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For six years I was skipper at The Yacht Week in Croatia

Daniel Šenekl was a skipper for six years at the world’s wildest and most famous floating festival. What is The Yacht Week like behind the scenes? What kind of people and captains head there? And is it really Sodom and Gomorrah on the high seas?
Daniel Šenekl was a skipper for six years at the world’s wildest and most famous floating festival. What is The Yacht Week like behind the scenes? What kind of people and captains head there? And is it really Sodom and Gomorrah on the high seas?
The Yacht Week is definitely the most infamous and wildest floating party festival. Nowhere else can you find a fleet of 270 boats floating together packed with people enjoying themselves and dancing till dawn. The sailing itself doesn’t much get in the way but being a skipper in this fleet is really demanding.
 
So we interviewed a skipper Daniel Šenekl, who sailed during The Yacht Week for 12 weeks every year. He was responsible for his entire crew, seven days a week, day and night on board as well as on the mainland. It was an incredible 6 years. As he himself says “When I total it up, I spent at least a full year of my life at The Yacht Week. And I survived! Let’s see what the after-effects will be :)”
 


What is The Yacht Week?

A floating festival, aka a massive party and music festival on board yachts. Throughout the day it’s sailing, relaxing with friends and exploring the islands. In the evening the non-stop party gets started. It runs every year from June to September in several different locations - in Croatia, Italy, Greece and the British Virgin Islands. Floating parties are becoming ever more popular with other similar festivals springing up, such as the Matt Sailors festival and the newer BucketLust.
Tunnel raft at The Yacht Week Tunnel raft at The Yacht Week

Dan, how did you get started as a skipper at The Yacht Week?

7 years back, in 2011, I was working on the island of Solta for my stepfather as a divemaster, teaching people to dive. Every Thursday a fleet of ships with flags appeared. Even though I didn’t know at the time it was The Yacht Week, it looked extremely interesting. A lot of boats, a lot of people and foreign flags. In the evening they would always have a party together at the bar. When I came to the bar I got talking to one of the managers. He told me that the next year they would definitely be looking for new people, so I just asked him for the post of skipper.

And you were already an experienced yachtsman by then?

At that time I had papers for yachting but only a basic Croatian course. A condition of The Yacht Week was to get a more advanced, professional level of qualification.
 
That winter I spent in the mountains in Canada and in the spring I moved to Croatia. That’s where I began doing the RYA license. I did the practical exam in Croatia and the theory in England. The Yacht Week always takes new skippers on a week-long academy - training that everyone must go through.  

How does The Yacht Week look as a yachtsman? Is it even yachting?

Sailors don’t really come there. It is mainly for young people out to have fun, experience something unusual and get to know Croatia. But I did once get a crew of yachting instructors, which I enjoyed.

And how did The Yacht Week get started?

The festival originated in 2004 on a single boat, essentially just for a few friends. It was nowhere near as huge as it is now, not for a long time. The biggest explosion began in 2012. Before it became such a massive festival, it had really just been for the enjoyment of students and the founders.

How many boats usually travel together in the fleet?

It depends on the season, at the beginning and end of the season there are about 25 boats. The Yacht Week begins in June and ends in September, with 14 tours in total. In the middle of the season, especially during the huge international Ultra music festival in Split, which host DJs from all around the globe, there can be 270 ships in the fleet. We then divide them into three routes (black, red and ultra), they are essentially the same route, red and black in opposite directions and ultra timed to fit in with the music festival.
 


A lot of skippers are completely exhausted after two weeks

How difficult is it to organise and coordinate the skippers when dealing with such a huge number of boats?

It is all very well organised. We skippers have daily morning meetings, a safety meeting for an hour / hour and a half, especially for newcomers. The principle is always the same - we talk, for example, about when to set sail and we solve organisational issues. But mostly it is about safety.
 
The voyage route is always the same, fixed in advance and we are all in a Facebook group together where we can always pass on messages. We also, of course, have radios but they are mostly for more practical issues when anchoring and sailing. All other things go through Facebook and Messenger.

