Captain Jerry, Otac Duje & the Nazor Family (Photos)

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by Tash Pericic,

Total Croatia Sailing has launched this series ‘Characters of the Sea’, to share the incredible stories and history of individuals and families who have a passion for the sea. To many, the Adriatic is as much a part of their lives as the oxygen they breathe. This week we met with Captain Jerry, his ship Otac Duje and the Nazor family – a man, ship and family intertwined.

I first met Kapetan Jerolim four years ago when I filled in as a tour guide on his ship Otac Duje. I knew instantly that this man is a character of the sea, if there ever was one. Every morning, the first thing I would do when I woke up was go to the bridge and say “dobro jutro” (good morning) and most mornings he would respond to my greeting and then would jump into a story about some of his adventures – though it was always a little sporadic so I could never quite piece it all together…all I knew is – this man has lived a life.

So, when I started this ‘Characters of the Sea’ series, he was on the top of my list to interview. Though, I didn’t quite get what I expected; he always used to tell me snippets of his tales at sea, so I assumed he would be regaling me with a million stories all afternoon – I actually had a few hours set aside for our meeting, just in case. I met with Captain Jerry on the very well-known Otac Duje, along with his two daughters Anka and Barbara and, in terms of a story – I got a whole lot more than I bargained for.

And so, he began…

Meet Kapetan Jerolim Nazor or Captain Jerry as many know him

Jerolim Nazor was at sea all of his life, in his earlier years he was a Captain of Cargo ships and has navigated most seas.

I was a Captain on long-haul, ocean navigation cargo ships for 10 years; I have been to New Zealand, Australia, Africa, South America, North America… and of course have been around the Mediterranean and the Adriatic Seas.

I quit this job, because I wanted to be my own boss and be home with my family. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my family, I saw too many men lose their families and I didn’t want that for myself.

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Meet Otac Duje

I bought this ship in 1981, I was only 31 years old and I bought her with no credit – because of my prior work, I had money, I was a rich man in those times, I paid 400,000 marks for Otac Duje.

I managed to make reforms to this ship during the socialist system in ex-Yugoslavia, which was a big deal, because during that time, everything was limited and it wasn’t typical for one person to own a ship – generally multiple families owned or operated a ship. But I registered Otac Duje for the Private Sector in Maritime Traffic.

Otac Duje was built in Croatia and was originally built for the Norwegian Military Navy in the 1950’s, her purpose was to discover mines left over from WWII, thankfully she never made it there, but instead stayed in Croatia operating as a “bus”. In those times, there were many lines between all the islands and even coast, she travelled between island Brač, Šolta, Split, Krilo… transporting goods and persons. She moved through the hands of a few owners before I bought her in 1981 – I was in the right place at the right time.

In 1985, I reconstructed the boat, I put an old Caterpillar engine in her (but she only had 700-hours) and my father, who was an engineer told me he didn’t believe it would work, but she got moving and a few days later, after my father saw the success, he passed away. The engine may have been old, but you just need to know what you are doing – that engine lasted for 18-years.

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Otac and Kapetan Jerry

First Otac Duje, worked as a fishing boat till 1985. I also bought ‘Mater Anka’ in 1988 – her origins I discovered were from America, built in New Jersey in approximately 1943 under the orginal name ‘Henning’. Once again, I gave another ship new life.

Then, in 1991, I became one of the first Croatian Commodores, we (Jerry, Otac Duje and Mater Anka) were part of the Humanitarian action that went as a convoy during the war to offer aid and help to Dubrovnik who was under fire. Many boats from Krilo and Jesenice went, we risked everything. Mater Anka also used to deliver fish to the Croatian Army, passing Serbian war ships just outside – again risking everything.

The beginning of tourism

In 1985 we began with Otac Duje in tourism and in 1996, Otac was the first boat to put showers and toilets in the cabins – it was almost a revolution. During the 80’s is when many boats switched to tourism, before this, the main trade was transporing sand (the primary building material at the time) or Maraska (sour cherries) and vino.

‘People weren’t educated in tourism, but it wasn’t really an issue because people were humanly human’ – Anka Lozić (ex Nazor)

Those days were a lot easier, people were happier in general just to be on a boat, there was no need for anything fancy, there were no complaints. People were happy just to sleep outside on the deck. Mostly of our guests were from Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia…

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Some of the first guests aboard Otac Duje, 1987, photo source: Vrtacka.blog

A philosophy and a boat with soul – “it isn’t business, it’s a way of life”

Tourism is a nice flow, each morning you must get up and say “good morning”, “good night”, speak with the guests, it isn’t just a business it’s a way of life.

Today it is very easy for anyone to make or buy a ship with credit, this is a problem, because there are too many ships – no one is calculating how many ships there should be to ensure survival for all. The other problem is these large, steel, mini-cruisers – everybody wants to be on the newest ship, the most modern, but it is just a fashion-trend, eventually more people will come back to wooden ships because they will realise, the large ships don’t have soul. People are only a number on those boats. Here, you are a part of our story.

‘There are so many stories from this ship; we have had generations of families returning, many people have met here, fell in love and married – AND still together, people still write us post-cards… This boat means something to so many.’ – Anka Lozić

‘Otac Duje lived through the first wave of nautical tourism and we are still here because we have soul. The steal ships may have luxury and better accommodation, but on this small wooden ship – we have a crazy crew, personality, we are more relaxed… when people step on Otac Duje, they feel at home’ ~ Barbara Nazor

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Toursim then and tourism now – A group of Australian tourists with Fanatics tours, aboard Otac Duje, 2014

A family affair – “Having all my family around me was almost the most important thing, this way I am rich.” – Jerry.

