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SPLIT, Croatia — From the deck of our boat we watched a spectacle that had everyone in this bustling port city spellbound: a river of sailboats streaming out from the harbor to a sparkling turquoise horizon. Though Croatia had just joined the European Union and marked its 22d year of independence, the talk of the town here was of a smaller but perhaps equally telling milestone, the record turnout for the opening day of Yacht Week 2013.
It was a sign of the times. Long a bargain destination offering sun and pebbly beaches to the masses, Croatia is fast evolving into a haven for sophisticated boaters. With modern marinas, a food and wine scene that’s the envy of central Europe, and a charter yachting industry catering to all budgets, it is rapidly whittling market share from more established sailing spots such as Turkey and Greece.