Everyone takes photos of the boats anchored in interesting formations..

Indeed and mostly it is a circle raft! People really love it and it’s always a huge success. All the boats anchor to each other in a circle with their sterns lined up with ropes. A large circle of water is formed in the middle. It is done twice a week for about 4 hours and it's free entertainment for all. Usually another small boat positions itself in the middle with speakers and a DJ, who plays.
Circle raft at The Yacht Week festival Circle raft at The Yacht Week festival

Do all these units train together somehow?

Yes, everything is practised at the academy. We also go over it at the safety meeting, especially important for novice skippers. They must learn to maneuver even without a boat thruster. It works so that the boat is set up at an angle of 45 degrees, the anchor is thrown about 30 to 40 metres away from the circle and then the boats are levelled up. The anchors must form an axis.
 
Another popular formation is the tunnel raft. Half of the boats are connected in a row next to each other and the other half form a row opposite them, back to back. This creates a tunnel between them.
 
And so we anchor like that the whole night. That's the most difficult thing about The Yacht Week. Most injuries occur because there is no “supervision” or security. Of course, each individual should be responsible for themselves. However for a captain it is both physically and mentally demanding as they are fully responsible for the crew. A lot of skippers are completely exhausted after two or three weeks, you run out of strength fast.

What type of people come along and do they return again?

The age range is mostly from 18 up to a maximum of 35. It is mainly very rich young people as boats at The Yacht Week usually cost up to three times more to rent than a normal charter boat. They are mostly single and come along with a bunch of friends. Mostly they are Americans as well as Australians. It is very popular among the youth in the USA. They go travelling for 3 months or more and then hop on to The Yacht Week.  
 
People don’t usually return to The Yacht Week. For them its an huge experience but they don't need to return for more. 99 % of the reviews are positive. It is also true that they don’t necessarily remember much :) It is nonstop fun.
Neverending party at The Yacht Week Neverending party at The Yacht Week

What goes on during the day on the boat, how do people have fun and what do they get up to?

There’s about 4 hours of sailing a day, well, using the motor. The route is always the same. The boat sails from Split to the island of Hvar where we spend 2 days. Then in Vis where we spend another 2 days. One evening we are in a natural bay and then we return back.
 
For those who want to enjoy something other than partying, Hvar and Vis are the most interesting, people rent scooters, quads, cars and go across the island. Vis is probably the most popular.

Most people come there for dancing and for pop and deep house music. Do they wear any special clothes or masks?

Sure, they get dressed up, like pikachu and those techno party masks. The Croatians don’t like it, of course, so they have only one night in one club where they can be have body paint and masks.
 
Otherwise they must wear some kind of shirt which I have to supervise. I keep having to tell them to try to look normal and not like a fool otherwise the restaurant won’t serve them. On Hvar you can get a fine of 500 EUR, if you fall asleep it's 1000 EUR and they still lock you up. But this happens every single time at The Yacht Week, someone always ends up in a cell. It's already been in the newspapers - how people are running around naked on Hvar keeping the cops busy.

Relationships are probably freer and more relaxed….

Of course, always. They are all like one big family. I have never experienced a fight. Everybody has fun, they are friendly, nice….it just works. That’s what I like about it, it’s easy to make friends quickly. Everyone is in the same boat, although everyone has a different one. No one suffers from cabin fever. Young people don’t. They just grab a bottle and everything’s fine.
 


Sex, drugs and The Yacht Week?

Many people associate Yacht Week with sex, the internet is full of wild stories, are they true?

I once had an entire crew from Tinder. So that’s how it works. Otherwise The Yacht Week has established a gender ratio, which means that the crew has to be mixed, half and half - 6 boys and 6 girls. What happens is that the guys book the boat and then invite some girls in order to meet the conditions.

Do drugs also show up at The Yacht Week?

