Leo Lemešić, Circumnavigating the World
Continuing our Characters of the Sea series, on Saturday 2nd September 2017, I met with Leo Lemesić who was the first Dalmatian to circumnavigate the globe.
I don’t think I will ever stop being surprised by the number of people who have a mad-passion for the sea, especially here in Dalmatia. If you live in Split and have any connections to the sea whatsoever, there is very little chance that you don’t know the name – Leo Lemesić, not just because he has circumnavigated the globe (among many other adventures) but because he is a character larger-than-life itself.
Pinning Leo down long enough for an interview was probably the hardest task as the man is here, there and everywhere; but I finally managed to nab him before he jet-sets off again and I wasn’t disappointed.
I didn’t want to waste time, so I jumped straight into it –
When did your story at sea begin?
When I was 3. After my father’s professional football career, he switched to competitive sailing in the laser class. So, from a young age I was following him around regattas; then, when I was 3 or 4-years-old he brought me to Labud sailing to begin lessons. I was the youngest in the group, most all other children were in kindergarten or first-grade and it was the middle of winter, so it wasn’t very enjoyable. The next day, when I was supposed to go back to training, my father was searching for me and found me hiding deep inside the wardrobe! I didn’t want to go at all, but somehow, I stayed with it and began to enjoy it. Because I was the youngest, by the time my generation started to join I was very advanced for my age.
In my early years, I also began playing football and was in the Junior Hajduk team – for every young man in Split, football is in the first place, which is was for me also; however, I was successful in both disciplines, so had trouble choosing.
I kept going backward and forwards between sailing and football – sailing was more interesting because at the time we were travelling around Europe with it, however, football is football. Then another problem arose – my grandmother had an apartment in Stari Grad where I would spend all my summers and because I loved it so much and wasn’t willing to sacrifice my summer there, my training began to suffer.
Eventually, my attention shifted, I got married very young – at aged 19, so I needed to get a job to make a living for my new family. I started with windsurfing school in the summer (still connected to the sea). I still played football for the third and even second division, but I never made it to the top level, which I probably could have if I had committed.
Before the war began, I was working on fishing ships and when the war finished I changed uniform of the soldier to the Police Coast Guard uniform. I worked in that position for 7 years and just before I quit, I received the highest honour – ‘Policeman of the Year’ in 2001.
Beginning to work towards a dream…
In 2002, I finished with the Coast Guard because I felt it was time to start pursuing my lifelong dream to sail around the world. I knew I needed to raise a decent amount of money, so I began Fortuna Cruising – a charter company with a friend. We invested in one gulet before slowly increasing to a fleet of around six gulets; by that time, we had a very successful crewed yacht charter business.
Finally, at 40-years-old I felt like it was the right time. My children were grown up – 16 and 20-years-old, I was financially stable, so in 2010 I took to the seas.
Sharedreams was the name of the project. My good friend Marin Bosotina lent me his Beneteau 57 ‘Dora’ to fulfil this dream. This is why we called it Sharedreams, because we were sharing the same dream – Marin joined me whenever he could – and I was sharing the dreams with my family and friends and more than 150 crew, who joined over the space of 5.5 years.
We didn’t sail in one go, I returned to Croatia during the summers to be with my family and work to support the project because I sailed without sponsorship – I did it on my own way.
When I was reading stories of circumnavigation by other sailors, they mostly sailed in their 60’s, pension age – it was when they had cleared all obstacles and had the time and money to do so. However, all of their conclusions were the same – that they should have done it earlier, not because of their age while sailing, but because they realised that they didn’t have enough life in front of them to live all of the experiences and changes that had occurred within them during their journey.
“If you are ready, nothing can stand in your way”
Another lesson I learned from others who have completed the circumnavigation is this – if you are ready, nothing can stand in your way.
If you are not ready, you will always find a reason not to do it. From this position, if I didn’t do it in that moment, I am not sure I would find a better moment or even a chance to do it once in my lifetime.
We completed the circumnavigation and sailed into Split on the 7th May 2016, arriving home on Saint Duje to a big celebration. I was so proud and so happy, this is now a part of me forever, my highest achievement.
What are your greatest lessons or experiences at sea?
Respect your boat
When I was sailing in a regatta from the Canary Islands to St. Lucia, I knew we had a cruising boat, that we had a lot of weight and that we were not prepared for a regatta, but we did it so successfully that we won. We chose the northern route while everyone else chose the southern; so, while the rest of the fleet were struggling without wind, we were struggling with strong winds. Our boat Dora suffered so much during that time, even when I knew the bad weather was behind us and we caught the trade winds in our sails, I felt bad because I did to Dora something she didn’t deserve. That was the first and last time she suffered unnecessarily.
I learnt that lesson early on in our adventure and I am thankful for that. I began to respect her, take care of her and feel what she needed. Throughout all of our sailing, we were practically without any drama – we sailed around 66,000 nm which is approximately 3x the equator and she was reliable the entire time.
The last Atlantic crossing was so fast, we sailed across the Atlantic from W – E in 11 days and Dora showed that she was not only pretty and reliable but also very fast, even after such a journey.
After health, travelling is the most important thing someone can do in their life
I believe the most important thing is to travel as it teaches so much. I won’t mention love because without love there is nothing – there needs to be love in all meanings of the word.
Travelling is the best thing you can do for yourself and even your family and friends as it helps you grow. Today you can google everything to find all sorts of information, but this is not the same – you don’t feel and understand the experience. You can travel to a destination for 2 – 3 weeks, but this doesn’t make you a traveller, a real traveller makes it their life.
Credit: Leo Lemesic, Vanuatu
We can learn a lot from others; it is the people with less who live the happiest lives
I had certain expectations when I set out on my adventure, I had heard so much about the Caribbean, but in relations to the people there and including the risk of piracy, it wasn’t what I expected. Some other places really surprised me – the nature in the Bahamas, the Atlantic and the Pacific were truly beautiful destinations.
People from the Indian and Pacific Oceans are really special. Rules and way of life is so very different in other places and I have learned that our way of thinking is not the only one, definitely not the best and we can learn a lot from people who have less. They are much more oriented towards everyday life, they live simply and with a happiness that many cannot even imagine. Do we really have a right to bring our way of life to others [as has happened throughout the west]?
Calvados islands, family with a lot of heart
I owe everything to my family
It is time for me to pay back all of my family who were waiting for me while I accomplished my dream. I am returning to crewed yacht charter and help my parents who own a restaurant in Lučice on island Brač. So, I am at the disposal of my friends and family as I owe them for all of their support over the years. Maybe they didn’t understand it at the beginning, but by the time they realised that this was my true life’s dream and it was the right moment, they understood.
I divorced years ago and for the last four years I have been in a relationship with my long-term friend – Irena, who has since sailed 12,000 nm with me across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. I don’t think this would have been her first choice in life, but because of me, she has also become a sailor and is a great partner.
And this is another lesson:
“If you can live with someone on a boat, you can definitely live in happiness when you are not on a boat, it is a great test for relationships!”
Now, as well as still being connected and working with the sea I would like to help others achieve their dreams…
Leo is the owner of a gorgeous sailing yacht – Sinbad San and he is teaming-up with World Champion freediver Lidija Lijić, to offer unique adventure-sailing holidays.
I am sure this is still just one of many projects and that Leo has plenty more tricks up his sleeve. One of my husband’s dreams is also to sail around the world and after hearing Leo’s inspiring story, I think we might have to get working on making it a reality!
All photos thanks to Leo Lemešić from his adventures; interested in chartering with Leo? Check out his page here.