Learn to sail with Nautilus Sailing: A sailing adventure in Croatia

by Mar 4, 2024Croatia

Sailing Away Croatia COVER

Learn to captain your own catamaran during a week-long liveaboard sailing course in Croatia with Nautilus Sailing. Get a captain’s certification, too. Come along on our adventure.

In sailing, there are three rules, we were told somewhat tongue-in-cheek:

  • Don’t hit stuff.
  • Keep water out of the boat.
  • Come back with the same number of people you left with.

I guess we passed our week as students on a Nautilus Sailing learn-to-sail liveaboard course in Croatia since we avoided crashes, came back with the right number of people, and water didn’t get into the boat (except what dripped off our bodies after a swim in crystal clear water).

The liveaboard learn-to-sail week was fun, too. Isn’t that what adventure travel should be? Particularly when it means sailing on a luxury catamaran around the Split Archipelago of Croatian islands – blue skies, translucent waters, fresh seafood, and lunches moored in a private cove with a swim.

“This doesn’t suck!” Nautilus lead instructor and founder Tim Geisler exclaimed several times a day.

Tim Geisler Helm Nautilus Sailing Catamaran Leaving Trogir

Can’t argue with that. And it could be said for every destination where Nautilus takes its liveaboard students — including the Bahamas, Tahiti, and Mallorca. As media, we did less actual studying than our fellow students did on two other Nautilus liveaboard boats also on the Croatia sailing adventure. We did, however, get a taste of the learning, which started unglamorously enough with a lesson on how to use the toilet, a.k.a. “head” in ship-speak. After that came learning the parts of a boat, how to steer and read all those dials, tying knots (“If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot,” we were told), anchoring, rescuing somebody overboard (essential stuff, right?), jumping the halyard, raising the mainsail, and the names of the “ropes.” Ooops, sorry, I slipped. Demerits for me. Never call it a rope on a boat; it’s a line, sheet or halyard depending on its function.

Michael At The Jib Catamaran Nautilus Sailing

Michael furling the jib on our first day.

No matter how much learning was done – and this is an intense, immersive week — everybody still had fun, from wine-tasting and ice cream sampling, to strolls along the waterfront promenade of Hvar and motor-scootering around the island of Vis. The other “real” students, however, all ended up with a captain’s certification after just a week (and passing some tests), which allows them to charter or buy their own boat. We on the other hand got a great taste of the sailing life that is akin to RVing on the water. Where classroom lessons really don’t suck.


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“We want to give students an authentic taste of sailing,” said Geisler. “It’s not just about the white, flappy things. It’s all the things you see and do.”

Solta Anchor Campground Croatia Nautilus Sailing

Our first sunset anchor in a quiet cove on the island of Solta — a bit like a campground on the water.

Meeting fellow students and our luxury ocean ride: Day 1

The week didn’t start with great glamour, however, as an unusual late September storm moved in. We had to don rain jackets and make a dash along the dock to the catamaran to keep from getting soaked and chilled. Then we met our ride for the next week – a Fontaine Pajot Astrea 42 luxury catamaran outfitted with four ensuite cabins in the hulls – two fore and two aft. On Nautilus liveaboard courses, you see, there are never more than four students in any weeklong course. So, you get personal attention and lots of time with the instructor onboard to help ensure you do pass the sailing certification.

Sailing out from Trogir: Day 2

Luckily for our week in Croatia, the clouds started to clear the morning of our departure from Trogir. We motored out of the marina and headed toward the island of Solta – mind you, not the villages on Solta because when you are cruising the waters you can head wherever you want. In our case, the first few hours took us to the Sesula Cove (“Uvala Sesula) on the northwest corner of this small island. But we didn’t just hang out and watch the view. Geisler, our Nautilus instructor for the week, used most every minute during our weeklong liveaboard course, for teaching, albeit perhaps in sometimes subtle ways. On our way to the Solta cove, we each practiced “driving” so we could learn how to maneuver, stop, and turn the boat, all the while talking terminology because sailors really do have their own vocabulary.

Therese Iknoian At Helm Nautilus Sailing

Therese driving the catamaran — looking more confident than she felt!

Each day started comfortably but not too lazy, and we were usually anchored somewhere by mid-afternoon – either a peaceful cove or an island marina. During lunch or at the day’s evening anchor (or perhaps both!) came the mandatory swim off the back of the boat. Since we sailed with two other boats – a catamaran and a monohull, both with students – we all anchored together each night.

We did get a chance to experience the magic of sailing that first day – unfurling the sails with our own muscle, watch them fill and billow out, and then feel the boat surge forward, powered only by the wind taking us where we wanted to go.