I have rarely come across them. Of course, the captain is responsible for the boat and if something were found on board, it would be a major problem and the responsibility of the skipper. At the outset we instruct all participants on what they can or can’t do, they sign a statement and have a safety briefing. Of course, at any time the police can stop the boat for a random drugs test.

And that happens?

The police crack down on drugs, but we don’t have much trouble at The Yacht Week. I think this is due to working well together and good communication. As long as nothing happens, there’s no problem.
 


When a pizza met a unicorn

Do you organise some fun for the crew?

We always strive to set up a program they want. I’ll know on day one whether or not they want to know something more or are just happy to drink. If they are interested, I gladly go with them to other locations. I’ll take them for a special dinner, show them them the island.

Inflatable boats and floaties are also typical at The Yacht Week.

They all have at leasts 2 to 3 inflatable deck chairs, pizzas, unicorns, melons. I’ve probably seen everything you can imagine, including inflatable virgins. Then the madness ensues. They also bring them up on board, decorating the boat like a Christmas tree.
 
But I don’t like it much, it hinders the boat. At night some of the inflatables permanently “give up the ghost”. People are simply just able to think up a lot of stuff to do. They also bring on Christmas tree lights and decorate the whole ship.
Floaties, fun and a tunnel raft at The Yacht Week Floaties, fun and a tunnel raft at The Yacht Week

Is fun combined with some kind of sport?

People are interested in diving, but we don’t recommend it, it is extremely dangerous when combined with alcohol and fatigue. Flyboard is popular, water jet boots. They can be borrowed every day, it’s part of our services. Yoga is also organized twice a week.  
Yoga lessons at The Yacht Week Yoga lessons at The Yacht Week

Are there any internal games that Skippers have fun with at The Yacht Week?

There is one good game we play on board. The skippers play it and occasionally the crew join in. It involves the light alcoholic drink Smirnoff Ice. The bottle are set up like traps for the skipper and when he finds one, he has to down it.
 
It gets hidden everywhere, and you never expect it. You pull the anchor and you’ll see it on the rope. Or you pull the sail and its attached there with a ring so you have to put the sail down again, kneel down and drink it. It has a relatively low alcohol content, so it doesn’t kill you. It’s a good game :)
 


I watch over them all week like kids

And what is the most demanding for you during the voyage, what do you, as skipper have to battle against?

The most demanding thing is to make sure that nothing happens to anyone, that everyone is well instructed and they know what to do. It’s tough because most of them are already completely drunk at the marina, sometimes they bring a shopping trolley with a bottle of spirits in hand.
 
Then it’s hard to talk to them and I have to watch over them all week as if they were kids. It is really crazy and it is the biggest part of the experience. They roam around on their own and can easily miss the boat. When I find out that I have someone like that as part of the crew, I’ll write their phone number on my hand in permanent marker. This works if they don’t if they don’t lose their mobile.

A lot of things are lost at The Yacht Week?

Yes, it happens routinely. Every week, someone from my boat drops their mobile in the water or leaves it in a bar. Everything gets lost. I told the girls not to carry their passports and they lost them on the first night.
 
Divers have a field day after The Yacht Week. There is really everything to be found under the boats - the latest smartphones, bottles of Champagne, money...

How many times can a person as skipper endure this event without harming their health?

The first year I was excited and I wanted to experience all 14 weeks, with one week off. I was happy for the first 2 weeks, I also enjoyed the crew but I quickly found out that it wasn’t working so easily, I was exhausted.
 
But you get used to it, if you behave sensibly, it is challenging but a month at a time is manageable. Then the week off is pleasant. Close the apartment door, see nobody, no party, no alcohol...

Do you head the boat alone or do you have someone to help out?

The bigger boats sometimes pay for a hostess and that is a big plus and a great help for me. She takes care of the food, cleaning and helps me with the anchor and ropes. Otherwise I am completely alone. Mostly we help each other out a lot
 
The other skipper guys, who have already anchored, they catch the ropes or instantly jump on the dinghy and help others. The Yacht Week experience “drills” everyone, anchoring several times a day and skills improve quickly. It’s how I learnt the most.

