by Benjy* and Celia - St Tropez, France
(Benjy is the creator of the Origami folding Dinghy)

This is the tale of a great little boat and a great holiday. This is 'Doolittle' our Pacific Seacraft Dana 24. We have just come back from a trip to Croatia. We started in St Tropez, France and finally returned 4 months later. Everyone had told us what a great place Croatia was so we decided to see for ourselves.

picture above by James Taylor -

We started off our holiday by visiting the beautiful islands of Hyeres, near Toulon.  Porquerolles, the largest island of the group, has been designated a national park, and although it's very beautiful here, it's very crowded in the summer. We visited early on in the season so we had the place to ourselves.

From here we sailed 200 miles to the Spanish island of Minorca to catch up with friends and the safest anchorage in the Med.  After a week of great company, we set off to Carloforte, a small town on the Island of San Pietro in the south west of Sardinia, another 200 miles away. We had some great sailing on this trip.

Sardinia is lovely and in places it remains timeless. Here people do not rush about, they take their time. The natives are friendly. Sardinia is huge being the second largest island in the Med. The scenery is stunning and the coastline dramatic. We spent a few days exploring San Pietro on our fabulous new folding bikes. Although we still had plenty of time, we were always aware that Croatia was still about a thousand miles away, so we couldn't afford to linger.  With this in mind,  we set off for Sicily with a favourable forecast.

A Beautiful sunset just off the coast of Sardinia soon after we left. You can just see the land in the background. The wind stayed behind us and built steadily, until we were sailing well in 25 knots of wind. The waves we experienced off the coast of Sicily were huge and out of all proportion to the amount of wind blowing. However our trusty boat didn't seem to mind, taking all the waves in her stride. This is amongst the best sailing we've ever had in the Med. It's rare when one gets a good sail in here, but when one does, it makes up for all the hours of motoring one has to endure. We took a place in a new marina in Trapani, Sicily, for a couple of days and got the bikes out...

This is the view from the beautiful little Aragonese village of Erice, perched high on the top of an 8000 ft hill. We rode from the marina to the foot of the hill and the cable car. Bikes folded, we carried them into one of the pods. What a treat to be quietly carried up to such a height. The village itself is wonderfully maintained and very quaint. The views of the surrounding area are breathtaking. Compared to the intense heat at sea level, it was delightfully fresh. We stopped at a small café with a great view and ordered Cappucinos. I don't normally drink coffee with milk, but I always do when in Italy. It seems that they know how to do it just right.

We decided to cruise along the south coast of Sicily as we had already sailed the north coast some years before in our last boat. We are so glad we did as we found the southern Sicilians to be very warm and friendly, the scenery was interesting and the harbours not too expensive. Water is very scarce in the summer and the supply is only switched on for an hour or two a day. In one harbour, the water was supplied by a natural spring, giving us the most delicious marina water we'd had for a long time. Many towns in Sicily bring their water in by ship so it's rare to find pleasant drinking water. We were excited to finally see Mt Etna smoking away, taking a mooring at her feet.  A week after we'd visited it erupted though no one was hurt.

The next leg was to take us along the foot of southern Italy with it's surprisingly pretty and attractive scenery. We found the southern Italians very friendly and happy to help. We even found a free marina!  It was here I ran into one of my folding dinghy customers, David, who had bought a set of my plans some months ago. It was a real treat to meet a customer, now a friend, in so remote a place with us all so far from home. Hot weather, friendly people and not much wind, that's what I remember about this part of the trip. Once around the heel and up the spike of the italian 'boot', we were just a day's sail from Croatia. This is Dubrovnik, an incredible walled town, and our port of entry since Croatia is not yet part of Europe.

The view from one of the many peaceful anchorages dotted all around the many Croatian islands. This one is just a few miles from another walled town, Korcula. The anchorage was so calm that I managed to take this photo of the moon rise from the boat!

In general the wind blows from the north west, so getting north was not easy. The trick is to leave early in the morning and motor during the calms before the breezes kick in later in the morning. It's always very boring motoring in a yacht but we were happily contemplating the return journey where things should be very different!

We were in Croatia during August which is probably not the best time to visit since there are over 3500 charter boats registered here, or one yacht for ever kilometre of coastline! Then the Italians come across for their annual holiday in massive numbers. They all drive motorboats and their wake can be very tiresome. The further north we went, the worse it became. When two yachts nearly ran us down, we decided that enough was enough, and turned tail, heading south again. It was certainly much easier going in this direction, we even managed to do some sailing. Strangely enough, there were many places on the southern most islands that were almost deserted.

This is the 'Blue Lagoon', so named by a couple of young girls who swam over to chat. What a stunning place. The water is absolutely crystal clear and hundreds of Sea Anemones can easily be seen dotted all around the fringes. This was August and yet there were not many other boats here. Mind you, we did sniff our way into this spot. There was only about 4 feet under the keel once we had anchored. The following day, the wind had swung around turning this idyllic spot into a lee shore, so we headed off to another better protected spot.

