The Croatian Dalmatian Coast trip based on the island of Prvic seemed an obvious choice when searching for my second Swimtrek holiday earlier this year. My first tour was in the British Virgin Islands in March this year, which I knew would be hard to beat in terms of weather, dazzling seas and where it seemed all the fish in the world congregated, purely for our swimming pleasure that week.
Croatia came close though. The waters are warm in August (around 26 degrees), the sun is an almost permanent feature (more on this later); the average distance is a challenging 4km per day but, just as important, although quite a dull reason to pick the trip in comparison, was the ease of which we could get there from Split airport (we arranged a direct transfer from the airport to the hotel for just €40 each way, as advised on the SwimTrek website), which in total took about an hour and fifteen minutes.
The guides were also key to my choice of location. We had Ricky and Kelly on our trip to the BVI, so ideally I wanted a trip with one of them, within reason. As someone who had done very little open-water swimming before that first trip and wanted to feel safe and confident while I swam, they were great and put me at ease. As it was, I had the quite rare experience of getting them both on the Croatia trip, which was a bonus. What astonishes me is their ability to seemingly remember every single person from every single trip they’ve ever done in the past four years - recalling names, incidents, and the group dynamics - it really makes you feel special.
For anyone who has been on a SwimTrek tour, it's the people in your group and your shared experiences that are often more memorable than the actual swimming. I don't mean to dismiss the swimming, which is obviously incredible, but you know it will be great wherever you go. As for the group, I've been lucky to have been part of two fantastic, easy-going and hilariously funny groups on both trips. Even now, just days after returning, I can't remember all the swims we did, or their locations, but I can remember every single person on the boat, the colour of their hat, their stories, their personalities and our joint experiences …
The sage and remarkably fast Barry, from Switzerland, who offered me advice far beyond swimming and treated us all to ice-cream on the second night (thank you, Barry); Tom and Martha, the father and daughter pairing from Canada who've been on several SwimTrek tours together in recent years. Tom is approaching 70 years of age yet still managed to do a ballsy dive off the top of the boat one day, and brave Martha, who is back on the fitness trail after months of being away recovering from a serious illness.
'Superman' Andreas from Germany led the field each day, keeping us all in check and providing me with a pair of feet to drag from – he also had a remarkable and unquenchable thirst for watermelon; his cheeky wife Romina who we witnessed in true form during our impromptu waterpolo 'games', courtesy of our guide Kelly, who plays professional waterpolo during the winter - many swimmers were sunk at the hands of the tiny German if you held the ball too long.
Then there were the Aussies from Perth - four of them! Neil and Rebecca and Maree and Declan (who actually comes from California, but lives in Perth so is an honorary Aussie). Wherever they were you could usually guarantee there was a lot of laughter; they had such joie de vivre and were a constant reminder to not take life (or the swimming) too seriously.
Then we had the two Scots from Glasgow, who after 12 years of being engaged are getting married in October and couldn't be less stressed about the event if they tried. They used the swimming trip as an opportunity to give us a flavour of their wedding by getting us to do a Ceilidh once, quite remarkably, on the boat, and then again on our last-night meal, much to the disbelief of the locals.
Roommates Phillip and Vincenzo met on the trip and couldn't have been more chalk and cheese – the former a laid-back fifth Aussie on the trip who, when he put his mind to it, eased his way to the front taking half the amount of strokes to do so than the rest of us; and Vincenzo, the Italian with boundless energy who would break into butterfly halfway through a swim, often in a completely different direction to the rest of the group.
And finally Diane, my partner in crime on the trip, who won the prize for being the 'Best Vaselinee' after being the most polite to ask for grease each day: 'Please may I have some Vaseline, Ricky?' Anyone who has had Ricky as a guide, though, will know that there's always a very busy line in his Vaseline queue, among the men as well as the women!
It was this group and its spirit that pulled together right from the start when, on the first day, we had a delay because of a thunder and lightening storm. Despite being in the Mediterranean in what is supposed to be one of the hottest months of the year, we were reminded that it can rain anywhere, whether it’s your summer holiday or not. We weren't able to do a swim the morning, instead walking around the ancient town of Sibenik, where those of us who were too stupid (me) to bring a jacket, got soaked. We made up for it in the afternoon with a 3km swim along Zlarin, so all was not lost. Other days of grey skies and lightening followed, but it didn't dampen the mood - the laughter flowed just as well as the beers did in the evening.
On the fourth day we were faced with yet another bleak day of cloud and rain, but by 4pm the wind had somehow scooped up all of the grey vapour and deposited it somewhere far away, leaving us with blue skies and an euphoric energy. The layers came off and the goggles came on as we piled into the water and scrambled to the top of the boat to dive off it (for those who were brave and more artistic), or bomb off it (if you were the more brutish Brits). As we sat on what then became known as the 'sun deck' at the front of the boat, we pondered how perfect it would be to have a beer in our hands at the same time.
Sure enough, the next day, Neil and Barry had arranged a cooler box of beers for us to enjoy after our final swim; it was such a hit with us all that they repeated the gesture again for us the next day. Two absolute gents - thank you.
I'm conscious I've not talked a lot about the swimming, but frankly, if you're doing a SwimTrek tour for the swimming alone, you're probably on the wrong trip. The tours seem to attract a lively bunch of people, all wanting to learn about each other and have a good time together, with our love of swimming at the heart of it. Ultimately, the destination is irrelevant - get a good group, though, and you're laughing.