Words: Jenny McConkey
Pics: Nathan Williams, GoXperience Andy and Jenny McConkey, McConks
When we were offered the opportunity to spend a week on board a 51’ yacht sailing around some of Croatia’s islands, with the added bonus of some fine paddle boards to play on, we booked our flights faster than you can say ‘why would anyone say no?’. Andy and I had a long-standing ambition to visit the islands after flying over them on the way to Montenegro about 11 years ago (the time I famously booked a holiday on the basis of the FatFace catalogue being shot there and the pictures looking nice!), and the boys were sold on the basis of a plane, a yacht, the sea and a monorail at Birmingham Airport. As time went on, it became apparent that our 6 and 4 year olds were perhaps most excited by the monorail – but let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a monorail!
We flew into Split at the start of half term, landing to hot sunshine and blue skies. A friendly taxi driver drove us to Marina Kastela where we met Nathan, our skipper, and yacht GoX. We were going to be spending a week with Nathan (and he with us and our lively offspring) so we were relieved to be met with a warm welcome and a feeling that we would quickly be friends.
The first evening was spent getting to know each other, and the yacht, before setting sail (or, as it turned out, motor) the following morning. Andy and I were given a tour of the yacht, while Nathan filled us in on our various responsibilities as crew, and the boys were given a lecture on yacht safety.
A beautiful cloudless morning dawned and we were excited for the off. Our first night was to be spent at Nathan’s ‘Special Place’ and we motored off, keen to see what the week would bring. There were McConks boards strapped to the deck, beer in the fridge and snorkels down below, it was looking good!
The first day passed in relaxing in the sunshine, gazing at the stunning scenery and much shooting of other boats as the boys discovered the deck was an excellent spot for a game of pirates – oh and ‘catameringue’ spotting for the 4 year old. The ‘Special Place’ turned out to be a few hours sail from the marina, and was a beautiful secluded inlet on the mainland, although we were disappointed to be sharing it with a couple of other yachts.
On arrival, Andy and I had our first test of our new roles – in charge of anchoring for me, and swimming to the shore to attach mooring lines for him. Relieved to have successfully passed this first test without injuring ourselves, or Nathan’s pride and joy, we were straight in the water with the boys. The warm, clear water was delightful, and it wasn’t long before we were all splashing, snorkeling and playing on SUP boards.
Dinner under the stars followed, as did a peaceful night sleep in the comfortable cabins. An early riser, I took advantage of the opportunity for a quiet early morning paddle and SUP yoga, reveling in the peace and beauty – something I rarely manage in the school run chaos, and not living close enough to water.
The days quickly settled into something of a routine – swim and SUP before breakfast on the decks, then setting off under sail or motor as conditions allowed, lunch en route, then arriving mid afternoon for more watery fun. The boys occupied themselves happily with books (two little book worms in our house), Lego minifigures and games of pirates whilst we were sailing, as well as just soaking in the scenery, and we all enjoyed Nathan’s tales of life on the sea.
The second day we arrived at Skradin marina, in readiness for a trip to the Krka waterfalls, stopping on route to pick up about 8 bin bags worth of rubbish previous GoXers had collected and hadn’t been able to take away with them. We were somewhat disheartened to find that despite them having completely cleared the beach of rubbish a week before, the small beach was completely covered, mostly in plastic. Happily, Nathan has plans to regularly take adventurers there to try and keep it rubbish-free.
The following morning we were up early, ready to hire bikes for the 1.5km trip to the falls. You can also go by boat, but they are large and crowded, and we prefer to be under our own steam. The bike ride was a stunning track following the river upstream to the falls. The waterfalls themselves were magnificent, but the reality of small people cycling a hilly path meant that we arrived with the crowds from the boats and ended up walking in a stream of people. Top tip – make sure you get there early before the boat trips arrive! We stopped for a welcome swim in the river on the return cycle and to enjoy being back away from the crowds again.
Back at GoX, we sat down with Nathan to discuss the plan for the rest of our trip. He offered us a choice of mooring in marinas, or ‘going into adventure mode’. Obviously we went for the latter, so after some re-stocking we set off, determined not to go too far before stopping for the night. After rejecting a couple of potential mooring sites – water not clear enough, not quite got the wow factor, we settled for a spot on an inlet in the river leading up to Skradin.
It was a beautiful place, lovely fresh water to swim in, although I discovered when I tried to SUP on the river that there was a keen wind blowing! We moored in isolation, although throughout the evening there were snorkelers spear hunting around our cove, presumably related to the fish farm on the opposite side of the river! A sunset paddle, and morning SUP yoga and general tomfoolery (neither Andy nor Nathan quite mastered the jumping from the deck of the yacht onto the board manoeuvre, despite repeated hilarious attempts!) and this mooring was quickly one of our favourites.
Paddling in the warm crystal-clear waters was a delight, and both boys enjoyed practising solo paddling in the quiet waters of various coves. However, we struggled to get our normally-keen boys on the SUPs for any long journeys – partially because they loved swimming in the warm water, and due to the lure of the yacht’s tender, which Nathan was happy to buzz about in with them. Trying to dunk us with the wake, and even the actual tender, quickly became their favourite past-time and reduced us all to giggling heaps. The boys also loved jumping off the front of the yacht, and being towed on a paddleboard by the tender. Nathan was the perfect host and was always happy to go along with whatever we wanted to do.