We sailed to the beautiful little island of Lastovo, which until recently was out of bounds to the public, being owned by the Military. Now they have abandoned the island, but it is all the more spectacular for that. Here we discovered the second best anchorage in the Mediterranean Sea. From here we said farewell to Croatia, glad we had come, but wishing nonetheless that we could have visited at any time other than July and August. As often, there was no wind when we left, though whilst we motored along a mirror flat sea, we were visited by this school of Dolphins.  

A baby dolphin swimming along with mum. While she lazily swings her tail up and down to keep up with 'Doolittle', his is going ten to the dozen in an effort to keep up! We didn't see as much wildlife as we would have liked. We'd sailed through a large bale of turtles and had caught a brief glimpse of a pod of pilot whales near Sicily, but saw no other whales the whole summer. Even our dolphin sightings were well down on previous years. When in Croatia, we'd met a few interesting Slovenians who were eager to tell us more about the Dalmatian coast. One elderly couple we met had been cruising here for 50 years and lamented that the Adriatic used to be teeming with life.

Back to our favorite free marina in Italy, Roccella Ionica, where we stayed a while. Soon after we left we witnessed an awesome lightning storm. All around us the sky was lit with huge flashes and bolts of lightning crashed all around us. One of the optional extras on the Dana is the lightning ground. At $1000 I thought it a wise move. I don't know if it works and I hope I never find out! In any case, we didn't get struck this time. We left Roccella at night to arrive in the strait of Messina with a favourable tide. Winds here reach gale force on a regular basis and with the currents, the conditions can quickly become treacherous in this little stretch of water.

The trip through the strait was interesting. About half way through the wind got up to about 30 knots giving us a blinding sail, reaching 7.2 knots at one point with only a reefed main and staysail flying. But then we had to turn left to sail along the north coast of Sicily putting the wind right on the beam. The wind increased until it was blowing a steady 35 knots, gusting 40, and still we sailed on. As soon as we could, we anchored in the lee of Sicily and stayed put while the wind howled. It was hot and very dry at 40 degrees Celsius, and with the high winds, was like standing in front of a blast furnace. The next day we spotted this turtle lazing in the sun. Spot the pilot fish sheltering under it.

As soon as the pilot fish saw the chance to move on at a faster pace than that of their turtle host, they jumped ship. They stayed under Doolittle's bow for nearly two days until we arrived back in Sardinia. They even followed us into the harbour. It wasn't until we were stationary that they finally left us. I have no idea if they wanted to be in Sardinia, but that's where they ended up. We didn't stay long as bad weather was on it's way, we didn't want to be stuck in an expensive marina when we could be anchored in Mahon, Minorca, with our friends.  So we stopped to refuel and continued on our way, aware that every minute would count.

In very light winds we motorsailed most of the way to Mahon. It would have been nice to have sailed a while without the engine, but as conditions in the Balearics can rapidly deteriorate, we considered it wiser to press on. About five hours away from Mahon, the wind suddenly swung around to the NW and blew hard, as predicted. The waves grew fast and conditions were ugly, but we managed to sail   the last few miles. It was a joy to get into the harbour entrance and calm waters again.  We'd made it and had timed our arrival well, given the weather that would come over the next week or so. - The shot above was taken early in the morning with a long exposure.

Here is the anchorage in Mahon. Picture by James Taylor again. Nelson said 'There are two safe anchorages in the Med: Mahon and August'. It can be crowded here, and with patches of poor holding when the wind begins to blow inevitably at 3 am, there's always fun and games to be seen. Those in the know anchor as far up as possible, the worst weather usually coming from the north. Minorca is an interesting place. After helping a mate with his boat project for a week we reluctantly said farewell to our friends and headed back to France.

At Cannes every year there is a classic yacht regatta. You will not find a finer collection of classics anywhere else in the world. These awesome boats all moored together in the Cannes old port is a truly stunning sight. But they also race, and they race hard. The day I chose to go out with my friend James Taylor to take pictures just happened to be the day a massive squall passed through the fleet causing no end of drama. This is 'Solway Maid', originally owned by Ivan Carr, of 'Carr's Water Biscuit' fame. The current owner is her only second despite the fact that she's over 60 years old. She is also very original.

Marigold is a classic English cutter from the late 19th Century. At this point hail was pummeling the fleet though there was no wind. Some of the hailstones were as big as 3/8th inch in diameter. That hurts! The hail stopped, then it rained. When the wind came through, the whole fleet had far too much sail up. Sails exploded, crew were almost washed overboard, spinnakers got loose, rolled mainsails filled with so much water the boom bent under the weight, two deck hands were struck by lightning and two Dragon class boats sank! Twenty of the most exciting minutes I have ever seen at a yacht race.

The sky says it all. This is the Fife 'Tuiga', the flagship of the Yacht Club of Monaco.

And from Cannes, back to St Tropez and the end of our holiday. We'd travelled about 3000 miles in all and had a really great time. The boat behaved herself at all times. One of the tillerpilots had stopped working but that was soon fixed with a spot of oil on the motor's bearing. We'd had a fabulous time and now we can't wait until next year. Where to go? Now that's the question....

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