Tom Gray On Winch Nautilus Sailing

Some of these coves are set up like campgrounds on the water. For example, at Sesula Cove on Solta, there are two restaurants on the hill. We learned that as long as you eat at one of them, a boat has permission to tie up on their mooring balls, sort of lined up like RVs in a campground. The first dinner set the tone for our week of divine dining. Three instructors from the three boats with their gaggle of 11 students lined a long table at Sismis restaurant and toasted our first day at sea, then dove into a feast of the freshest of seafood. When I spied mussels on the menu, I knew I’d found my happy place. Nautilus runs a tight ship but one that stays casual (flip-flops and tees are de rigueur) allows fun, laughter, and joking interactions. And a drink is fine, too – just not too much.

Mary Beth Skylis And Therese Iknoian Nautilus Sailing Seafood

Therese splits a potful of mussels with fellow sailor Mary Beth.

Our first day ended as we drifted off to sleep, listening to the water lapping at the sides of the boat.

Onward to Hvar: Day 3

Mornings tended to be peaceful times, with students studying, sipping coffee, writing in journals, or finding a solo seat on the boat to enjoy the sunrise. We were told on the first day that finding your private time was very important when you are on an immersive liveaboard sailing adventure. And that is exactly what I did with the mornings: Escape to the bow with hot coffee and a few moments to breath in the clear air and listen to the sound of the sea. No morning is complete without more learning, however.

Navigation Lessons Nautilus Sailing

The “real” students on the other two boats had more morning lessons — including navigation and map-reading.

We talked about clews, forestays and spreaders, and a whole list of other sailing terminology, and then practiced tying six key knots. Not having a lot of knot experience, I got a little bamboozled remembering which end went under, over, or through on reef, square or bowline knots. So, I took to heart the phrase, “If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot!” Because one thing you never want on a sailboat are dangling lines. As instructor Tim “TJ” Jenne says, “If it dangles, it can tangle.”

Nautilus Sailing Learning To Tie Knots

Therese trying to master a sailing knot.

After battening everything down and motoring out, we had our first drills – how to rescue somebody who has fallen overboard. I don’t know what others think, but this is an important exercise for anyone sailing on a boat, even if you’re never going to be a captain. And it’s not as easy as it sounds! One of the orange life jackets was dubbed Pepe, and the poor soul was tossed overboard four times. Each of us had to take turns in three roles: driving the boat to get back to Pepe, spotting (you can’t take your eyes off a person overboard), and “hooking” the person to get them back on board (known as the “sexy hooker”).

Man Overboard Drill Team Nautilus Sailing

Fellow sailor Mary Beth successfully “hooks” our overboard life vest with Michael driving and Monique doing the spotting. Instructor Tim Geisler is thrilled we rescued “Pepe” the life vest.

Round and round we went, circling Pepe, sometimes getting him back in the boat, sometimes – oops – having to do it again. When my turn came up, I was admittedly a bit nervous about working the dual throttles adroitly enough to get back to Pepe, aim just right to not run him over, and then slow in time so the sexy hooker could grab him. As I maneuvered toward Pepe, Geisler warned that I was coming in “hot,” and perhaps I was a little fast in my nervousness. I kept my eye on Pepe, though, threw one throttle in reverse, slowed the motor, turned the wheel just right and BAM I was spot-on, thank you very much. We saved Pepe.

Therese Iknoian Helm Throttles Nautilus Sailing Croatia

Therese maneuvers the dual throttles as instructor Tim offers guidance.

After that, we raised the mainsail and jib, and hit 6.6 knots as we rocked and rolled toward Hvar. We quickly learned about the casual but delicious goodness of lunches, too. Students all work together during the week to do everything from prepping, cooking, and cleaning up meals, to swabbing the deck and cleaning out clogged toilets (it happens). Still underway, we pulled out an array of cheeses, sliced meats, breads, vegetables, fruits, olives and jams from the shelves and fridge, and all helped ourselves to a charcuterie lunch à la Nautilus. Then of course came the mandatory swim in a cove before heading to the small port of Palmizana, a short ferry ride across the water from Hvar town.

Hvar is a destination for so many travelers. Its quaint streets and busy marina bustle with tourists and souvenir shops – a bit of a shock after the serenity of sailing the seas nibbling on charcuterie lunches and swimming in quiet coves. Our dinner that night was, however, a high point of our Nautilus liveaboard sailing week. At the Konoba Luviji restaurant, you sip on wine from its own vineyards, dine on fresh, creatively prepared seafood on a rooftop patio, and enjoy a glorious sunset view of the Hvar clock tower and town rooftops.

Hvar Rooftop Restaurant View Croatia

I’m not sure if a day easing the sheet with a winch, trimming sails, tying knots (and tying a lot), learning systems, and saving Pepe could have ended any better.

Vis island with its war history beckons: Days 4 and 5

Our big lesson of the day on our way to the island of Vis was tacking, which means sailing upwind or at angles to move forward toward a destination. This is when knowing the points of sail we had reviewed began to take on meaning, from a close reach to a broad reach to in irons – and we experienced them all that day.

