[ Link to the photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/NoqWM9HAt6jEhNQn8 ]

Each year Bristol Canoe Club organizes a foreign trip, but with private trips to France and America the only overseas destination for members this year was Croatia.  Our old sea dog – Dave Brain very kindly proposed sea kayaking, which would repeat a trip he and a friend did last year.  So, with the experience of two sea kayakers leading, who had local knowledge of the coastal waters and boat rental scene, the promise of paddling in a hot and scenic environment using a different type of boat, seemed an opportunity not to waste.

Dave encouraged all the people who signed up to take part in a sea kayaking induction trip here in England.  I signed up for the first one with Anne and Dave in April, which turned out to be a wet and windy trip to Sidmouth.  Sea Kayaking has many qualities, but I hadn’t realized how much “faff” is involved multiplied by the weight and size of the sea kayaks.  We rented boats from AS Outdoor in Exmouth and then transported them down to Sidmouth, where parking on or by the beach is impossible.  So by the time we were suited up in dry suits, heaved the mighty boats down to the shingle beach and faffed about launching, it was lunch time.  The significant difference that a sea kayak offer is straight line stability, however the length prevents the quick turns I’m used to in my polo boat.  Also, sitting stationary on the sea as waves get larger, does not bode well for those who are afflicted with sea sickness.  My policy was therefore to keep going, get used to bracing on the waves and ignore any nausea. 

Dave’s agenda was slightly more advanced including practice towing, rescues and rolling however as the sea conditions got worse and the sky became darker, we decided to abandon his agenda and focused on paddling a few miles down the coast for lunch and then back.   I had ventured out many times as a teenager with my first canoe club on the Solway Firth, as well as a day sea paddling in the Azores, so I knew what I was letting myself in for.   The most important lesson is the need for sea sickness tablets which I did not take on this induction trip!  Fortunately, I kept my stomach under control and only had to deal with more faff returning both and paddlers to their respective destinations.

Well, I must have passed this induction course as Dave didn’t think I needed to attend any further trips, which he organized for most of the group.  Dave also assured me the weather conditions in Croatia would be better than Sidmouth – so no problem then!

Time happily passed before we 9 brave sea kayakers arrived very early and not so bright at Bristol Airport on Tuesday June 23rd.   The party, include, Dave, Phil and Norma, Anne and Dave, Conor, Matt and Dave’s friend Rich.  Arrival procedures at Split Airport were very efficient and we were soon out in the hot sunshine awaiting Drazon from our Boat Rental Company – Red Adventures.  We then had a brief stop for supplies at a supermarket, only to discover that one person wasn’t buying a bulk load of water after all, so I had to go back in to buy my own –Club faffing had started. 

Our boats were waiting close by on the Plantana Beach, and we began loading our kit into the boats.  Sea Kayaks have large waterproof hatches which fits even all of Conor’s luggage.  So, from Bristol to Split in half a day, we were ready to set sail for our first campsite at Milicevo.  This paddle was only 4.12 miles and mostly flat and calm – just as Dave promised us all, but after passing through Trogir the wind came up and the waves started making the boat more unstable.  With the resulting reflection off the harbour walls, we all began to think this was a little more adventurous than Dave’s Guidebook.  Still, we made it to the campsite only to begin what seemed like ages registering at the office with passports and more paperwork than a car rental company.   Also, camp site registration is located at the road entrance not on the beach, so more faffing ensured before we finally set up camp overlooking the bay and went for dinner.  For those who haven’t travelled a lot in Europe, camp sites there are often like mini towns with lots of RVs, campervans and tents squashed together, though the toilet and eating facilities are normally very good.  However, noise is a problem and those of us wanting an early night were kept awake by drinkers into the night or the perpetual screaming of mopeds or motorbikes as they passed through the village.  Conor and Matt were also up late talking into the late hours – surprise surprise.

