Island-Hopping Mad for Croatia
Dora Vulic, MD and Owner of Sail Dalmatia, tells us about her Putney-based sailing business
Dora, tell us about your background and what got you interested in sailing?
Hello, I guess it was as a result of my upbringing in Croatia, which forged a strong connection to the sea. My father was in the Croatian Navy, which meant each year we would spend the summer on Lastovo, a small island in the Adriatic popular as a sailing base. The island was restricted at the time to all but military personnel and their families. I remember always being in and around the boats, helping Dad, and I suppose my fascination with the open blue started there.
But also, growing up in Split in coastal Dalmatia, it’s hard not to be enchanted by the surrounding crystal-clear waters. Later on I joined a club and acquired my skipper qualification.
Split is the main point of departure to visit the many Croatian islands so I suppose looking back I was lucky to be part of such a thriving sailing community.
What were your first steps as a sailing holidays specialist?
I had moved to the UK in 2003, and was already beginning to think about ways of combining Croatia and my love of the boats after completing my Masters in Tourism at Westminster.
I knew the Adriatic was a sublime location for sailing because of its thousand stunning coves and islands. I also felt people were maybe not fully aware of the fabulous cities to visit nestled on the coast such as Zadar and Dubrovnik. Croatia at the time had huge potential for tourist expansion; the country had emerged from a dark chapter in its history and was re-opening to visitors.
I first wanted to gain some experience in the local tourism industry so went to work for a yacht charter broker based in Chelsea. Croatian sailing was so in demand I was able to move around a little within the sector and was lucky enough to work for some prestigious yachting names. After a few years I was having thoughts about finally branching out on my own. In 2008 Sail Dalmatia was born.
At what point did you decide to turn your passion into a business?
I think participating in the Round the World Clipper Race was a defining moment for me; it’s when I realised sailing was really all I wanted to do. They say time at open sea can help draw into focus what really matters in life.
The experience itself probably changed me forever; immensely rewarding and physically gruelling at the same time.
The roaring seas can be unforgiving and treat people with all levels of experience the same – everyone had to be in tip top shape for the team. Crossing the immense Pacific Ocean was one of the scariest experiences of my sailing career. It was the unique feeling of freedom and moments of sheer exhilaration which made it all worth it.
And how has the business evolved over the last 10 years?
The pace of change has been relentless for us. At the outset, we knew we wanted to offer the client only the finest selection of charter vessels graded on comfort, style, and on-board features. We started out with 20 boats, mainly local owners of whom some were friends. Today we have a portfolio of over seventy to choose from, though we still maintain our high standards by personally inspecting each vessel before season and meeting the crew.
Over the years we have learnt to perfectly match each client to the ideal yacht or other vessel based on their likes and preferences. It is a process which relies heavily on the painstaking development we have invested in our network of relationships with Croatian boat-owners.
We have also perfected our route proposals through years of fine-tuning and consultations with local skippers. We now recommend the finest Croatian islands and coves to drop anchor, whilst developing a route that equally leaves time to explore the spectacular medieval walled cities along the coast.
Nowadays we tailor the client experience to the very finest detail thanks to our wealth of knowledge in securing the finest restaurant bookings, water sports activities, historic monuments tours, or anything else..
How is Sail Dalmatia different from other Croatia sailing Holiday businesses?
It’s ultimately a matter of enabling our clients to benefit from our unique local knowledge and years of yachting experience. Organising the perfect sailing holiday can present a daunting number of factors to consider- we are on hand to take care of the smallest details to ensure the client has the best possible experience on board. Being the only specialised Croatia sailing holidays expert in London, with a team containing Croatian-born members passionate about sailing in their beautiful country, we have become the sort of de facto local experts whom others in the industry come to for all matters Croatia. We have the best connections with local boat owners in the industry and can cater for all budgets.
You are constantly learning and developing. What do you plan for the future of the business?
Croatia is becoming more popular year-on-year as a tourist destination, with numbers doubling over the last 10 years. We know that people visit because there is something on offer for everyone, whether it’s Riviera-style bustling nightlife on the chic island of Hvar, or the more relaxing sandy beaches of Korcula or Vis. Our aim is to continuously update our offering to maximise our clients’ experience.
That’s why for the first time this year we are opening up new sailing routes in North Croatia, based around Pula and the resplendent Rovinj. We have also tailored a new package based around the 2019 Dubrovnik Summer Festival.
In the meantime we are conscious of the effects of increasing tourism in the local area; it’s why this year we have initiated a Dalmatia Sea Bins project designed to reduce floating refuse in the coves and ports of the Adriatic.
But above all we hope we can continue to inspire people to visit this unspoilt corner of stunning Croatia the only way that matters : aboard your very own fabulous skippered yacht.
Sail Dalmatia offer tailor-made 1 or 2 week Sailing holidays in the Croatian islands from various Departure points along the coast. A range of budgets can be catered to from their selection of yachts, catamarans, and luxury gulets. Prices start at £670 pp-pw for a skippered Catamaran based on a party of 6.
Riverbank House, 1 Putney Bridge, London SW6 3BQ
0800 124 4176