Get Drunk or Get Off: A Sober Perspective on Sail Croatia.
The Adriatic swathes the searing coastline with laps of turquoise under the beating sun. Holiday makers pour in to catch some rays in this warm pocket of Europe. In Split, the architecture boasts of grandeur, yet crumbles in parts – the tarnished foundations left behind from the not long-gone berating of civil warfare and abrasive tourism.
I arrived in Croatia with no expectations. I jumped into the taxi with my friend, whom I had entrusted the entire week’s itinerary and planning with, and looked out the window as we drove from the airport to the city centre.
The taxi driver drove with his forearms on the steering wheel. Travelling 120km/h along the freeway, he held his map in his left hand and a pen in his right, all the while sporadically drawing circles on the printed topography of his beloved city. He didn’t speak English, but kindly gave us his annotated map with a smile and we passed over our notes of kuna for the fare. My friend peered at the meter questioningly as we did so, weary and alert from two weeks of responsibility that I’d been lazy in sharing.
Following the unclear instructions on the map, we eventually arrived at the dock. We met the five other travellers on our yacht, as well as the 30 or so others from sister boats, and I was surprised to discover that every single person was Australian, apart from the skippers.
We were given a spiel of house rules for our stay on the boat. This speech was delivered by skippers with the jaded tone of a barista who is sick to death of executive-marketing-officer Brett complaining about the temperature of his strong latte, so instead has resigned to burning the shit out of his skim milk on a daily basis.
The skippers emphasised two main rules: keep the boat clean and don’t do drugs. These simple instructions seemed pretty easy for me to manage, being anal about cleanliness and unable to drink, let alone anything else. My liver was already struggling enough, screening the high dosage of roaccutane I was taking to manage my raging acne and subsequent crippled self-esteem. I was happy not drinking though; I’ve always been able to have fun without alcohol.
The afternoon wore on, the music got louder, the sun got hotter and the beers were downed more quickly. It soon became apparent that I had wound up on a seven-day piss-up on water, and I was fast plunging further out of my depth.
I tried to connect with some of the other travellers, but the more I conversed, the more my prospects of finding any common ground dwindled.
“I need to post a pic ASAP”, piped up one of the girls, interrupting the group discussion about everyone’s respective lists of potential Insta captions.
“It’s been three days since I last uploaded and people are gonna think I’m not having fun anymore.”
Copying the three other girls, I shifted my gaze to my phone screen. I started sifting through the album of photos my friend had taken of me earlier, overwhelmed by the hundreds of versions of the same image. I paused on one; I was smiling in front of the no-filter-needed ocean, surrounded by mountaintops and the warm musty glow of the European horizon. I thought about poaching one of the girls’ captions to accompany it, or even tacking on the basic ‘Just happy to be here!’ with a couple of emojis.
It didn’t take me long to realise the irony of that one. I put my phone in my pocket and set down the drink I was holding that I had no intention of consuming. I refused to let these Insta-orientated party girls get to me, even though my last post was from two months ago.
Night two rolled around and I already wanted to get as far away from this boat as I could possibly muster. My friend was managing just fine, dancing to Fisher’s ‘Losin’ It’ on the gangplank that connected our yacht to the Makarska marina. I, on the other hand, had found myself at the tail end of a game of King’s cup as three people yelled and sang and smacked their hands on the table in rhythmic unison, egging me on to drink the concoction in the plastic jug. I had made it through the whole game taking pretend sips with pursed lips from my near brimming cup until I picked up that infamous fourth king.
My supposed new friends booed me now as my hands trembled around the width of the jug. I hesitated and drew the jug and its contents slightly away from my face, the scent of beer, mixed with vodka, mixed with blackcurrant, mixed with salt and vinegar chips making me gag. One of the boys’ hands shot out then and nudged the bottom of the jug upward, tipping its contents onto my shirt instead of into my still-closed mouth.
On the morning of day three, the yacht stank of piss and vomit. Someone had tried to flush paper down the toilet (another of the very basic, yet very strict aforementioned rules) and the vile stench brewed without ventilation. I climbed out of the cabin and was faced with the debris of last night. Empty beer cans crawling with insects and wasps lay amongst empty packets of chips and puddles of sticky blackcurrant juice.
Our skipper returned then with our breakfast, a loaf of bread and packet of cheese, that he collected for us each morning swinging in his left hand. He hopped onto the boat and made brief eye contact with me before he turned away, placing the bread and cheese down and picking up the hose. As he sprayed the deck down, scrubbing in parts to remove the stuck-on cigarette butts, I scrambled to collect as much rubbish as I could. As I was shoving empty cans into the small plastic bag, he said nonchalantly, “This is disgusting.”
Everyone woke up soon after, nursing all manner of hangovers and telling stories of how many drinks, caps, tongues and genitals had passed their lips the night before. One of the boys from the other boat stumbled around on the jetty with a can in his hand before he tried to walk across the gangplank onto his shortly departing yacht. Instead, his feet gave way and he dropped into the dirty marina water below. His friends laughed at him as they sucked on their ciggies and flicked ash onto the deck, whilst their skipper was hosing it down.
As soon as we anchored in the open water between Makarska and Hvar, I dived into the ocean and paddled as far from the boat as the allotted swim-break time allowed. I treaded water with my back toward the yacht and let a few miserable tears trickle down my face, melding with the sea. While I floated, I watched the mountainous landscape that barricaded the coastline. It surrounded the fleet of yachts and those on board, threatening, intimidating, warding us off and protecting the shores from our re-invasion. From our pollution.
I didn’t know how to escape… and I still had four days to go.