I never went to summer camp as a kid. Well, actually I did but I never lasted more than a few hours or a day at the most. First there was the Awana Cubbies. My sister went but for me it was simply out of the question. I went to Sunday School at church once for an hour and refused to ever go back again. Then there was the time my mom tried to drop me off at the Kids For All Seasons day camp at the Four Seasons Hotel in Scottsdale. I was back within a few hours. Then in fourth grade I got signed up for tennis camp at the Santa Barbara Tennis Club, but despite the fact that I had a major crush on a kid named Miles there, I dropped out on the second day. My parents didn’t protest. If I didn’t want to do something I almost never had to, which is why I never got any good at ballet or playing the piano. Subsequently I was also never very good at meeting new people. Group activities? Not my thing.
But then when I was eighteen that all changed. I went on study abroad and spent the greater part of six months crammed into buses and tiny hotels with a group of strangers in far off places. It was a blast. Now I live for that sort of thing. Meeting new people used to terrify me, now it’s my favourite pastime. After two summers with Medsailors, I can kind of imagine what I might have missed out on. Medsailors is like summer camp for adults, except instead of a dumpy cabin upstate you’re on a beautiful sailboat on some of the most spectacular water in the world.
Before going back this summer with Emily we were like “There’s no way it can live up to last year. Our group was just too good. Can Josh be our skipper again? Do you think Freddie will be there?” and so on. We were so excited about the people we almost forgot we would also be visiting one of the most beautiful countries in the world — Croatia. This year we were veterans. We knew exactly what to bring and what not to bring. We knew the ropes. Everything was going to go smoothly and be a blast. With some rocky beginnings due to travel and baggage complications, once I was finally aboard everything was smooth sailing. My two trips thus far with Medsailors have been so distinct and yet they both finish the same. Like the end of summer camp, you don’t want to say goodbye to all your new friends. You don’t want to leave your tiny home aboard this boat. Maybe you even fell in love, with a person or with a place. And as you leave you already can’t wait to go back next summer, to do it all again. But no summer, and no sailing trip can ever be the same. With Medsailors though, they can always be great…
One look down at Dubrovnik along the highway from the airport high above the coastline, and you can understand why this place is the perfect backdrop for fantasy (perhaps you have watched Game of Thrones? This is King’s Landing). From its beginning in the 7th century, to its golden years of maritime trade in the 1500’s, to events as recent as the 1990’s during the dismantling of the former Yugoslavia, it is a city steeped in history. Today it is a happy bustling fortress, warmed in the glow of early evening sunshine, with beautiful ships sailing along the horizon in front. The sea washes up to kiss its old walls sending tiny little crabs scurrying around to watch. Music and amazing seafood fill its stone paved pedestrian streets and flocks of swallows circle above making nests in the rooftops of its old buildings. What a place to begin a journey and definitely one worth spending a day enjoying, especially to walk its castle walls and take it all in from above. I arrived here feeling deflated after my bag was somehow lost in limbo on a layover in the Czech Republic, without even so much as a bathing suit. Of course this would happen to me and ruin this trip because that was just my luck this summer. After a few hours spent at a strip mall stocking up on the necessities I was able to join Emily and Josh in the old town for a sundowner glass of wine on the rocks outside of the fortified walls. I couldn’t have wished for two better people to cheer me up and make everything alright. The next morning before boarding the boat I wasn’t about to leave my luggage situation in the hands of the airport, so I cabbed it back there and begged the security guard to let me into the baggage claim and wait for the next flight from Prague to hopefully arrive with my bag they misplaced the day before. It was down to the wire because I had one hour to get the bag and to the port before our boat embarked for the first island. Luckily it all worked out in my favour. I arrived to the docks with a few minutes to spare and out of breath. I hopped aboard, met my new crew for this year, and set off for the islands. I took a deep breath as we passed under the bridge out of the harbour and left all the stress behind me. One week of smooth sailing with Rachel, our skipper, at the helm. Full speed ahead.
Our first stop on our voyageur route was a quiet, calm, and sweet little introduction to the Croatian islands. That is until the Euro Cup game with Croatia vs. Spain went on that night in the town’s only bar. If you want to get to know a country, visit during the largest football (Americans please read “soccer) match of the year. Families gather and people chain smoke and drink beer on the edge of their seats hoping for a goal. The tension was palpable and of course I was rooting for the home team. By accident I wore a red and white stripe shirt that night, the national colors of croatia, so every time I went to the bar I got served first for my team spirit. Trust me, I felt as sad as the locals when we lost that night. That’s little Šipan today but historically the island is quite interesting. During the 15th century it was a chic summer getaway for the very best Dubrovnik families, many of whom built palaces on the island, some of which can still be found there today.
