Given the form it takes today, it’s hard to envision that The Yacht Week once started out as a small collection of university friends, bound by their appetite for adventure. It wasn’t conceived as a commercial venture, but as a means of indulging their love of exploring and desire to unite like-minded individuals through the medium of sailing.
These key founding principles are still very much evident throughout and underpin the core ethos of TYW. From those humble beginnings over a decade ago, the event has grown into a 70,000-strong family, traversing some of the greatest sailing routes in the world – from the tropical British Virgin Islands to the crystal-clear coastlines of the Adriatic. I was invited along to join them for the Montenegro leg of their 2018 journey; a dreadful sounding task, I know, but someone’s got to do it.
It begins long before the first mooring line is cast. Signing up is an experience in itself. From picking your destination to choosing your desired yacht, signing up as either a group or as a lone traveller is a quick and easy process. Once completed, you’ll be invited to join your newly formed crew, albeit only in a digital context at this stage. A forum of sorts is created, in which you can discuss the forthcoming adventures and acquaint yourself with your fellow shipmates.
A few hours flight from London, Montenegro is a Balkan country situated in the south Adriatic. Much like neighbouring Croatia, the view from the air is one of a complex and diverse landscape of lakes, forests and rivers. Luxury ports and medieval towns line the margins, sandwiched between the sparkling opalescent sea and the rugged mountainous terrain. After arriving at the small regional airport of Tivat, I’m transported by taxi to my first destination. Journeying inland along the narrow, winding roads of rural Montenegro, I come across small, traditional settlements nestled amongst the seemingly inhospitable rocky outcrops. They seem forgotten in time, immune to the ever-growing presence of modern tourism all around.
I join The Yacht Week party in Budva, a bustling coastal tourist settlement in the south of the country. The traditional fifteenth-century structures that make up the Old Town beautifully contrast the numerous contemporary bars and restaurants of the palm-lined, almost Miami-esque harbourside.
An offshore excursion on rented jet skis lends me my first seafarer’s eye-view of Montenegro. The Montenegrins have a relatively relaxed approach to such activities, a welcome change from the, at times, excessive, albeit ultimately justifiable, approach to health and safety often adopted in the UK, which has the potential to dilute the enjoyment of such pursuits. As we crisscrossed the paths of pleasure craft and motor launches, I found myself experiencing an ordinarily absent sense of freedom that would be present throughout the entirety of my trip.
My first experience of Montenegrin nightlife is a DJ set at Budva’s prime pool destination, the atmospheric Torch Beach Club. After a busy week of assignments and a long day travelling, it was the perfect setting in which to unwind and get to know the gang, with whom I’d be spending the next few days. It didn’t take them long to fully initiate me into their Yacht Week crew – with the help of a one or two beers.
The following morning we set sail for our next destination, Porto Montenegro, but not before stopping off at the intriguing little island of Sveti Nikola, approximately a mile off the coast of Budva. It’s a popular spot for divers, and understandably so. Underwater visibility is exceptional, as is the case in much of the Eastern Adriatic. However, Sveti Nikola boasts a particularly diverse array of marine wildlife around its shallow coast. It’s here that I first experience swimming in the beautifully warm, salt-rich waters that this part of the world is famed for. If, like me, you enjoy wild swimming, you’ll be looking for any opportunity throughout the week to dive in (and thankfully there will be many!).
Each Yacht Week crew consists of a host and a skipper. We were extremely fortunate to be assigned Canadian sibling duo, Sophia and Rosie. Both worked tirelessly throughout the week to make our experience as enjoyable as possible, whilst simultaneously – and effortlessly – immersing themselves in the group. Rosie ensured we were regularly treated to a diverse range of delicious meals, hand prepared to the highest possible standard, using only the finest local ingredients. Ideal fuel for our regular swimming sorties to explore the many caves hidden amongst the craggy limestone cliffs that line our route.
Crumbling submarine pens and the rusting carcasses of long redundant military ships dot the coastline on the approach to Porto Montenegro; a sign of the country’s rich and often turbulent cultural and historical heritage. The small communities, consisting of traditional terracotta-roofed buildings, seem almost trapped in time between the mountains and Adriatic sea. It’s undoubtedly one of the most geographically spectacular places I’ve ever visited. And being on the water, it gives an unspoilt, panoramic perspective on this truly unique location.