Next day took us on a gentler paddle around Togir Bay and across to a lovely coffee shop.  It was here we began discussing plans for the following day.  Originally Dave planned a trip to the western island of Drynik, but concern was raised on weather conditions for Saturday’s return.  Conor was adamant he was here for a holiday while one or two if us fancied a bit more adventure.  By the time we faffed again registering at the campsite, it was clear we would have two groups, but who would go where?

Our Day 2 campsite meant leaving the boats by the beach and hiking up several roads of RVs and tents in the campsite.  Over dinner it was agreed 3 of us would go with Dave’s original plan to go west – Dave, Me and Rich.  However, by morning Rich changed his mind and decided to go with the relaxed group.  So, slightly concerned I said I would go with Dave – as I wanted adventure and looked forward to the wild camps.  For the record, Conor went in the other group as he wanted a holiday.

Day 3, 4 and 5 were surprisingly good for Dave and me.  During day 3, we made good time crossing to Drvnik and had lunch in a deserted but very hot Mali before proceeding a few miles to our first wild camping site on beautiful, isolated beach facing west.  We camped in a delightful wood where previous campers had built a dining room table and chairs out of rocks, so ate our dehydrated dinners at the table drank our wine and rum as the sun set on the Adriatic.  The night was serenely quiet with no inane chatter late into the night from other paddlers or campers.

Following a lovely bowl of “Fireport” Porridge I was ready to go by 9am and learned that patience is another important aspect of sea kayaking; Dave was ready at 9-45pm – no further comment.  Today we circumnavigated the island in beautiful weather.  At breakfast we decided to lunch on the eastern of “Large” Drvenik and decide if we would traverse over to the large island of Solta or return to the main group in advance of the worsening weather.  The weather continued to be perfect, and Saturday’s forecast looked slightly better if we left early.  So off we headed to our second wild camp after a journey of some 1.5 miles.  Here we were joined by some locals who had a kids birthday party on the beach, armed with a large boom box playing Eurovision type music, a jet ski and a high-powered rib.  After we returned from dinner in the lovely port of Maslinica (no we didn’t resort to dehydrated foods this evening) we sat by our tents bemused at the kids being driven in the rib around high-speed circles in the tiny bay we overlooked.  The party broke up at 9pm and before retiring I suggested to Dave, he got up 30 minutes earlier to ensure we left before 9am.

So, the infamous Saturday arrived, and the weather was very pleasant with hardly a ripple on the bay.  Dave’s earlier alarm call also ensured we were away well before 9am.  Our route originally was to cross back to Large Drvenik and then following the archipelago of reefs to the west and meet the main group at their campsite – where they were holidaying!  The weather certainly changed by Drvenik, and we had swells coming from behind on the right which made stability very tricky.  Since the weather was deteriorating, very few yachts and motor cruisers (in fact almost none) were out and the village on Large Drvenik was closed.  We therefore faced our demons and paddled north to the reef.  The sea got gradually rougher and breaking waves were continuing to hit us from the rear.  Concentration was critical now as neither of us wanted a roll or worse a swim.  At the reef we had some respite on the lee side of one of the islands and decided to continue the shorter hop north and then cross Trogir Bay at its narrowest point.  This would keep us close to the mainland and near boats (if they came out) just in case we had a problem.  Paddling to the mainland was very arduous and as the waves became shorter in wavelength and faster in period so even more concentration needed.  As you’ll see from the map, we turned 90 degrees to starboard (like the lingo???) and faced the wind head on.  Paddling into the wind at least gives the boat better stability but you need to paddle hard to cover distance.  I consoled myself by saying this was great stamina building for our next polo tournament. 

As we gradually got to the other headline, the sun started to shine, and we beached at a lovely spot were Dave found a coffee shop that was about to open.  What perfect timing for a pleasant coffee in the sun and to thank our lucky stars we made it!  Sadly, we still had a few miles to reach the camp site and again the wind picked up as we turned east along the headland.  By now we were both very tired and my hand was starting to blister through gripping the paddle very tightly, so it was a welcome sight when we saw Matt and Conor bounding over the rocky beach telling us to paddle another mile around the headland – but watch the surf waves as you come in!  Getting in was more treacherous earlier in the morning but fortunately we were either too tired to worry, too skillful or just simply lucky to beach directly in front of the main group’s boats.  The rest of the group were relieved to see us as they had become concerned about the weather.  Our camp site this evening was another squashed affair and had the added “benefit” of a wedding party which went on past 11pm that evening.  However, I really slept well that night.

