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Viel Spaß beim Basiskurs bei Free Spirit Sailing © Kerstin Zillmer
Sailing in Croatia

Sailing with free spirits

🇬🇧 At the Free Spirit Sailing school on the Croatian island Murter life and sailing go along – somewhat different as usual.

7 Minuten

“Luff up to close hauling!” Ivan stands at the stern of our Seascape 18 and gives the commands. “And now: Ready to tack? Let’s tack!” Turning the boat is already running smoothly for the new crew. Taja, Ivan’s sister, is sitting at the tiller. She has the tell-tales – the small textile threads that show the wind movement around the sails – firmly in view as she luffs up. My daughter Luzie operates the main sail, I am on the jib.

We luff up, tack, bare away and gybe. Ivan is happy with our manoeuvres and we have a lot of fun. Four days ago my two fellow sailors neither knew which sheet to pull nor from where the winds blow. Now the view of the wriggling threads on the headsail is enough information, and Taja corrects the course.

Free Spirit Sailing
Ivan is an experienced sailing instructor © Kerstin Zillmer

When you think you know it all already

With his friendly and relaxed attitude Ivan gives the commands in a way that makes the crew feel that they can already do everything. If the manoeuvre doesn’t work out right away, the slightly over 42 years old Croat with wild hair repeats what he said before with a big smile. We learn lessons without effort, each at her own pace.

There is no other way, says Ivan, otherwise the pupils block. The basic sailing course at Free Spirit Sailing consists of five days – with two units per day on the water of two hours each and one hour of theory each morning. We start with the theory lesson at 9:30 a.m. at the sailing school, relaxed after having an espresso and a croissant in the bar at the harbour.

Free Spirit Sailing
Concentration on theory... © Kerstin Zillmer
Free Spirit Sailing
... in a relaxed atmosphere © Kerstin Zillmer

At Free Spirit Sailing we sit in comfortable sofas. Ivan stands at the whiteboard and draws the sailing manoeuvres clockwise on it, adding the english names: Tack, close hauling, reaching, broad reaching, gybe… We get to know the true wind, the right of way rules and the prevailing winds of the Dalmatian region.

Ivan concentrates on the essentials. He asks if everyone understands everything and laughs a lot. We puzzle on sailing knots, until we all can tie a bowline and a clove hitch without even thinking. Easy.

Free Spirit Sailing
See this knot? © Kerstin Zillmer
Free Spirit Sailing
Already works well! © Kerstin Zillmer

A sailing school, located the middle of calmness

Free Spirit Sailing is located right in the centre of the port of Jezera on the Murter island of the Dalmatian coast. The traditional wooden Gajetas, fishing sailboats, which have been without mast since a long time, are located here. Today they are operated by small diesel engines.

In between there are sailing yachts and motor boats of locals and tourists, both mostly of older date. To one side the harbour ends at the ACI Marina. On the other side is our bar, where we drink our Gemišt, a white wine spritzer, every evening and look at the sea.

Free Spirit Sailing
A view from the sailing school’s balcony on the Jezera harbour © Kerstin Zillmer

Jezera is a little quiet village. The few guests here speak mainly Croatian and Slovenian, some German is heard here also, mostly with an Austrian accent. The atmosphere is “pomalo”, as Barbara from Free Spirit Sailing says – the Dalmatian word for being relaxed. After a few days we come closer and closer to this state. Get up, sail, eat, sail.
In the evening we sit together in front of the school, friends come by, have a drink – and leave again, hours later. Barbara says that exactly this is the spirit of the school, hence the name. “It is all about direct and close contact, with intensive and easy learning.” Free Spirit Sailing is relaxed and professional at the same time. “We believe that this formula makes sailing with us unique. We are a big community.”

Free Spirit Sailing
Free Spirit is a big community © Kerstin Zillmer

Time goes by differently in the Croatian summer

Ivan and Barbara stand behind this concept with their hearts, competence and very good organisation. We quickly feel like friends, as helpful and open as they welcome us. The atmosphere of the small harbour village on the Croatian coast plays an important role, because time seems to pass slower here. “I have noticed that the world outside Jezera is moving differently,” explains Barbara. She still commutes between Ljubljana and Jezera.

When she and Ivan get to know each other in Jezera, they discover not only their love for sailing, but also their love for each other. “It was as if I had booked an all-inclusive package”, Barbara laughs, and Ivan smiles in agreement. You can tell that they are a well-coordinated team, not only at work.

