How I sailed (and slept) through a storm in Croatia.

All the images included in this article are taken by me, therefore feel free to advance any critique. The photos can also be found on behance.

I have longed to make a boat trip with my friends since I got my sailing license in 2011, but my desire wasn’t accomplished ’til this summer. A good friend of mine was already used to spending his holidays with his childhood friends and his parents while growing up, and he spent even more holidays with such peers once he became an adult: most notably, they drove to Cape North in 2009. Even I went by car with the same group of friends to Corse in 2012. We spent an entire week going around the island clockwise and they proved to be amazing travel companions. One complained about the other’s snoring, the other slept on the beach and woke up drenched, but we all camped together and shared the experience.

This once, we all decided to organise a two-boat sailing trip across the Croatian islands: me and four more people booked Orion – a 37.9 feet boat suited for six people – while other eight people went for  Klementa – a 41.9 feet one for eight people. They were just two random boats given us by the cheapest charter that we managed to find, but gave us no problem and just  pleasant memories. We left from Sukošan on August 15th and got back there in seven days.

I started keeping a travel journal and got used to write down the route that we had taken during the same day, with notes and even rough sketches based on the charts. Nothing too keen or actually useful for navigation purposes and retrospective, but it gave me that certain rituality that set the time-flow while lost in the middle of the sea and freed from perception of clocks ticking.

Our crew was formed by four men – including myself – whose sailing skills ranged from good to extremely confident depending on our backgrounds, and a girl at here first experience on a proper sailing trip. Some apparently where ready for navy war, while some others always went around bare-foot – even in wet weather: diversity was key in a trip that was unlucky when it came to sunbathing and warm temperatures, but still fun thanks to phony radio conversations and many many jokes.

Despite the cloudy days and windy nights, we had many swims and I had tons of time to document the places that we visited. Most of all, people swam, and that comes natural in a sailing trip. The end purpose of every day’s travel, was to find a nice bay where to anchor or moor safely and have a swim before re-joining first with the stoves and then with the berths.

As it happens in most of group experiences among friends, we collectively made an un-spoken agreement that there would have been the proper separation between inappropriate and awkward conduct that is missing in everyday life – where such difference is willingly ignored and being silly and un-caring of appearances without any harm still is a social suicide – and the latter was allowed and welcomed. And my interest in such an insightful thought is just that I always enjoy extra chances to take pictures of what’s unusual, but still integrated in the daily routine.

We set sails heading south for the first couple of days, then we circumnavigated the islands that face Zadar and the Croatian coast. We mostly had to navigate on motor, due to the lack of wind, and the pictures I took in such conditions documented the restrictions that sailing boats sometimes have to undergo. Moreover – since there’s always a time when one takes a nap during navigation – sleeping on a tilted boat (i.e. due to navigating on sails) can be more annoying than sleeping with the ‘noise’ of the engine, in my opinion.

I believe that the photographs I took during that trip – although lacking in any real artistic value – were a good exercise in documenting the daily life that is more convivial and less mundane. Some are even just funny and meant to mediate the construction of a good long-term memory of this holiday.

The stongest memory we all share about this holiday is the third night on the boat: we had dinner on the other boat and got back to our own by tender at about midnight. Most of us where sleepy and immediately went to bed, but we all first checked our position on the GPS, as we were in a natural park and had to rely on our anchor instead than mooring to a buoy. Once reassured of being still, we slept until half past 3AM, when we were waken up by very loud thunders and a strong sibilant wind. Still half asleep and shaken around the boat, we went above deck to check the GPS, just to discover that we had shifted for about 50 metres – or at least that’s what the one of us that checked the GPS shouted in the turmoil of the moment. We all got ready in less than a minute and we cursed to ourselves for the whole time. It was not that bad and we managed it very well, although it was raining so heavily that it was impossible to see anything but what was seldomly lit by thunders every once in a while sure got our frantic attention. It took us few minutes to refloat the anchor – while the helmsman freaked out as he spotted a boat straight in front of us – but managed to do it safely and we were the first to do it in the whole bay. Everyone had the same problem as the sea bed was covered in algae and the wind pulled our anchor out of its catch, therefore the following three hours had boats all spinning on their position to avoid each other and wait the storm to end or the light to come – as it has to be done in such situations. At one point I was able to shoot the only photograph of that night: one of the disorientation of the only female member of our crew, while poking outside.

Some of us stayed awake for one more our after we anchored again, just to check. I have to admit that I slept most of the night after the first few messy hours, but was told by the guy that stayed awake the most, that at 7AM, every boat around had a crew member still awake to check the anchorage. These are the memories of the holiday that I am most fond of: the ones that were told to each other, as we all shared everything that happened to us on those two boats.

I hope that some of the memories of this holiday – or at least the people whose voices will tell the stories about that week on a boat – are portrayed in the few good pictures I took on Orion. I now remember anyhow, but someday I will grow forgetful and I want to prevent memories from getting lost.

All the images included in this article were shot on Bergger BRF400 and Ilford HP5 (pushed @1600) film in a Nikon FM2 with a Leitz 21mm ƒ/4 lens, home-developed in 1+1 and 1+0 ID-11, printed in a darkroom by Jacopo Anti, and then scanned.

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