Gwilym Mumford, The Guardian, June 28, 2013
As hangover cures go, it seemed a bit extreme. Perched on the top deck of a Croatian sailing boat just outside Split, I was about to launch myself into the topaz blue of the Adriatic below. My internal organs groaned with foreboding. Couldn't I just stick with the trusted hangover staple of a gallon of orange Lucozade and 278 back-to-back episodes of Friends?
Apparently not. "It'll be fun," Tara, the relentlessly cheerful Australian beside me chirped. Like many on board, she'd used this method to combat the old katzenjammer more than once already on the trip, and seemed fairly convinced of its merits. A running jump and we were both heading down into the drink.
I had just flung myself off the Maestral, one of a four-strong convoy of motorised cruising vessels skirting Croatia's strikingly pretty Dalmatian coast. Put to bed images of retirees shuffling about in deck shoes though: these boats were stuffed to the gunwales with 21 to 35-year-olds, drinking, partying and the aforementioned kamikaze plunging off the top deck. Sailing has become anything but plain.
In recent years, a combination of low-cost air routes, a burgeoning dance festival culture, plus lots of sunshine, has turned Croatia into one of Europe's most attractive youth destinations. And, with two of the country's most popular tourist hotspots, Split and Dubrovnik, linked by a 140-mile strip of sun-bleached coastline, it's also providing fertile ground for the incipient youth cruise revolution, with companies popping up all over the place seeking to tap into that hungry post-university, pre-responsibility market.
I took in one such trip, a seven-day cruise along the coastline from Split to Dubrovnik and back, with Sail Croatia's Navigator Cruises. Usually, these cruises are said to be lively enough, but we were on the Hit The Deck Tour, celebrating the start of summer, where the revelry both on and off board was set to be several notches higher; to this end enormous speaker systems, booming out David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia, had been placed on all the boats. Our lodgings, meanwhile, were tidy and functional: en suite with bunk beds, and a couple of rooms offering double beds instead. Breakfast and dinner were provided, though drinks – unsurprisingly, given the amounts downed by some passengers – were not, and had to be bought from the crew.
I arrived a few hours late, so missed the potentially crucial meet-and-greet, and by the time I joined the ship, the other passengers were already well-acquainted. No matter, though: they were a friendly mob and soon I'd met everyone on board.
In total there were 39, all of whom, aside from me and a handful of other Brits, two Swiss men and a sextet of South Africans, were Australian. Apparently these cruises are very popular with Aussies – the other three boats were also Antipodean-heavy – who tend to weld them on to larger backpacking odysseys across Europe. Soon, age-old Aussie-Brit conversation topics were dredged up: sport, food products (salt and vinegar crisp packets over there are pink) and teasing over my pastiness ("do you get sunburn off of the moon?" Siobhan, 21, asked me in mock-curiosity.)
We spent the early afternoon and evening in Hvar Town, the "St Tropez of the Dalmatian coast", first taking in Hula Hula Bar, built among rock pools, and later to noisy port venue Bar Nautica, where we were greeted with the longest line of Jagerbombs I've ever seen. Some of the party then ventured on to vast beach bar Carpe Diem, while the tired remainder returned to the boat.
Passengers had to be back on board by 5am each night – the time we set sail for our next destination. Any later and you risked being left behind, forced to hitch a lift on another boat. Already on day one, a few of the hard-partying passengers barely made curfew, rushing aboard just as the boats left the dock, something that would become a running theme on the trip.
The next day, after several swimming stops, we arrived in the small port town of Trstenik, which offered wine-tasting and then a secluded late-night beach club arrived at by speedboat. At this point, it seems important to stress that this wasn't all booze cruise, a point hammered home next day by our visit to Dubrovnik, Croatia's southernmost city, and a place familiar to quite a few passengers due to it being a filming location for Game of Thrones.
Dubrovnik is a city that demands to be investigated, be it up on top of the vast medieval walls of the old city or down in the steep side streets below. The same could be said of our first destination on the route back to Split, Mljet, an island containing a national park, where hiking and swimming were on offer.
Those fancying something faster paced were given the option the next day of either a kayak session or a buggy safari through the vineyards and dirt roads of the island of Korcula (both requiring an additional fee).
I took on the latter and returned to the boat several hours later still reverberating from the experience, but energised for the big night ahead. The small fortified town of Korcula is known for being the purported birthplace of Marco Polo rather than for its nightlife, yet we still managed to attend both a street and a foam party there, the latter notable for the sight of girls frantically shielding their handbags as the foam cascaded down onto them.
By now we were into the final few days of the cruise, and our partying batteries had been drained to critical levels. Makarska, with its long, lazy beach would provide some respite in the daytime, while the news that late-night cave venue Club Deep was closed for refurbishment seemed to offer a further reprieve. But Makarska offers up some fairly lively beach bars, with vodka and Red Bull prices at a troublingly low level – so the revelry continued.
On our final day I was beyond salvation, sleep starved and perpetually hungover. Even worse, I was booked onto a river rafting activity, which would surely tip me over the edge. Thankfully the stretch of the Cetina river on which we rafted was fairly sedate, with only our Croatian instructor's party trick of removing our helmets, filling them with water and then placing them back on our heads causing any real pain.
There was still a final night out in Split to come, though, and I steeled myself for one last hurrah. I needn't have bothered. When I returned to the deck most of the boat's occupants were there, some asleep, all utterly partied out.
• The cruise was provided by Sail Croatia (0800 193 8289, sail-croatia.com). Prices start from £549pp (based on twin share) and include a seven-day cruise, breakfast and lunches on board. Flights were provided by Wizz Air (wizzair.com); Luton to Split from £80 return inc taxes
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk