As I was leafing through the August 2016 issue of Travel & Leisure, I noticed an article on the Croatian island of Hvar (page 92). The picture brought back a host of memories, not the least of which inspired my blog post about a boat trip my boyfriend and I took during our vacation on Hvar, six years ago this month. I decided to re-post (slightly edited from the original in order to clarify some things) in honor of that outstanding vacation and, in particular, our boating…shall we say…adventure.
On an island called Hvar off the coast of Croatia, at the dock of a fancy hotel run by a company renting boats to tourists, after a sixty-second tutorial about the motor and anchor, a young Croatian man hands over a small speedboat to two Americans who have no idea what they’re doing.
My boyfriend and I speed off, heading for the Pakleni island chain just offshore and the nude beaches we’ve heard about and the gently lapping Adriatic sea. My boyfriend shouts to me, grinning, “This is the best thing I’ve ever done!” I’m at the front of the boat in my bathing suit, wind glamorously blowing my hair, feeling like I’m going to burst into a Titanic moment. We take pictures of each other. He steers with one hand, drinks a beer with the other. The sun is shining and glinting off the blue, blue sea.
Our first stop is heaven. We drop anchor, swim to shore, and sunbathe sans swim suits on a flat white rock, not minding the yacht going by with the gawking old man. We have our special rubber shoes for the pebbly beaches and spiny sea urchins that cling to the rocks. Everything is perfect. We swim back and eat sandwiches with salami, tomato, and cheese. We are brilliant, we think.
Our next stop is at the far tip of the Pakleni chain, near an open channel where yachts and other speedboats sail fast en route to other places. The water is a little rougher here with all the boats kicking up waves. It’s not my choice for anchoring. My boyfriend is having fun diving off the boat into the water with his snorkel, but after a few minutes of sloshing and churning, I convince him to go, that we need to find a better spot.
Slight problem: the anchor is stuck. He starts up the motor and twists the boat this way and that to pull it free. I don’t like this. I have visions of the anchor so stuck that our boat tips over. But mercifully the twisting works, the anchor is freed, and we are off. Small crisis averted.
We round the corner and come up the north side of the island chain. The water is even rougher here (in reality it probably isn’t, because in comparison to any other body of water on the planet, the Adriatic is like glass, but I have a tendency to descend into doubt immediately after averting small crises). There are vaguely ominous “no anchor” signs on this side of the islands, but we consult the map and find a place to stop for awhile. We drop anchor. We eat more sandwiches. We swim to shore. As we scramble up onto the rocks, my boyfriend looks out and says, “Hmm. Does it look like the boat is drifting to you?”
We dive back into the water, panic rising. I am a terrible swimmer, more of a frantic dog-paddler, with my snorkel mask up around my forehead and my heart beating so hard I cannot pay attention to what I’m doing and breathe at the same time. He pulls ahead of me, but the boat is a long way off. The more we swim, the further it seems to have drifted. I am dying in the water. After what feels like hours I see him reach the boat, get in, and start pulling up the anchor. I try to calm down, to swim better, but my arms and legs are lead.
I decide to press the point. “Can you pick me up?” I call out weakly. “I’m dying out here.”
By the time he can get the anchor stowed away and the motor turned on and the boat turned around, I will be there. He knows this, I know this. When I finally get to the boat he hauls me in. I’m wheezing. “We’re not doing that again,” I say. “I almost died out there.”
“You didn’t almost die,” he says. But if we weren’t trying to be brave, we’d be hugging each other on the floor of the boat.
My boyfriend finds a deep inlet on the map that looks calm, and we pull in. It’s lovely. There are a few other boats who had the same idea, and we make ourselves right at home, right next to a rowboat packed with sunbathing French people. Slim tanned boys and slim tanned girls, flirting and fawning with each other, soaking up the sun. They do not appreciate our company.
We drop anchor, but something is wrong again, and we drift close to the rocks near the shore. Then we drift close to the French people. We spend the next thirty minutes uncovering the mysteries of the obstinate anchor. Or rather, my boyfriend dives in to see what’s wrong, pulls and prods, surfaces, and tells me to pull the anchor rope this way and that while he dives down again. The anchor catches and then doesn’t catch. We do this over and over, a million times, while the French people look on with disdain. Stupid Americans. No one else is dealing with their anchors. They are not even thinking about their anchors. They are thinking about the lovely slim tanned person next to them.