What do the captains at The Yacht Week have in common?

It is very multicultural. There are a lot of Americans and Australians. Good sailors are from England, Sweden and Norway. They have it in their blood, they often grew up on a ship, under harsh conditions.

And do you know all the skippers?

I do, I was Lead Skipper, there are still plenty of guys who have been there as long as I have.
 


The Yacht Weeks’ waste isn’t a problem, injuries yes

Such a lot of boats together, with people having fun must produce a lot of waste. How does The Yacht Week deal with this?

In the past the situation was a lot worse, but the group is really dealing with the problem together. Don’t let anything fall into the sea and we won’t leave any rubbish behind. We talk about it a lot. The people on the boat are told this repeatedly and I try to keep them under control. We also collect rubbish from the sea when we spot it. Of course we go back for the rubbish that accidentally flies off our own boat.
 
I really try hard myself during The Yacht Week. Recently we have been limiting the plastic utensils and dishes, if we need them we use paper ones in case they accidentally fly into the sea. In Croatia, the people in the marina sort waste, so I hand it in there. Two years, after a joint meeting in Palmižana, we had a great project where the skippers picked up rubbish together on the beach.  

How about hygiene and pollution?

All ships have a holding tank. Everybody is instructed how to use it. It's really carefully controlled so that it is always closed in the marinas and at the coast.
Tunnel raft at The Yacht Week Tunnel raft at The Yacht Week

You talked about injuries, how often fo they happen during The Yacht Week?

Every year there are serious injuries, several time a month. Usually a person slips on board whilst drunk, smashing their head, fracturing their skull. I once had to pull a girl out of the water who was drunk walking over the passer rail, slipped, struck her head on the pontoon and fell unconscious into the water. When I pulled her out, I dislocated her shoulder. But it all worked out well in the end!
 
The worst thing I’ve experienced was when one of the skippers had a heart attack who, unfortunately, did not make it. But we found out from a doctor that he had a heart defect, so it was inevitable. Since then, there is a memorial in one of the bays and  The Yacht Week organizes a regatta in his name each year called the Rosenberg Cup. The company is still in contact with his family. Since then, equipment has been improved, we have a defibrillator and a professional, a doctor or nurse, who is always to hand.

So the fleet always has an escort?

Yes, a speed boat in case an accident happens or a problem arises.
 


People are surprised the water is salty...

How to deal with the situation when the weather gets worse? People are not used to it, and some may be on a boat for the first time.

We have to jump to it. The sipper must always be there to advise. I’m on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on the boat and the mainland. I’m responsible for the ship. I have to know the weather and a detailed forecast and together we sort out the situation.
 
When the weather is bad at night, we are ready to get the engines started and we are always ready to lift anchor and take off to safety outside the bay and rocks. But this happens rarely. I like harsher conditions and I enjoy the wind, some people don’t much like it and vomit at even the slightest wave.

You certainly have a lot of amusing experiences. Do people complain about things?

Enough people complain. They’ve never been on a boat. When they pay 17,000 euros they expect a luxurious yacht that they might have seen on a photo somewhere with a crew and equipped luxuriously.
 
Once I met some girls who were extremely upset so I wanted to sort it out. I asked what the problem was - the captain maybe, or someone on board. It turned out that before they set out, they had seen a YouTube video showing footage from the British Virgin Islands, Italy, Croatia and Greece. It turns out they had been expecting to see it all in just a week……
 
Or once the crew came to Split and we couldn’t for the life of us find their ship, we tried for a long time to find out what the mistake had been and looked to sort it out. Then we found out that they had actually booked a boat in Greece. They thought it was right next door.
 
Most people complain about the heat, or the cold, too much sun. Or windy or too salty. I could not explain it too them at all when they asked me why it was so salty. I didn’t know what to say….but a skipper gets used to it. Probably to everything imaginable.
 


I’d like to experience The Yacht Week just as a customer

Do you ever get the yacht to yourself or just with the crew?

