Free advice for the Adriatic boat excursion hosts and their guests

Yesterday we took our family on a boat trip to the neighbouring island of Hvar (we are spending our vacation on Brač, both islands belong to the Dalmatian archipelago).

A memorable trip turned into a nightmare.

The trip itinerary promised an exciting adventure for both us and the kids:

  • 9AM departure from Bol on the island of Brač.
  • Two hours sailing to the city of Hvar on the island of Hvar for a two hour city sightseeing.
  • A 20 minute sail with a fish lunch to Pakleni Otoci for a two hour swim (Pakleni Otoci is another group of 18 tiny islands southbound from Hvar, the city).
  • Finally, to a couple of unspoiled gulfs for a 10–20 minute swim with fish and fruit snacks on the northwest coast of Hvar on our way back to the original port in Bol at around 6PM.

Given the fact that the boat excursions sail every day for at least two months during each summer, the issues I’m presenting here are not likely to be just a couple of unfortunate hiccups that coincidentally happened on our particular day.

As a side note, the following “user pain points” were only the major ones that Luka (11 YO) was able to identify. During our discussion on what should be improved on a boat trip like ours, we developed stories of alternative outcomes for each case. I’m extremely proud to say that he learned the major difference between providing a service and providing a service with customers in mind.

On to improvements:

  1. Prepare the guests for the big waves
  2. Check and Double-check your guest list before leaving each stop
  3. Provide a trash bin or a plastic bag for every seat row

Prepare the guests for the big waves

When we booked our trip the evening before, I specifically asked about the case of bad weather and if they had a backup plan in the event of unfavourable sailing conditions. Were we departing no matter what? What if we were caught in a harbour on the destination island and couldn’t go back till the morning after? What if we were stuck somewhere in the open sea?

The (over)confident answer from the boat captain was that they expected clear skies and that we shouldn’t have worried about anything.

Waves crushing into the coast on our way back when the sea calmed down a little bit. Haven’t been able to take photos on our way out due to the unbearable sea sickness.

Well, we should have worried, because something went wrong. Even though it was a cloudless sunny day, the Tramontana wind blew pretty hard and we had some nasty waves on our way out. Technically, the conditions were passable and I believe our crew had experienced much worse life-threatening episodes in their careers. However, half the passengers — of whom some had traveled only by a ferry till then — have gotten sea sickness, including our family. That resulted in a few of guests hanging over the fence (I’m trying to avoid vivid graphics here) for nearly two hours until we reached the first port, the city of Hvar.

Lucky for us, there was a pharmacy shop in Hvar and we were able to buy some over-the-counter motion sickness pills and motion sickness lolly-pops for the little ones. Fortunately, we’ve quickly recovered from the horror we’d been exposed to for the previous two hours. Our plan B (if the pharmacy had been closed) was to spend all our savings on a helicopter pick-up back to our island. It was that horrible.

Advice for the trip hosts

Warn your passengers that they might experience sea sickness and suggest them to see a pharmacist. Additionally, have some pills in your first-aid kit. You are responsible for bringing your guests back both healthy and happy.

Advice for the guests

Don’t trust experienced people such as sea captains. Experienced people have forgotten what was like to be a beginner. If you’ve never been to a particular destination by a small boat — which is in the Adriatic sea anything smaller than a ferry — find a local pharmacy and ask for advice.

Check and double-check your guest list before leaving each stop

What do teachers do when they take a class to a field trip? Count everyone all the time and assign pairs. All students need to report back whenever they leave to buy a snack on a vending machine or visit a toilet. What do the airplane cabin crew do before taking off? They double-check if everyone’s on board, seated and buckled. Have you ever heard the “Boarding completed!” call on the intercom inside the airplane? That is a signal that they double-checked the list and the airplane is good to go.

Leaving the port of Hvar.