When we arrived in Mljet Rachel told us to rent bikes in the small town and cycle over to the national park to see the natural lake and the monastery on the island in the center. An island within an island? Croatia really is an incredible place. What nobody told us though was that the climb up the hill in the summer heat is b-r-u-t-a-l. Emily and I learned that the hard way but we pedalled through the pain and made it over. We rewarded ourselves with a little skinny dip on a tiny beach on the quiet side of the lake. We never did make it to the monastery, somethings are just as nice admired from afar, and the swim was worth it. When we made it back, exhausted, we could tell the joke was on us, but Rachel promised it was for the best because if we knew how tough the ride was we might have never gone. And you know what? She was right. Later that evening Josh, Emily, and I shopped for little sea sponges, ate ice cream, and watched the sunset from the bow.
Stari Grad, Korçula
Korçula was my favourite island of this whole trip. In fact, if I told you to go to just one place in Croatia, this is it. Everything about this island is purely precious. It’s attractive to tourists, but I could tell it’s a favourite of Croatians themselves to come with their families. Emily and I took a long walk around the perimeter of Starigrad in the early evening and the most majestic little scenes played out all around us. Sweet little girls selling seashells on the sidewalk, a symphony playing a public concert in a courtyard next to the old fortress, kids fishing with their grandparents, babies learning to swim, French jazz floating out from café terraces, couple’s taking dancing lessons on the deck of their sailboats, and the most spectacular sunset. This is paradise. I thought the day couldn’t get any better but at the stroke of midnight it would become the 28th of June, and my 28th birthday. To celebrate Josh, Marcus and I set up a “throne zone” on the bow of their boat. We kidnapped Emily’s computer while she was out and downloaded the season finale of Game of Thrones. All snuggled up in the open air, we watched the most epic episode of all time while the huge yellow full moon rose up from behind the mountains on the mainland across the way. A summer storm was accumulating in the distance and the thunder added to the drama, but it held off until the episode was over. It was one of my favourite birthdays and frankly moments of my life. I could not imagine a more majestic theatre or more magic moment to welcome twenty-eighth year.
Vela Luka, Korçula
The rest of my birthday was spent on the other side of Korçula in Vela Luka after a good day’s swim of along the way. We enjoyed swimming so much we were too lat to get a slot at the harbour so we anchored offshore a bit and were taxied by the crew in the dingy to and from shore. The water was rocky and it was sort of terrifying and thrilling to jump in and out. Once ashore, Emily and I walked to the other side of the bay and found ourselves a little pier off the beach club to dive and swim. The sun was low in the sky and everything was sparkling. I wanted to stay forever but we had to go back to eat the most delicious pizza in Croatia with our boat. Before calling it a night, Emily, Josh, and I got one last drink in a little bar ashore. They asked me what my birthday wish was and I told them to set all the lobsters in the tank free. My wish still hasn’t come true.
Hvar is the only island in Croatia I had been to before this trip, and I had one thing on my mind. I wanted to go back to Bonj les Bains beach club which is one of my favourite places on earth. Emily and I went over to the island (the harbor is actually across the way) early to get in the last hours of the day here, sipping sparkling water and swimming in the sea when not relaxing on our luxury lounge chairs. Afterward, we cleaned up and headed into town to browse the little shops and find some dinner before we came across Josh. The three of us walked around the island that night, getting lost on little streets and eventually ended up drinking bad red wine, sitting around on lounge chairs at the Hula Hula club and serenading each other. On the boat ride back to the the Medsailors harbor everything was so dark on the sea. As we drove fast through the night I tilted my head back and looked up at the stars, and at the risk of sounding so damn cheesy, just felt incredible to be alive.
Island Hopping in Croatia
TIPS FOR TRAVELERS
I cannot speak for all of Croatia I suppose, but from what I have seen on my two trips around its islands is that not only is it geographically spectacular but it is also incredibly friendly. People here are so welcoming and happy. Multiple times I accidentally gave way too much money to people in shops or at the ferry and could have easily walked away without noticing but they were always honest and gave it back to me. It is next to impossible to get a bad meal wherever we went, and everything is affordable. If you’re not sailing with a company, you can fly into either Dubrovnik or Split and take ferries between the islands. Croatia is such an ideal summer location. The islands still feel authentic but are tourist friendly, its busy without ever feeling overcrowded, and the water is some of the cleanest I have swam in. I already cannot wait to go back to this beautiful place.
A very big thanks for Medsailors for inviting me back for a second season. I cannot say enough good things about their sailing trips. My moments aboard with them have been some of the travel highlights of my life, and there is something to be said about making beautiful sailing experiences fun and accessible. I already can’t wait for next year. Please check out their trips on their website, and if you end up hopping aboard tell them Haleigh sent you.