I say, “This isn’t fun.”
At the same time he says, “This is so fun!” He likes to solve problems. I like to sunbathe on a boat with a working anchor.
Finally I say, “Leave it alone and we’ll just drift. If we drift too close to the rocks, we’ll just start up the motor and take off.”
He agrees. We drift. Eventually we take off.
We decide we should dock somewhere, and I—as the first mate to my admiral boyfriend—have an important job to perform because I get to be the Rope Girl. We find another inlet with a lot of yachts and other speedboats docked, and a restaurant up on a hill where we could have a drink. There doesn’t appear to be anywhere for us to squeeze in, until we notice a stretch of wooden dock with another small boat tied to it and decide to dock there. My boyfriend pulls up alongside and I hop out with the rope. Immediately we are told by a small shirtless man in broken English that we can’t dock, that another boat is coming. We look over our shoulders. A giant yacht looms, waiting. Damn. But it seems like there’s just enough space near the very end. My boyfriend backs the boat up and pulls forward again. I’m still standing on the dock, waiting to tie the rope, when he suddenly rams the side of the boat into the dock.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
The little bobbly things you’re supposed to toss over the side to prevent boat damage when docking have somehow flipped themselves back into the boat. Useless.
In a low voice, my boyfriend growls, “Get in the boat. Get in the boat now.”
I hop in and we speed off, leaving the small shirtless man staring after us, and the yacht captain shaking his head, and everyone else who just witnessed this event wondering who the young Croatian was who handed over the speedboat to the Americans who have no idea what they’re doing.
When we’re safely out of the inlet and in the open sea again, I find out what happened.
“I accidentally hit accelerate instead of reverse,” he explains. “I hit the dock so hard it flipped up the bobbly things.”
I feel like a jerk. The Rope Girl just has to deal with the rope; the admiral has to do all the navigating. We inspect the boat. It has a strip of rubber running along the side and in one place the rubber is torn away. The young Croatian man didn’t ask for a damage deposit, but in no way do we feel we can turn it in like this.
My boyfriend is steely-jawed and determined to dock somewhere. He is a problem-solver, and docking successfully is a problem he wants to solve. At the next inlet, we see another restaurant with boats and yachts docked, but fewer, and there seems to be enough space for us. I jump onto shore with the rope and try to catch the boat so that it doesn’t hit the concrete edge, while my boyfriend tries to do the right combination of forward and reverse without hitting the boats around us. A man onshore senses disaster. He runs down and helps me grab the boat and hold it away from the dock’s edge, tells my boyfriend to lift up the motor since it’s scraping along the rocks, helps me tie the ropes, and all the while says in a soothing voice, “It’s OK, it’s OK. You’re OK.”
The man reminds my boyfriend to drop the anchor to help keep the boat in place. My boyfriend does, and we’re finally able to leave it. We walk up the restaurant steps as people avert their gazes and smother their snickers. We sit down at the furthest table under an umbrella.
We start laughing. We laugh so hard we’re doubled over. It is the laugh of primal panic, utter embarrassment, and pure relief all in one. Yes, it’s OK, it’s OK. We are OK. But we can’t stop laughing. We grab each other, put our heads down on the table in surrender. I am in love with my boyfriend all over again, and with the boat, and with the helpful man, and with this bar. We laugh until we are weak.
When my boyfriend feels brave again, he goes down to our docked boat and with a rock hammers in the rubber strip that came loose. He works on it for a long time. No matter that we don’t owe a damage deposit; this is all about pride now.
We down a couple of strong pina coladas before heading out, marveling how the pina coladas in Croatia are almost better than the pina coladas in the Caribbean. Go figure.
As we leave, we come up with a plan this time. I will get on the boat and quickly pull up the anchor, careful to hold it away from the side of the boat, and to fold in the flaps and properly secure them. My boyfriend will wait until the anchor is up before untying the ropes. He will gently shove us out before hopping on board. He will start up the motor, throw it in reverse, and get us out of there. We perform the plan beautifully. The people onshore no longer have to avert their gazes; we know what we’re doing.
We head out to open sea, back to the dock at the hotel on Hvar, back to the young Croatian man. My hair is blowing glamorously again. My boyfriend is steering with one hand, his face calm. The sun is still glinting off the blue, blue sea. Life is beautiful.