Our trip captain probably thought that the trip schedule “artistically” illustrated by crayons (!) on a ticket was a sufficient explanation. It was not. The first problem was that we were off the schedule for about 30 mins because of the unpleasant sailing conditions mention above. The second problem was that nobody warned us “When we anchor in a gulf, don’t swim to the coast, because we might accidentally leave without you”. The third problem was that nobody cared about the number of passengers in the first place. More precisely — nobody cared, period.

We left a young foreign couple who had swum to the beach when we took a break in a gulf on Pakleni Otoci. We left the Pakleni around 3:30PM and it wasn’t until 5:30PM when the captain received a phone call. Without explanation whatsoever — he turned the ship back to some (from our perspective) random gulf, by that time already on the opposite side of another island from where we left them. We picked them up around 6PM. Up until we saw the couple dropped-off by the taxi on the coast, nobody was aware that somebody was missing. Passengers migrated from the upper deck to the lower deck and back all the time, so we just assumed that they were somewhere else on the boat.

The poor couple arrived to the meeting point by taxi barefoot, wearing only their swimsuits and carrying their snorkelling gear. Above all — they were pissed off. And I mean really pissed off. They haven’t said a word to each other or to anybody else till we almost reached the final destination a 90 minutes later after Tin (6 YO) pulled off all his jokes and eventually made them smile.

When they finally did start talking, it was only to pick (or more probably to continue) a fight. It was very clear that they were miserable, embarrassed and not enjoying each other’s company.

When I think about it, it was a pure luck that they made it from one island to another and then to the opposite coast without a cell-phone or any money on them. I can’t possibly imagine what’d happen if we were left on some remote island with the sun heating at 35 Centigrade with our kids wearing only bathing suits. For this couple, I just hope this incident will somehow bring them closer together and not ignite a split-up.

Advice for the trip hosts

Double-check you guests number. Twice. Don’t rely on them to be punctual while on vacation. It’s your job to take care of them, because you’ve sold them a memorable trip, not a boat ride from the point A to the point B. You are responsible for making that experience unforgettable in a positive way and bringing them back both healthy and happy.

Advice for the guests

Expect that you could be lost, especially if you travel a hard-to-recover itinerary like the multiple islands. If you get lost on an island, you cannot hitchhike to the coast. Don’t leave the group on your own without clearly notifying the guide or the captain and making sure that they will not leave without you. That at the very least includes carrying a fully charged cell-phone with the captain’s number in the address book and a bottle of water. You can’t swim with a cell-phone in your hand? There’s your answer — stay close to the boat.

Provide a trash bin or a plastic bag for every seat row

During the afternoon break (actually the one coordinated with the rescue pick-up), we were offered watermelons. What a nice refreshment! Fits perfectly the afternoon laziness on the deck. Everyone got a couple of slices. But when you’re done with a slice what do you do with the rind?

The upper deck of the boat where people tanned in the sun didn’t have any bins or garbage bags, so people simply threw their rinds over the fence to the sea. Even though it’s technically an organic waste and it will eventually dissolve — can you imagine what it looks like when a couple of dozens watermelon rinds float on the surface and attract wasps where families with small children enjoy their day? Exactly.

After each fish meal the crew threw the leftovers to the sea, attracting flocks of seagulls to a great delight of our kids.

Advice for the trip hosts

Provide a plastic bag or a small bin for each seat row. If they have it at their convenience and you point people not to throw their waste into the sea, chances are they will take care of their garbage. You are responsible for keeping the environment nice and clean — moreover since you charge people money to take them to enjoy that same environment. Throwing fish lunch leftovers to the sea to attract seagulls for a serendipitous photo-shooting makes perfect sense, throwing fruit leftovers makes absolutely no sense.

Advice for the guests

Seagulls eat fish and other fish eat fish. Neither eat watermelon leftovers. You can throw fish leftovers into the sea, but not the watermelon rinds. No reason to be an ignorant pig. Treat all environment like you treat your living room.

Marko Dugonjić is a designer specialized in user experience design, web typography and web standards. He runs a nanoscale user interface studio Creative Nights and organizes FFWD.PRO, a micro-conference and workshops for web professionals.

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