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“I always loved working on Otac Duje. I started to go at sea when I was just 6 years old and started working – serving the guests, when I was 11. Nobody made me, I wanted to do it. I remember looking forward to school finishing so we could get out on the boat all together, we would work the season and come back a day or two before school started again. My brothers and I would sleep for 24-hours, then start back school on Monday. But I loved it, I loved to be with my father, we are all so close.” ~ Anka.

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November, 2011 – the fire that almost completely devastated a ship and family

This was a story I did know about. Not many who work on ships in Dalmatia would be unfamiliar with this. In Novemeber, 2011, Otac Duje caught fire (still no one knows why or how). 50% of the boat was damaged – cabins, salon, bridge, captain’s quarters, kitchen…

‘I remember being called at 6am to come and calm Jerry down, they all know I had the biggest influence on him. I was holding him back not to jump into the fire, I was the most scared I have ever been in my life and I remember thinking that if Jerry survives this, he can survive everything.

The village was in shock and many were in tears. Later, once all the crowds disappeared and the firemen were gone I found Captain Jerry, sitting beside Otac, just talking to the ship, it was heart-breaking to watch – this ship is a part of us all, but especially Jerry, Otac Duje and Jerry are one and the same.’ ~ Anka Lozić

They rebuilt the ship in 5 months in Betina, everyone was there to help out, all family and friends, working every day to get Otac Duje ready for his first tour on the 30th April, 2012. But they did it!

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Rebuilding Otac Duje in the Ship Yard, 2011.

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Otac Duje after the rebuild.

The good that arises from tragedy

This is where Anka takes over to talk a little about this time and her father…

As hard a time as it was, it was also really beautiful to see how many people came to our aid to help and just how much Otac Duje means to the village. It’s sad that it takes a tragedy to bring people together, but we are grateful.

The greatest financial help we got was from fellow captains and friends; we also had so many payments go into our account and we still don’t know who from. There were a couple of stories that really stood out – one day, after the ship burnt down, a guy in a military uniform came asking for Captain Jerry, I had never seen him before in my life. He handed over a fistful of money and gave it to Jerry and said ‘thank you, you saved my child when they needed it’, I think Jerry still doesn’t remember who it was or why.

Another story: during the war, in the Split Harbour, Jerry was on Mater Anka, some guy was walking down the street and practically crying – ‘I don’t have anything for my children’. Jerry said ‘I have 100 marks, 50 for you, 50 for me’. After 20 years, that guy found us to return the money to Jerry. This is the kind of guy Jerry is, if he only has 100 marks, even if he has never seen you before in his life, he will give you 50.

A man and a family intertwined with a ship – “when you believe in something, you can survive anything”

“We don’t know how to separate the two, Captain Jerry and Otac Duje are one and the same. And this ship is part of our lives, this is where we all grew up, where we have all worked. The biggest quality of our father is his modesty, he had great potential, but never wanted to so much, he just wanted to be his own boss, he wanted to be by his family, this was what made him happy. He is a complete person. We are really close as a family, all four of us children, we are like best friends and now our family continues to grow – husbands, children… but as long as we are together, we can resist everything. This is a blessing and the one thing we are very proud of” ~ Anka Lozić

‘This is a life most people don’t understand. But the thing is, we have been through so much, I remember being at sea in rough weather, our guests really wanted to go to Mljet, we told them it wasn’t a good idea, but they insisted – so off we went. It was the roughest I had ever seen it, but of course, I had to pretend like everything was fine. But the thing is, I trust and believe in Jerry and he trusts in Otac Duje. When you believe in something you can survive anything – in love, in work, in life…’ – Barbara Nazor

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Otac Duje has been everywhere and done everything, including – being invited by the Croatian Minister of Culture in 2009 to attend the re-enactment of the Battle of Lepanto – a large battle that took place on October 7th, 1571 between a coalition of European Catholic Maritime States where they defeated the Ottoman Empire on the Gulf of Patras.

But, like I said at the beginning, I got a whole lot more than I bargained for when I sat down with Jerry and his daughters on Otac Duje. I expected a lot of stories of heroics at sea – possibly stretched further than the original… but instead, I met a humble man, whose daughters had to keep nudging him to share more of his life and experiences.

I met and saw the passion one man can have for his boat – also worth noting, that Jerry has been the Captain on Otac Duje for more than 30 years. I don’t want to make any false statements here, but I will say you would be hard-pressed to find another Captain who has been on the same ship for 30 years in these parts.

I also saw the love and strength of bonds that a family can have. Working, laughing, living together, going through everything imaginable and only coming out stronger. It was truly humbling and a little emotional at parts, especially hearing Anka talk about the fire. In Anka’s words – “this boat defined us”.

So, if you are thinking to book a sailing trip in Croatia, before you look to the newest, biggest ship, pay a thought to the smaller wooden ships like Otac Duje – a ship with soul and a family with heart.

Many thanks to Captain Jerry and daughters Anka and Barbara for sharing your stories with us. All photos courtesy of the Nazor family.

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