I should add at this point that while Dave and I took off for our adventure, the Holidaying Group did paddle around the western side of Trogir Bay and stayed another night at the campsite.  The following day they paddled onto the next camp site.  From what I understand it was a pleasant and relaxed paddle for all, but what happens on holidays, stays on holiday!

Now back to Day 6 and we discovered that breakfast was only coffee at the bar, so I finished my last dehydrated porridge with baked apple (exceptionally good it was) and we regrouped for a final coffee.  Today’s trip was a pleasant paddle in the sun along the coastline.  This certainly appealed to the paddlers wanting a holiday (Conor), but I found it slightly slow, so I resorted to loops in the boat.  I estimated that with just a full rudder the boat would turn 360 degrees in about a 100m diameter circle.  You certainly couldn’t play canoe polo or paddle a river in this thing.  Later, faffing recommenced as there was uncertainty amongst the leadership team (Dave and Rich) on where we would camp.  The first beach was exceedingly small, and I had an interestingly quick exit from the boat to get ashore for a gentleman’s stop.  The next beach looked small and under a mighty cliff, however two motorboats were moored up and a family and another young lady were sunbathing topless on the beach.  They were a little surprised to see us land and then erect tents on what was a perfect camping spot.  Later 2 American kayakers came ashore but decided to camp further back – we had marked our space!

Now we didn’t have a name for this beach until the young lady came over and introduced herself.  She didn’t want to join the Bristol Canoe Club, but she introduced herself as Marianne and offered to exchange a bottle of Graper for filling her wine bottle up from our 5 Litre container.  So, we called the beach Marianne’s Beach and recommend the sights there to all!  As Marianne left with her small dog and wine she waved and smiled before zooming off on her motor launch.  This promoted several of our party to emulate our naturalist neighbours by partaking in some nude swimming; I decided to read my book.

The following morning, we awoke to find that none of the rocks had fallen on us and the sea had not swept away one of our parties, so we began the daily pack up.  It was interesting to note how much faffing was still going on after 6 days of packing boats.  I sat in my boat sulking as the time went by!  Then when Dave was ready, we began our final trip where the coastline certainly became more interesting with tall cliffs and interesting little inlets. 

At the headland, Dave regrouped us and warned about the busy shipping lanes and tourist boat traffic we would encounter as we crossed over to Meje.  He set us in a diamond formation to increase our visibility with Conor up front, Rich and I on the flanks and Dave at the back.  Surprisingly there was hardly any traffic and the two boats that did pass, created little turbulence.   After making land fall we had a short paddle up to our pickup point.  Here we met Drazon from Red Adventures where we unpacked our boats, loaded them on to a Drazon’s trailer and dressed into dry clothes.  Drazon then drove us to our final camp site, which sadly was the other side of Split to the airport.  Anyhow, the camp site was quite pleasant, and we dined outside in their restaurant.

The following day out group had a final split as Matt and I left at 7pm for the airport, while the rest of the group fulfilled their holidaying ambitions with sightseeing around Split and returning 2 days later.

Returning to my original question, “was this a Holiday or an Adventure?”.  Clearly, for me it was an adventure via our 3 day trip to Drvenik and the conditions on the third day, but I think the whole group found challenges to make the whole trip a very memorable affair from wild camping to nude swimming, learning not to drink too much Graper and reducing faff time by getting up earlier. 

Lastly, many many thanks must go to Dave for organizing and persevering with us all in the organisation and participation of the trip. 

Now the question is where is the Club going next year?

[ Another link to the photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/NoqWM9HAt6jEhNQn8 ]