Why a Gulet Is the Best Way to See Croatia

We were on the island of Korcula in Croatia, tied up at the quay beneath the 15th century limestone walls of the old town. There was a summery assortment of boats around us – ferries, cruisers, a sailing flotilla, and the workaday little craft of the locals.

To our right was a superyacht, so shiny it could have just come out of Cellophane. It had a towering mast, white superstructure and a distinctive grey hull as snazzy as lightweight Armani. Lithe crew members in navy polo shirts and white shorts sauntered about their tasks. In the stern, three couples sat around a table dawdling over breakfast in the morning sun. Ah, how the other half… but hang on, where was I? Erm, sitting in the stern of a sailing cruiser enjoying breakfast.

And yet that’s where the similarity ended. If the lean machine next door was dressed overall in ocean-going glamour, mine was clad in Mediterranean vernacular.

Angelica is a gulet, stocky rather than sleek, with two stumpy masts, a hull made of pine, decks of teak and five double cabins of varnished mahogany. She might not spend her winters in the Caribbean, but she was designed for pleasure all the same. She was built as a private yacht in 1989 in Turkey, at Bodrum, which is to gulet construction what Cremona is to violin making. Her air-conditioned cabins and en suite wet rooms were high spec for their day.

Her first owner was a diamond dealer. In 2008 he sold the vessel to the Gugic family on Korcula. Ivo and his brother Frano are descended from generations of seafarers. Both worked in the cruise industry; Frano today is the chief engineer of an American mega-cruise ship.

They had been looking for a boat for some time. Eight years ago, gulets in Croatia were a rarity. Today there are at least 40, still a fraction of those in their native Turkey. Yet when the brothers saw Angelica it was love at first sight, though the diamond dealer had been protective.

“Why should I sell to you?” he asked. “Will you look after her?” Frano’s reply was disarming. “We never had a sister,” he said. “We’ll look after her as if we did.” I doubt if anyone had ever said that about the ritzy slicker with the sharkskin hull berthed alongside us.

We had sailed three days earlier from Dubrovnik, one of the four Dalmatian ports from which Angelica can be chartered. Ivo was our captain. Six foot six in his deck shoes, he resembled a stretched version of Robert De Niro. Standing in the saloon-cum-wheelhouse, his head almost brushed the ceiling. In his right hand he gripped the wooden spoked wheel; his left hand was thrust into his shorts pocket. When he removed it, you knew the sea was about to get up.

He warned it would be windy on our two-hour voyage north to the island of Sipan, but said we would hug the coast. Ivo’s wife, Maja, moved a china bowl and a vase from the table all the same. I said we sailed: in fact, we motored.

Angelica carries sails but it takes an additional crew, as well as Ivo and his son, Nikola, to raise them, and then only on the foremast. To hoist the sail on the mainmast would mean dismantling the awning shading the aft deck, and that would never do because that was where we ate out, before snoozing on the big day bed on the stern.