I made such a trip just this year, one week with my friends. But we followed the Yacht Week route as they wanted to see it.

Would you ever return to The Yacht Week?

I would definitely come back, it would be an amazing experience. However I’d like to experience it as a customer. I’ve never been on holiday like that with a bunch of friends. We would rent a boat, a skipper of course…..But I think I would be a good customer! Plus I wouldn’t complain.
 


Yachting beginnings and experiences

How did you get into yachting, what brought you to it?

It’s thanks to my stepfather who is a yachting and diving instructor. At the age of seven, he took me out on a boat for the first time, it was a simple boat, Alwin. We spent 14 days on board, it was a great adventure. Fantastic..
 
The he began working in Croatia so I followed him there and spent time there, even on board. He had already began hosting the Skipper’s regatta, now in it’s 18th year and he is still organising 3-4 regattas a year. It was he who got me into all this and taught me about it. Now he has sailed to Lipari, Elbe and Corsica.

What are the best and worst things you have experienced on a yacht?

The worst I know precisely...but the best? Well, it’s probably also the best. After the first year at The Yacht Week, I got an offer to transport a boat from the north of France, from Les Sables to the Canary Islands. The three of us were skippers. After 3 days of the voyage, a we got caught up in a massive storm. A whirlwind. The wind struck us at 50 knots. We were really scared. It was a new ship and we didn’t know what to expect from it. Fortunately, the boat survived.
 
We sat together for the worst 20 hours, flares and lifeboat at the ready. We were ready to leave the boat if anything happened. The waves were like a barrage, massive, up to six metres.

Was it possible to still control the boat?

Yes, it was. With small sails, we had thrown anchor. And I prayed. That was about all that could be done. And we thought about what to do in case something happens. Fortunately nothing happened, the ship and the sails stood up to the onslaught.
 
And that was also the best experience. When we saw the mainland. It was fantastic. The sea became calmer and relief swept over us after the huge, three-day, exhausting struggle.
 
And every day, when I experience the sunset on a sailing boat, it is a great experience.
Sunset on a sailboat Sunset on a sailboat

Did you know the storm was coming?

We knew that strong winds were on the way. But after two days the storm intensified. At that time, I was basically a complete novice.

Would you deal with it differently now?

In the same situation, I would like to have better equipment. Better life jackets, satellite phone. I went into it with joy after the season end, which was beautiful. It took 10 days. The most incredible thing had been that throughout dolphins had been jumping in front of the bow of the boat. All that time we hadn’t been alone. At Gibraltar, when it warmed a bit, we went off to celebrate the fact that we had survived. Now I can laugh about it.

Is there anything you fear at sea after all these years?

I have dreams that I’m on a boat, the anchor line breaks and I end up on the rocks or the boat sinks. But in reality I’m ready for everything and I know what to do. I’m trained for it.

Do you have any personal tweaks whilst on board?

A small pillow. I can’t fall asleep without it. It just has to be there.

Do you use any apps, as well?

I always take a map along. GPS may be poorly calibrated. But I use all the data that is available to me, off course, aviation forecast, windyty, various profiles. There is no problem with data or signal in Croatia, I can look at the internet anytime I need.
Daniel Šenekl, captain for 6 years at The Yacht Week Daniel Šenekl, captain for 6 years at The Yacht Week

And where to now? Will you keep yachting?

Definitely yes. I got an offer from the owner of a charter company that goes to Vietnam in Nha Trang. I’ll represent him, right now we’re working on it together and I’m flying to Vietnam this week. I’ll be scouting out new sites, yachting possibilities and opportunities to develop yachting in Vietnam. So we shall see. I’m looking forward to exploring a new country, another culture, I almost know nothing about Asia.
 
At The Yacht Week I had nowhere to go. I had been Lead Skipper who leads novices, teaching them the ropes, explaining anchoring, sorting out problems and leading the group. This is a huge new opportunity for me and especially a challenge.
 
So good luck!

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