Sailing in Croatia: Can You Learn to Sail in One Day?

Total Croatia News

Credit: Ultra-Sailing Official Page

On June 11, 2017 Total Croatia Sailing took to the water with Ultra-Sailing School in Split, to find out the answer to the question – “Can you learn to sail in one day?”

Good question, right? But, I think the question that comes before this is – do you NEED to learn to sail before renting a boat and hitting the water? The short answer is yes; you absolutely need to learn how to sail and the basics of safety at sea before you even think about renting a bareboat yacht (renting a boat minus the skipper).

I have worked on the Adriatic as a tour guide and a hostess for the last 5 years, and while I know a lot about the islands, destinations, charter yachts, the yacht industry and the basics of sailing, I have never physically sailed a boat by myself.

Since launching Total Croatia Sailing I have had a few people ask where they can learn to sail and if it is really necessarily – I will say it again – yes. So, I did some research but it didn’t take long to come across Ultra-Sailing School in Split. Ultra-Sailing began in 1995 as a sailing school and have since educated more than 1800 people, they have the ISSA Certificate (International Sailing School Association) and approval from the Croatian Ministry of Education; so, they are as legitimate as you will find.

More impressive still is that the owner Emil Tomašević, has incredible credentials to match – he has been a lecturer at the Split Seafaring Faculty, a helmsman for Olympic Laser and Finn classes, has travelled the Mediterranean and most seas in his time as a Merchant Navy Officer and, has even written a book – ‘Sailing Nautical Skills’ (which we each received as part of the course). No need to say it out loud – but I will – this is definitely the kind of person you want to learn from.

I am a firm-believer in learning (and writing) from experience. So, rather than just doing your run-of-the-mill list of places you can learn to sail; I wanted Total Croatia Sailing to learn first-hand what it’s like to learn to sail.

Apparently, I can’t take all of these experiences for myself, so in wanting to share the love I threw the opportunity out to our very talented pool of writers at Total Croatia News and local Split writer Goran Antonijević, very quickly volunteered for the experience. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make the first day – which I was quietly thrilled about, so I got to step in.

I woke up Sunday morning to the sound of Bura raging outside my bedroom window – not ideal for a first day of sailing. But, it was stated very clearly that if weather conditions aren’t safe then Ultra will make the call to postpone and, knowing their history in the business, I felt secure that they would put safety first and take no risks.

I found the meeting point clearly thanks to the itinerary that was emailed to me – along with practical advice – wear a t-shirt, shorts, non-slip shoes, hat and sunscreen, thankfully I heeded all advice as it was a scorcher of a day.


I wasn’t sure what to expect, but immediately felt comfortable in the company of Toni Bušić, the instructor – and sailor for JK Labud, Sailing Club. There were two other participants on the tour from Switzerland – a doctor and a physiotherapist, who decided to specifically take a holiday, just to learn to sail in Croatia.

Toni really began from the basics with us – holding up a model boat and going through and naming every feature. We were given jackets and suits (which we obviously didn’t need), before making our way to the boat.

On-board, ‘First Beneteau 31.7’, Toni again went through the basics – pointing out the sail, helm, ropes, navigation equipment, making us try on lifejackets, etc. It got to 11 am and Bura was still fierce, so we took a 40-minute coffee break to wait for Bura to take her ‘lunch break’ (Bura typically stops blowing around noon).


Close to midday, we were back on the boat and pulled out of ACI Marina.  Toni explained that we would only sail with the main sail for day 1, until we got comfortable with the ropes and got a ‘feel’ for the boat. The day was a mixture of theory and practice; after learning our way around the boat and some sailing terminology like: pulpit, winch, cockpit, boom, genoa sail, spinnaker, halyard, rudder, keel… we exited the marina and hoisted the main sail – and there it was, we were sailing.


Easy, right? Not quite.

Maybe this is where people wildly underestimate sailing – all you have to do is ‘hoist’ the sails and away you go… There is SO much more to it than this.

Bura was still blowing in gusts, one second it was 16 knots, the next it was barely 6, so it was hard to determine the wind direction or to get a complete grasp of the dynamics and essentially – geometry of sailing.

We each took turns at the helm, steering at right-angles to the wind. Then we learnt about tacking and gybing. Gybing is the slightly more difficult and dangerous manoeuvre – this is the one you would have seen in movies, when a ship gybes – the boom flies from one side of the ship to the other and this is when it can do a lot of damage. Toni demonstrated to us a ‘dangerous gybe’ – where the boom ‘thwacked’ from one side of the boat to the other, versus a ‘safe gybe’ – where he slowed down to control the boom as much as possible before the turn. 

I will go out on a limb – or plank and say that this move is something amateur sailors have more chance of doing unintentionally and where serious accidents happen. Gybing occurs when you turn the boat downwind, the wind catches the sail and sends the boom flying across to the other side. Versus tacking, where you turn the boat with the bow, over the wind, rather than crossing the wind and instantly changing direction.

toni teaching.jpg

We each took turns at tacking – being on the helm and on the ropes, tightening and loosening the main sail.

The majority of our sailing was downwind, though when it came time to head back towards the marina, we needed to sail upwind – which requires a lot of tacking; to get momentum the boat needs to stay at roughly a 45-degree angle to the wind and you need to trim the sails in tighter to keep them taut rather than flapping around.

 We came back to the marina around 3pm when Bura had completely died, leaving an almost windless afternoon. As we approached, we were taught how to tie the fenders to the rails, set up the ropes ready to dock and collect the mooring line to tie to – ok, a lot of this I did know, but it was still good to go over the basics and to see that Toni took no aspect of sailing as common knowledge.

We tidied the boat, organised the ropes, put everything back where it belonged – another thing we learnt at sea, a boat and sailor is always organised, everything has a purpose and a place. Then we went back to the ‘classroom’ (the Ultra office), to have the last breakdown of the course we sailed compared to the wind directions.


Are you wondering why I have bolded so many words throughout the article yet? Well, this is just a taste of what I learnt and all we did on day 1. I could probably write an article on each aspect of these different skills and terms and am still in a bit of a head-spin from all the information. Everything was presented well and I never felt overwhelmed or nervous at sea; I did learn a LOT, but more importantly, I learnt just how much I don’t know. And now I am sorry that I don’t get to finish the course, because there is no way I could take to the water confidently as crew or by myself after just one-day of sailing school.

And yet, this is what people think. After speaking to Inga Tomašević – the wife and woman behind Ultra Sailing; she told me that they often get requests from people asking to do a 1-day (or less) course so they can skipper a boat by themselves. I was astonished and, not surprised. In the world we live in today, we have been taught that you can do almost anything instantly – instant gratification is the name of the game. But sailing, is not one of these things.

After spending a day with Toni – who has been sailing since he was 8 years old and hearing how passionately, confidently and knowledgeably he speaks about the sea, sailing and weather, I am more than impressed and determined to finish this course when I next have a chance.


So, can you learn to sail in one day? No. You will learn a lot, but only fools rush in.

Thankfully, Goran is going to take it from here and will be sharing his experiences from the rest of the week, to give a more comprehensive guide on – what to expect during sailing school, so stay tuned.

Are you interested in chartering a yacht or learning to sail? Check out the Ultra-Sailig Page here for more information.

If you enjoyed this or found it useful, why not visit Total Croatia Sailing or like our Facebook Page.


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