Four years ago Barbara and Ivan founded Free Spirit Sailing. Ivan has previously worked for some years at the oldest sailing school Ana Sailing in Jezera. Over time, teaching to sail on bigger yachts, it was time for a new challenge. He decided to work with smaller boats where beginners could learn to sail more directly. He particularly likes agile boats: minis and dinghis, where there is a more direct contact with the water and the wind.

Free Spirit Sailing
Thrilled by the Seascape boats © Kerstin Zillmer

Sail boats which fit to the schools’ spirit

Searching for the right boats, it quickly became clear: It should be Seascape boats, today part of the Beneteau group and newly branded as Beneteau First. Barbara, who comes from Ljubljana, knew the owners of the Slovenian shipyard. And Ivan had seen the boats of the shipyard over the years again and again – and he was thrilled. Stable, well made and sporty to sail, they were just the right boats for their sailing school.

The chemistry was right between them and the shipyard owners directly at the first meeting. On the second meeting the young entrepreneurs bought two Seascape 18 and one Seascape 24 for the school. The fact that Seascape offers to equip their boats with electric motors from Torqeedo convinced Barbara and Ivan, who both appreciate the ecological aspect. In four years of intensive use, they never faced any major problems with the battery-powered motors. Torqeedo’s Travel model is absolutely sufficient for their sailing area, they say.

Free Spirit Sailing
The Seaspace models are equipped with Torqeedo Travel electric motors © Kerstin Zillmer

Some wind always blows right

In the afternoon the wind is perfect. This is also a big advantage of the Jezera region: The winds are ideal for the sailing courses for beginners as well for advanced sailors. Some wind always blows, in summer it is usually the reliable Maestral. With this wind we practice how to tack and gybe. It goes quite simple.

  • Free Spirit SailingReady to tack © Kerstin Zillmer
  • Free Spirit SailingPerfect manoeuvre © Kerstin Zillmer
  • Free Spirit SailingTiller tackle during tacking © Kerstin Zillmer
  • Free Spirit SailingHappy crew © Kerstin Zillmer

Meanwhile the Germans in the crew like the English sailing commands almost better than the German sailor’s jargon, which somehow sounds old-fashioned. Tack instead “Wende”, Gybe instead of “Halse” sounds snazzier and is international sailing language. It is nice to learn that, too. Ivan’s English with a light Croatian accent is perfect, we understand each other easily.

Later the same day we sail around the small island in front of the bay. Now we have to name the commands ourselves and to sail the necessary manoeuvres for the best course. Uh, broad reaching now? “No, nonsense, luff up, the wind comes from starboard.” Luzie is always the fastest. She already knows the next manoeuvre intuitively.

  • Free Spirit SailingEverything fits © Kerstin Zillmer
  • Free Spirit SailingGood mood an board © Kerstin Zillmer
  • Free Spirit SailingAnd a swim at the end © Kerstin Zillmer

Finally we pull down the jib and the main sail and jump into the water for a swim. On our way back to the bay it suddenly happens: Woman overboard! I sit at the helm and luff a bit too much. Luzie does not release the main sheet and slides into the water. We tack and turn the boat and bring her back on board again.

On the way to Donkey Bay

In the morning of the fourth day we start a day trip with three boats to the island Kaprije, some nautical miles away. With a light Maestral we make good progress at 3-4 Beaufort. The sailing region, surrounded by small islands, is beautiful. In a small bay we moor below a restaurant on the slope.

On the shady terrace we are welcomed by a donkey at the bar. Mia lives here since one month, after her previous owners had to hand her over. She came by boat and is now the attraction of the bay. Everyone makes selfies and cuddles her.

  • Free Spirit SailingDay trip with three Seascape boats © Kerstin Zillmer
  • Free Spirit SailingWomen team on Seascape 24 © Kerstin Zillmer
  • Free Spirit SailingDonkey Mia welcomes Barbara © Kerstin Zillmer

We eat fresh fish directly from the grill and give the remains to the baby kittens, who live right at our feet on the restaurant’s railing. While we are relaxing in the shadow, the bay slowly fills up with boats for lunch. Charter crews are practicing to dock, big catamarans are bobbing at anchor. We take an espresso and a refreshing bath and sail back.

Next stop: Kornati Islands

Our course ends on Friday evening, the next guests arrive on Saturday and the new course starts on Sunday. This time the crews go to the Kornati Islands. “This is the most beautiful sailing area”, says Barbara in her calm and cordial way. And smiles. If I can make it I will join this tour in September, there’s still some free place left. Otherwise in any case next year – we will come back, no question needed.

Free Spirit Sailing
Let's go Kornati © Kerstin Zillmer

All further information about the courses can be found at the Free Spirit Sailing schedule on the web.

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