Mary Beth Winching

Mary Beth uses the winch handle to tighten a line.

Arriving in Vis, an island with so much ancient and modern history, was just what we needed following an intense day of lessons. After a seaside dinner under the stars, we headed out on a search for gelato – and found what was to be our favorite gelato place in Pa Ti Odoli with extraordinary creations presented beautifully – and a line snaking out the door that proved its popularity.

When you are learning to sail in Croatia, who doesn’t need a little frozen sustenance?

Yummy Ice Cream

Since we were staying in Vis two nights, we used the first morning to head out and practice more sailing skills. This morning’s lessons were all about anchoring techniques. In our case, we practiced tying up to a mooring ball – balls attached to a permanent fixture on the seabed for a safe place to moor. The other students headed farther out for more rigorous lessons since of course their goal was to get a captain’s certification. Then we had a little personal time, and Michael and I used it to wander the historic backstreets of Vis where we found architectural gems and historic stone buildings.

Nautilus Sailing Mooring Lessons Croatia

Sometimes anchoring means attaching the boat to a mooring ball — but you have to hook the ball first.

After lunch, the entire group wandered en masse to a rental shop to get motor scooters for an afternoon non-sailing adventure. Geisler had noted on our first day that most students feel like they are drinking from a fire hose with all the new material on an intense liveaboard course, giving him wide-eyed, glazed looks for the first few days. Then the fourth day at sea rolls around and all suddenly the feeling is “I got this!” Nevertheless, everybody needs a break and thus the motor scooter island tour.

Motor Scooters Vis Nautilus Sailing Croatia

An afternoon off from sailing took us on a motor-scooter tour circumnavigating the island of Vis, with non-stop views.

As we caravanned around Vis, we stopped to take in sweeping views of the island and the Split Archipelago, then stopped for a little refreshment at the retro-decorated Aerodrom Gastionica Wine House, which happens to be an old building at the end of a former WWII airstrip that exudes history. Tito, the former communist leader of former Yugoslavia, even landed there once. Good thing he survived. The Aerodrom owner told me that landing at the airstrip was so dangerous that many planes crashed. This British RAF airfield was also used for forced landings of damaged U.S. bombers.

On our way back to the town of Vis, we took a detour past an old fort to a view onto an old submarine bunker built into the hillside by Tito. At 360 feet long, it was built to hide submarines during WWII.

Submarine Bunker Vis Nautilus Sailing Croatia

That evening as a part of the regular itinerary of the Nautilus liveaboard sailing course in Croatia, there was a surprise. Gosh darn it, I can’t reveal it!!! Then it won’t be a surprise to others, but let’s say it involved more WWII history … and wine.

Students have at this point become a family. We can all sense the week coming to a close, and it is already sad, knowing we will say good-bye soon. Perhaps because we also hate to see our sailing experience end, the evening goes late, as we all gather on our catamaran to have wine, nibble on chocolate, and swap stories and laughs.

Sailing back to reality: Day 6

As more adept sailors, we all took turns sailing toward the southeast side of the island of Solta on our backtracking toward Trogir to end our week. Who wants to waste a beautiful day on the Adriatic Sea, so we made a quick stop in a cove called Sveti Klement across the water from Hvar for another charcuterie lunch topped off with a refreshing dip in the sea.

Therese Iknoian Swimming Nautilus Sailing Croatia

Swimming in the water was a refreshing must for Therese!

The full moon was rising that evening, adding a special touch to our night anchored solo as a trio of sailboats. Geisler cooked a simple pasta dinner as we helped prep the fresh tomatoes and basil.

Full Moon Solta Croatia Nautilus Sailing

From Solta back to our start in Trogir: Day 7

Even as guests not seeking a captain’s certification, we started our morning with a TEST – yes, even media must prove they learned something. And all four of us passed! Of course, that was just one of four normal paper tests – and we hadn’t done all the detailed learning the others had – but they all passed, too, earning their captain’s certifications! Not as difficult as it seems when you are living, breathing, eating, and sleeping all things sailing – in a beautiful place for a week of adventure travel and learning combined. Heck, by the end of the week, I was casually spouting things like port, starboard, beam reach, and furl the mainsail, and could point out the leech, batten, tack, and luff of a sail.

Throwing Anchor Rope Nautilus Sailing

Michael tosses the line to Monique so she can swim it to shore in a cove to anchor us for a lunch break.

After arriving in Trogir and getting the boat ship-shape, our team of 11 students and three instructors headed out to dinner and a toast to the friends and skills gained in a week. Nobody wanted to say goodbye or end the evening. It was endless hugs all around, knowing we not only had experienced a special liveaboard week learning to sail with Nautilus Sailing in Croatia, but also now had new friends that shared a special bond.

To all, we wish, fair winds and following seas.


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