Photos by Therese Iknoian and Michael Hodgson

Heading out from Vis, the Stoncica Lighthouse stands guard to warn sailors of the rocks. ©Therese-Iknoian
All smiles on board our Nautilus Sailing catamaran before we head out to sea for a weeklong liveaboard learn-to-sail course. ©Michael Hodgson

I was literally tied up in knots as I tried to figure out all those sailing knots and what went under, over, or through on my way to a neat bowline, reef, or square hitch. But, as we were told on our liveaboard week learning to sail with Nautilus Sailing, “If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot.”

And tie a lot we did. In fact, we tied so many knots during our week that it became second nature. Which is the goal of an immersive week of learning to sail. Even if it is not your intention to earn a captain’s certification, which most are there to do, the first few days are like “drinking from a fire hose,” said head instructor and Nautilus Sailing founder Tim Geisler.

Therese Iknoian laughs as she cranks the winch to trim the sails. ©Michael Hodgson

You learn the parts of a boat, how to steer, read all those dials, tie those pesky knots, anchor, rescue somebody overboard (essential stuff, right?), jump the halyard, raise the mainsail, and then you must remember the names of all the lines, sheets and halyards (a.k.a ropes, but SSSSH, don’t utter that word on a boat). And that’s just the start.

But in between all that intense learning, a liveaboard learn-to-sail week is incredibly fun – and isn’t that what adventure travel should be? Particularly when it means sailing on a luxury catamaran around the Split Archipelago of Croatian islands – blue skies, translucent waters, fresh seafood, lunches moored in a private cove with a swim, and wandering through historic villages.

Learning to tie essential sailing knots so it becomes second nature on a cruise. ©Michael Hodgson

“This doesn’t suck!” Geisler exclaimed several times a day.

Can’t argue with that. And it could be said for every destination where Nautilus takes its liveaboard students — including the Bahamas, Tahiti, and Mallorca. Despite all the learning, it is a week full of fun and astounding beauty, whatever your destination. Even the learning feels less stressful when you are barefoot, in a t-shirt, hanging out in the middle of the Adriatic Sea in Croatia.

Taking a motor scooter tour around Vis leads you to expansive views of the village and bay. ©Therese-Iknoian

Get your captain’s certification after a week sailing

Most students sign aboard because they want a captain’s certification. That allows them to buy or charter their own boat to sail in any number of gorgeous places and embark on their own island vacation. Think of it as RVing on the water. So just a week after stepping off the gangplank and onto the boat for the first time, you walk away with the ability and confidence to head out onto the water yourself on an adventure travel sailing experience.

Nautilus instructor and founder Tim Geisler giving steering instruction to Mary Beth Skylis at the helm as Therese Iknoian looks on. ©Michael Hodgson

With Nautilus Sailing, it’s not a boot camp with people yelling at you. Instead, Geisler wants to make this first step into the world of sailing enjoyable.

Instructor Tim Geisler instructs us on tying knots. ©Michael Hodgson

“We want to give students an authentic taste of sailing,” said Geisler. “it’s not just about the white, flappy things. It’s all the things you see and do.”

Our week in Croatia aboard a luxury catamaran for the liveaboard sailing course took us from Trogir, a historic island city that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; to a quiet cove on the island of Solta; onward to the popular island of Hvar, known for its lavender fields; then to our farthest point on the island of Vis, best known lately for where the movie Mama Mia was filmed. We returned via a different cove on Solta (where the full moon blessed us with its light), before getting back to the marina in Trogir, six days after we sailed away.

“This is life-changing for a lot of people,” Geisler said. “And you don’t have to be a bazillionaire.”

Liveaboard sailing course combines learning and fun

Nautilus runs a tight ship but one that stays casual (flip-flops and tees are de rigueur) and allows fun, laughter, and joking interactions. Since you are essentially on a floating classroom, it becomes a blend of amazing sailing and beauty mixed with learning to navigate, steer, furl sails, use the winches, tie those (damned) knots, and anchor. Plus, you have to nail all that sailor terminology. We learned that ropes are not ropes but lines, sheets, or halyards, and the parts of the sail include clews, luff, leech, and tack. And a key drill on the first day? Learning how to rescue somebody who falls overboard – an essential skill that takes some finesse.

The team works to “rescue” a life vest during a series of man-overboard drills. ©Therese-Iknoian

On our Nautilus Sailing’s liveaboard sailing course, one of the orange life jackets was dubbed Pepe, and the poor soul was tossed overboard multiple times. Each of us had to take turns in three roles: driving the boat to get back to Pepe, spotting (you can’t take your eyes off a person overboard), and “hooking” the person to get them back on board (known as the “sexy hooker”). Pepe was luckily saved by each of us.

A midweek highlight in Croatia is getting a break from the sailing classroom to rent motor scooters and spend the afternoon circumnavigating the historic island of Vis, which is brim with WWII history. As we caravanned around Vis, we stopped to take in sweeping views of the island and the Split Archipelago. On our way back to the town of Vis, we took a detour past an old fort to view an old submarine bunker built into the hillside by Tito. At 360 feet long, it was built to hide submarines during WWII.

On our way out of Vis, we pass the Peninsula Prilovo with its historic church and popular beach and views. ©Therese-Iknoian

As we became more adept sailors, we all took turns sailing the 42-foot Fontaine Pajot Astrea luxury catamaran on our return to Trogir via Solta. Regular students (we were onboard as media and didn’t do all the testing) must pass four written tests and prove their skills on the boat, as judged by the instructor on board. Not as difficult as it seems when you are living, breathing, eating, and sleeping all things sailing – in a beautiful place for a week of adventure travel and learning combined.

Therese Iknoian enjoying some personal time and the wind in her hair on the bow of the catamaran. ©Michael Hodgson

And yes, by the end of the week, I was even tying knots instead of the knots tying me.