With over 6,000km of natural coastline and more than 700 islands, Croatia is a natural yachting destination. And with the country’s pre-pandemic party boats a thing of the past, the nation is attracting a more sophisticated type of visitor. In summer 2021, data revealed that Croatia was the world’s sixth most popular destination for megayachts. So, why are superyacht owners and charter guests setting sail for the Adriatic?
“For those who’ve sailed the Amalfi coast and the French Riviera many times, the Adriatic nation offers something different,” says Ivan Rakuljič, captain and owner of 50-metre-long superyacht Freedom. Close to Greece but with a more low-key ambience than its neighbouring island nation, Croatia offers a beautiful blend of history, culture and nature. The mainland and larger islands are filled with hidden coves and nature-rich national parks, while many of the smaller islands are inhabited, making them ideal for HNWIs seeking privacy. On shore, beautifully preserved historic towns such as Hvar, Korčula and Dubrovnik offer plenty to explore, while the country’s dining scene has grown proportionally with the increasingly discerning clientele.
From a practical perspective, the archipelago is built for sailing. Many of its islands are close to the shore, meaning there’s plenty to explore in a short period of time. Also working in a yacht’s favour is the country’s maritime law, which entitles captains to drop anchor anywhere they wish – and with deep waters so close to shore, this could be mere feet from the beach. “It’s one of our main advantages compared to other European countries,” says Rakuljič. “You have places like that in France and Italy, but it is forbidden to anchor there. In Croatia, you can choose any place just five metres from the coast.”
Croatia has a long history of boatbuilding. For over 300 years, Croatians have been making wooden sailing boats and, in the last 20 years, wooden motorboats. The vast majority are crafted the small coastal village of Krilo Jesenice, close to Spilt, which turns into “Croatia’s Monte Carlo” when the boats are in port for the winter.
Uniquely, in Croatia, the captains also tend to be the owners of the boats. “This is about 75% of us,” says Rakuljič. “We are involved in every part of the business, down to the planning and building of the boat. I think you can feel a difference when the owner is also a captain of the boat – we give 150% of ourselves to the boat and our guests.”
Rakuljič, who comes from a pioneering boatbuilding family who led the trend for larger yachts, is captain onboard Freedom, a 50-metre superyacht available to charter privately through Croatia’s premier yacht charter company Goolets. Sleeping 22 guests across 11 cabins, Freedom is unique in its arrangement: “90% of the yachts in the world are built for 12 people but this will be for 22 people because we feel that there is a big market for that kind of boat in Croatia,” he says.
In Croatia, many charter yachts rent out individual cabins, but Freedom is only available to charter privately. “There are three ships like this in the whole world – and demand is really high,” he adds. “In September, we were at Monaco Yacht Show having meetings with some of the big players who said they’ve been receiving a lot of requests for larger groups over 12, but they cannot offer anything.” This is where he hopes Freedom, sleeping up to 22, will fit the bill.
Despite rising demand, yachts like this will become a dying breed due to rule changes which came into force when Croatia entered the European Union in January 2021. “It’s almost impossible to build a boat like Freedom now,” Rakuljič says. “The new rules for groups of more than 12 mean every cabin on the lower deck must have its own emergency exit, which is difficult. It will put people off building such boats.”
Ahead of the 2022 charter season, Freedom is undergoing an extensive renovation project to transform her into a superyacht with 11 luxurious cabins and an elevated interior throughout. The team is also adding new facilities such as a state-of-the-art gym and indoor and outdoor lounges where the guests can relax, as well as upgrading present features which include a pool and Jacuzzi.
“The renovation will transform Freedom into one of the top three charter yachts in Croatia,” says Mitja Mirtič, founder and CEO of Slovenia-headquarted Goolets. “Our concierge team will work with clients to ensure their tailormade charter meets all of their desires and expectations, from unique interactive activities to fine dining tailored to their dietary requirements. While onboard, the team will work hard to ensure guests are comfortable and their needs are anticipated and met at all times.”
As well as charter guests, Croatia is attracting superyacht owners from international waters. Data from Bloomberg revealed that in August 2021, 57 of the world’s megayachts were in Croatia, putting the country in sixth place below Italy, the US, Greece, France and Spain.
Goolets is determined to continue elevating the Adriatic nation’s standing on the superyacht map. The company has plans to work with superyacht owners and captains wishing to come to Croatia and tap into its experience, knowledge and network to become the eyes and ears on the ground for visiting captains. “Owners, captains and charter companies are increasingly looking towards Croatia and exploring how to bring their yachts here. When this happens, they will need support, and we will be here to support them,” says Mirtič.
“Croatia is already number six in the world in terms of the number of megayachts that arrived in August. I think in five years, it will be number three,” Mirtič adds. “Croatia doesn’t have the casinos and the glitz of Monaco, but it’s a completely different type of travel. What Croatia can offer goes hand-in-hand with trends globally. After the Covid-19 pandemic, people are looking to escape, and Croatia is built for this.”
Freedom is available to charter through Goolets from €100,000 ($115,000) per week (summer) or €80,000 ($90,000) per week (shoulder months).