place where guests can dance under the stars or sit at a table working on a laptop. It is a vessel with plenty of room for fishing off the back. There were kayaks and canoes, rafts, snorkeling equipment and more onboard: everything one could ask for on an Adriatic adventure.

Private Charter Trips

As soon as I boarded the yacht, I was already dreaming of how to get a bunch of my friends together to charter it again next year. As Americans with tight budgets and fixed incomes, chartering a yacht sounds like something only millionaires could do, but once I got to Croatia and met other tourists in the towns, I found that chartering a yacht in the Adriatic Breeze was not as impossibly expensive as one might assume.

The Captain and crew of the Adriatic Breeze bid us farewell as we disembark at Split.
The Captain and crew of the Adriatic Breeze bid us farewell as we disembark at Split.

In fact, it is actually a rather common practice for a good many European and American visitors, and it’s far better than taking a crowded cruise.

I did the math, and it would cost about $5,500 per couple, plus airfare, with food and drink included if five couples or friends wanted to travel together for a 7-day cruise. On board the Adriatic Breeze, the group would enjoy chef-driven dinners, luxury accommodations, and perfectly enchanting ports of call. While admittedly a charter yacht excursion is hardly a budget trip, it isn’t really that much more expensive than booking a Mediterranean cruise, especially if you can find inexpensive airfare (as I did at the last minute).

Ports of Call

During this fabulous Croatian cruise from Split to see various charming Dalmatian Islands (like Brač, Hvar, Korčula, and Vis) we would sail or motor from island to island from about 6 am till 9.

I slept through most of this, so I never got seasick. While we slept, the ship’s cook made homemade chocolate croissants and loaves of fresh bread each morning, and the aroma filled the gallery as I’d come upstairs for coffee.

Then Marinko and his crew would drop anchor at the edge of a quaint hillside village, which we’d visit for several hours; places like the city of Vis, on Vis Island, Croatia, or the lovely little old town of Pučišća, and Sumartin and Selca and the town of Bol (which we visited by car), also on Brač Island.

My favorite port was Old Town Korčula on the Island of Korčula, whose natives claim is the birthplace of Marco Polo.

Each morning the chef onboard makes homemade bread for guests on the Adriatic Breeze.
Each morning the chef onboard makes homemade bread for guests on the Adriatic Breeze.

We first stopped in Blato on Korčula Island, but later we sailed to the other side to the town of Korčula where my friends and I enjoyed a rooftop restaurant dinner of fresh seafood at tavern called Konoba Adio Mare, one of the town’s most-sought-after reservation, where we dined on a terrace surrounded by Korčula’s lemon and orange trees overlooking the oldest church in Korčula, St. Peters Church, and St. Mark’s Cathedral and even the house said to be the birthplace of Marco Polo.

In Pučišća, my friend and I also dined in the terraced garden restaurant of an elegant modern luxury hotel called the Puteus Palace on the island of Brac, a Heritage Hotel set in the oldest palace on the Adriatic coast, a building with 550+ years of history. This little 15-room luxury property is just steps from the water on the island of Pučišća, known for its white limestone and marble quarries.

Diving for Dinner

But we didn’t need to leave the boat to find great eats. The chef and crew created the most delicious dishes each day, feasts unparalleled by any fine dining restaurant. Often one of the crew members would dive for our supper, or Captain Marinko would fish for it, and we would eat pasta and fresh seafood, or we’d have salads and fresh vegetables and fruits, and coffee and desserts like fried beignets and sweet figs from local trees.

Captain Marinko Kolanovic gets to fish every day, even for the guests’ supper. He also has a catch-and-release tuna license.
Captain Marinko Kolanovic gets to fish every day, even for the guests’ supper. He also has a catch-and-release tuna license.

Captain Marinko would stop by a market to buy fresh ingredients in the morning while in port. And each day, as I’ve said, there was fresh hot homemade bread.

Croatia is Cool
Folks in the travel industry will tell you that Croatia is a wildly popular destination these days. It’s even a hip destination for the Hollywood jet-set, too.

That’s hardly a surprise to me, for it feels like a quieter, gentler and more affordable European destination.

It has all the charm of the Italian coastline just across the Adriatic, but it seems to have fewer cruise ship tourists (at least in late September), and its island villages are more geared to locals than visitors.

So when I’d find a shop in a Croatian village, it was often that of a local artist rather than a T-shirt vendor.

Imagine lounging in this enchanting lobby at the Villa Giardino, a small luxury hotel property on the island of Brač in the town of Bol, Croatia.
Imagine lounging in this enchanting lobby at the Villa Giardino, a small luxury hotel property on the island of Brač in the town of Bol, Croatia.

I picked up pottery and marble pieces, sea-inspired art, rustic baskets, and pretty plates adorned with hand-painted pictures of fish.

Croatia seems less commercial—more authentic and alluring—than so many other Mediterranean countries.

Luxury Boutique Stays on Land

One afternoon, friends and I left the boat and arranged for a car trip visit a small luxury hotel property on the other side of Brač Island in the town of Bol, a boutique spot called the Villa Giardino.

There we sipped prosecco in a garden patio and dined on a charcuterie board filled with local goat cheeses, cured meats, olives and figs and enjoyed views of the water. Like the Puteus Palace, Villa Giardino is a place I’d like to visit again.

Captain, my captain!
“The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,” writes Walt Whitman. Swimming in the cobalt waters of the Adriatic Sea on our last afternoon, I looked back at the boat and saw Captain Marinko squinting and smiling in the sun.

“What a lucky guy,” I thought. After him, I felt like the second-luckiest person on the planet, too.