Travel: Yo ho ho and a bottle of travarica

The Dalmatian coast is still perfect for sailing, only now you don't have put up with package tourists.
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The Independent Travel
"YO HO HO for a bottle of travarica." Doesn't scan, does it? Nor will a few more nips of this bucolic herbed-up grappa turn anyone into an Ovid. But this is the sort of time-passing vacuous mind-game that plays on the brain when you're becalmed in a silent sail boat.

Sailing among the Adriatic islands, lying a few miles off the mountain- fringed Dalmatian coast, is not the stuff for action-loving seafaring Horatios, either Hornblower or Nelson. The summer winds in this region are more hedonistic than headstrong. They blow gently, then not at all ... but who cares? Take another dip over the side, lower a fishing line, soak up the sun and muse on the islands that stubbornly don't get any closer.

Until 1990 the Dalmatian coast was the place for the gentle sailing holiday. The waters of the Adriatic are as clear as the best London Dry and speckled with islands of all sizes, making it perfect for hopping.

Now, with Croatia mending its tourism, a few people are sauntering back to rediscover the craggy shorelines with their stony beaches, many of which were left unscathed by the war. Gone are the dozens of charter airliners on the tarmac at Split airport disgorging package holiday-makers, and there is no longing for those days. Instead Croatia seems to be seeking a quieter visitor. People who love the water and the modest evenings in modest fishing villages will find the Dalmatian coast a delight.

Jolly Jack tars can charter 40-50ft sailboats - which are extremely well maintained and kitted out - such as Elans and Gibsea Bavarias, which sleep 8-12 people. The main charter centres are in Pula, Split and Zadar. Even with swim platforms and inflatable tenders for shore landings, these are quality performance sailboats. Most have cabins with en suite shower and toilet. Galleys are functional, but, as always on a boat, fridges are a bit small for the mountain of cokes, tonics and spritzers often needed to accompany the local wine.

Just one warning about all holidays afloat: leave some space, such as a berth, or even a cabin, vacant for all your belongings and clutter. This set-aside area can also be an escape for anyone wanting time alone. Living in such a confined environment you run the risk of getting "peopled out" and vowing never to talk again to those who used to be your best friends.

Expert sailors can leave their sou'westers and sextants at home. Host craft are fitted with a satellite navigation system, radio, echo sounders and other electronic aids while the all-important weather bulletins, in English, can be relied upon.

For a novice sailing group, a skipper will be required. Normally a sun- blond 25-year-old Chippendale lookalike will cost from pounds 50 a day. He will help you plan a voyage through more than 1,000 islands, taking you everywhere you want to go. He will ensure your water tanks are full and that your engine is always working. He will captain the craft politely, teach you to haul on the spinnaker, and tighten the mainsail, without any of the growls you will get if you put a friend at the helm. His local knowledge will also lead you to some really great bars for splicing the mainbrace after dark. At night, mooring can be in a marina, a fishing village or simply at anchor in an island bay; it's up to you to decide.

It is essential that you have a range of

things to do. Not every day can be spent sunning, snorkelling or beating to windward - which is why you are lucky to be off the Dalmatian coast. After all, the mainland around here is full of history and culture, from the Romans to the Venetians. Towns and cities such as Dubrovnik and Split, which suddenly become "ports of call", offer more than enough in the way of architectural treasures, galleries and shopping. Fishing villages have fresh fruit and vegetable markets offering pure organic produce with old world flavour at old world prices. Many have their own wineries, and there are bougainvillaea-shrouded waterfront cafes where you can lunch on anchovies, squid and other fish of the day.

If being aboard a boat all day is just too much of a watery holiday, then a Robinson Crusoe-style catering holiday in a fisherman's cottage on one's very own island is a real experience! Dress for breakfast is optional, but be cautious about frying bacon in the altogether. There is no electricity, just gas for the fridge and cooking, and dinners are by lantern light. A boat-shop calls on alternate days offering fresh groceries, a mobile phone, bottles of travarica and wine, plus newspapers and other essentials.

The "Crusoe" islands are in the north, among the 140 uninhabited islands that make up the Kornati national park. This is also the best sailing region if you have rented your boat from Pula and Zadar. Most of the "islands" are in fact rocky islets, but the largest, Kornat, is ideal for fishing, snorkelling and collecting sponges along its cove-studded coastline.

In the south you will find Hvar; it is some 40 miles long and has 12,000 inhabitants. In contrast with the barrenness of Kornati, its cypresses, carobs, figs, almonds and pines stand starkly green on the lower mountain slopes.

At the port, Mijosko Bartulovic makes himself available for wild flower rambles. "We can pick all the herbs you need to take home, like lavender, oregano, bay, sage and mountain mint, as well as see many different rock roses.

"Do you know," he adds, that we have 35 species of orchid, 10 rosemarys and 10 types of bell heather?" He didn't reveal the herbs required to distil the mind-numbing travarica.

dalmatiaN coast fact file

The Croatian National Tourist Board can supply more information and maps. Tel: 0181 563 7979.

Croatian Airlines. Tel: 0181 563 0022. Daily flights to Zagreb from Heathrow, weekly to Split from Heathrow and Gatwick. From pounds 179 return, plus taxes.

Bareboat and skippered charters

Qualifications to skipper own yacht: RYA "Day Skipper" or International Helmsman's Certificate of Competence.

Tenrag Yacht Charters. Tel: 01227 721 874.

30-51ft yachts - Sleeping 4-12 people. Mixed fleet Gibsea Bavarias and Elans. Joining ports Zadar, Split and Pula. May-Sept from pounds 850-pounds 3,750.

Cosmos Yachting. Tel: 0181 547 3577

30-47ft Gibsea, Bavarias May-end Aug from pounds 675-pounds 3125 pw. Pula. If Skipper required add pounds 50-pounds 70 per day. Rate for hostess pounds 50-pounds 60 per day.

Crusoe Island Holidays. Tel: 0171 2264460

Old fishermen's cottages with calor gas cooking, small fridge and tanked water including small boat with fishing equipment. From pounds 330 per person per week (if two sharing). Island allocated only on arrival. Including flights.

DIT Travel. Tel: 0171 379 6249.

UK agents for Jadrolinija Ferries, which cruise along the Dalmatian coast.

The main Croatian specialist isTransun Tel: 01865 798888. Specialist sailing operators include Sailing Holidays (0181 459 8787) and Sunsail (01705 799 2333).

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