LIKE Bambi taking his first tentative steps, I push myself up off the paddleboard, first to my knees and then cautiously - and with more than one false start - to my feet. In the faint distance, I can hear applause, but I’m too focused on gripping hold of my paddle to pay much attention.

Around me, the waters of the Adriatic are clear and - thankfully for my precarious balance - tranquil. Apart from a single yacht and my new home from home, a gleaming white catamaran, the bay is undisturbed by water traffic.

My shipmates and new-found friends are dotted around me, some kayaking, others snorkelling, while a couple provide vocal and enthusiastic support from the deck of the catamaran.

I clamber back aboard ship, hunt down a cold drink and sit down in the sun to take my turn as cheerleader and observer.

If this is sailing life, how has it taken me so long to embrace it?

We’re less than 25 miles from Dubrovnik, but a world away from the hustle and bustle of urban existence.

Ask anyone who’s visited the ancient Croatian city for their first impressions, and I’d wager good money they all mention the words ‘cruise ship’. Each day, huge vessels disgorge thousands of passengers into the World Heritage site for a few intense hours of sightseeing.

But there is another way for the more independent-minded traveller to take to the seas - without being an experienced sailor or a yacht-owning billionaire.

Whereabouts Holidays offers a choice of sailing and activity trips, to suit everyone from outdoor fanatics to chilled-out explorers. I’m taking advantage of the adventure sailing and activity tour, which sets out from a base just outside Dubrovnik for a four-day foray into the Adriatic.

A small fleet of catamarans - nearly all of which were brand new in 2018 - each sleeps passengers in four cleverly appointed cabins. Mine is an exercise in ingenious storage, with a comfy double bed and tiny but very functional en-suite toilet and shared shower, while up on deck, there’s generous lounging and sunbathing space, and comfortable communal seating.

With an on-board guide, and an experienced skipper to do all the heavy lifting, it’s the perfect way to get a taste of nautical living, and experience Croatia without the crowds.

The stunning coastline of Croatia is home to more than 1,000 islands, but we start off gently with some of those closest to our departure port, the Elaphiti archipelago.

The three main islands, Sipan, Kolocep and Lopud, have a total population of less than 1,000 people, and are mostly car-free, forested and surrounded by tranquil seas.

After a quick stop at Kolocep for a lunch of grilled octopus, cooked on an open flame, and a brisk 10-minute hike up to a stunning viewpoint, we sail around the island, moor up and take our first swim.

I hold my breath, grab hold of my snorkel and leap feet-first into the blue brilliance of the Adriatic.

Just beneath the surface, shoals of tiny fish dart around me, and below my feet an eel lurks in the shadow of a rock.

When I finally emerge into the sunshine again, after a leisurely exploration of the deep, it’s to climb back aboard my home for the next three nights and take up residence on deck with the breeze in my hair.

It’s just a short jaunt over to Lopud, home to a monastery overlooking the island’s only village

Gathered on the bow of the catamaran, my shipmates and I get to experience a sunset cruise unlike any I’ve known before, watching the sun disappear over the horizon as the waves gently lap around us,.

As the skies darken, we moor at the largest of the islands, Sipan, our home until morning,.

The next day we set sail for our next destination, the island of Mljet.

Famous for its inland lakes and a former Benedictine monastery first constructed in the 12th century, the western side of the heavily forested island is protected by national park status.

We stop for a quick dip, interspersed with water sports, before loading the boards and kayaks back on board and docking in the shadow of Roman ruins in the village of Polace.

A stash of electric bikes are stored for us at a local home, ready for our adventure into the hilly national park.

While both Mljet and the Elaphati Islands are accessible from Dubrovnik by public ferry, the real privilege of these sailing trips lies in the balance between adventure and ease. With on-board experts to answer all of our queries,

I can’t think of a better way to experience the beauty of Croatia and escape the crowds.