After four hours on the water, we finally arrive at the glistening coastal port of Porto Montenegro: a stunning and expansive marina, purpose-built to accommodate the opulent superyachts of the global elite, providing an environment where you can truly enjoy the finer aspects of life. Though, as we rounded the breakwater, the topic of conversation on-board was the eagerly-anticipate luxury toilet block. Although I found the ritual of showering on the boat far from loathsome, it was definitely a welcome comfort after a few days at sea.
The uber-exclusive Montenegro Yacht Club, the venue for that evening’s regatta-themed Yacht Week party, is a venue unlike any other. Its awe-inspiring infinity pool, true to its name, stretches out into the bay, and is surrounded by contemporary, avant-garde sculptures, the centrepiece of which is a twenty-foot square arch that perfectly frames the pool and the mountains beyond. It was a truly spellbinding scene that almost defied belief; an oasis of decadence in what is largely a culturally modest part of Europe.
Upon waking, I joined a few of my fellow crew members at The Regency Hotel for a coffee. After consecutive days at sea, with little in the way of material luxury, being surrounded by high-end amenities in a setting akin to a coastal Kings Road, was somewhat of a surreal experience. After a rejuvenating breakfast aboard our yacht, we embarked on the next stage of our adventure: the regatta costume party.
A regatta, from the Venetian ‘regatta’, meaning ‘contest’, typically describes racing events of rowed or sailed watercraft. However, this is a contest the likes of which most have never witnessed before: a fleet of 20 to 30 yachts, crewed by the most outrageous, outlandish costume-clad seafarers you could possibly imagine. Envision the scene: a catamaran of Where’s Wally, locked in an intense dance battle with a neighbouring crew of pirates, with Jack Sparrow at the helm. That’s just a snapshot of the mad scenes you can expect from this brilliant Yacht Week staple. All the while, pleasure boats packed with camera-wielding tourists pass us by, mouths agape at what must be one of the strangest spectacles you could ever expect to see on an otherwise tranquil Thursday afternoon in the Adriatic. After a few miles of hotly-contested choreography, we break rank and sail onto the next destination.
Having travelled solely under engine power up until this point, it was at this stage in our journey that conditions allowed us to hoist the halyard and truly set sail. Our wonderful skipper, Sophia, was attentive and patient – her genuine care and engaging approach enabled me to thoroughly indulge my wildly delusional Robinson Crusoe fantasy. She took the time to answer the various – and at times, incessant – questions I had, fully immersing me in the activity at hand. It’s an element of the Yacht Week experience that I was particularly looking forward to. However, the knowledge and hands-on experience I received as a result of her tutelage successfully got me hooked on what will undoubtedly become a fulfilling new pursuit.
My time at Yacht Week culminated in a ‘raft party’. A spectacle to behold: the yachts are positioned in a carefully-coordinated formation consisting of two equal length parallel lines, in the middle of which a party ensues. As evening encroaches, the only human element of the Monet sunset is a lone skiff cutting a path across the vitreous bay. The mountains beyond silhouetted against a sky of deepest orange. Sat atop a neighbouring catamaran, G&T in hand, I’m regaled with riveting first-hand accounts of daring adventures from experienced skippers (ask to speak to ‘Lucky Underpants’, you won’t be disappointed).
For all of the spectacular locations and unforgettable parties, what truly makes Yacht Week is the people. It attracts such a rich diversity of interesting folk from all over the world, united by their shared love of enjoying life to the absolute full.
If you’re looking to scratch that adventurous itch, indulge that unsatisfied yearning for exploration that dwells within, Yacht Week is the perfect antidote to the stresses and mundanity of modern life. Impeccably organised, yet with the freedom to enjoy and explore at leisure.
The memories and connections I took away from that week in the Adriatic will last a lifetime, and it instilled in me a newfound passion for sailing. If The Yacht Week isn’t on your bucket list, add it, and with sign up for the 2019 season now open, there’s no better cure for those cold winter blues.