Meet Alenka Alujević, Long-Term Nava Employee and Sailing Enthusiast

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The sea can call us to her in sometimes very roundabout ways but once we find our passion, we stay… meet Alenka Alujević, long-term employee of Nava Boats, passionate sailor and advocate for the sea. She shares her story and some advice for first-time charterers.

I met Alenka in 2017 on the Adriatic Lagoon Regatta organised by Nautika Centar Nava. It was impossible not to notice Alenka, not only because women in regattas are often rare but her smile and energy was contagious. Going for a walk, early morning in Šolta after day 1 of the regatta, Alenka invited us onto their Catamaran for breakfast, where I learned that she had been working for Nava for 14 years. There are only two things that can keep someone in a job that long – passion or stability but the latter doesn’t come with such a beaming smile!

Adriatic Lagoon Regatta 2017

The regatta was a whirlwind but I knew I wanted to catch Alenka another time to hear her story. I got the opportunity when I did the skipper training aboard X Yachts – one of Nava’s latest projects which Alenka is heading up.

We got chatting and Alenka shared a little of her passion for the sea, sailing and how she came to work with Nava.

When did you first set foot on a boat?

My first time, I was with my parents, Uncle and Aunt, a 5-metre yacht, I was only 9 years old. The minute I climbed up onto that boat, I knew this was something I was going to love (even though my father got seasick!)

When I was 16 years old, I joined the Split Sailing Club and began sailing on small Olympic classes, 420. There weren’t many women on the water back then which is still a trend which follows through today.

But my journey to the sea and Nava wasn’t that straightforward. Unfortunately, life took me away from the sea for a while. I moved to Zagreb to study philosophy and comparative literature, it was the time during the war. I finished two years before my father got sick, so I returned home to help and finished University because of this.

Then I moved, worked and lived abroad; I lived in Belgium and Holland and worked many jobs from restaurants and cafés, to events and at one time I was even working in radio. I met a lot of people from all over the world and lived the life that all young people should.

But eventually, I moved back to Croatia because my homesickness kept growing. Even though I was almost official in Holland and had worked hard to build a life there, my heart was calling me back to Split. So, again, I had to start from the bottom. I studied as a laboratory technician, then I volunteered at the hospital for one year to gain experience. During that time, my sister was finishing her studies in tourism, she was working as a guide taking school children on excursions around Croatia. She was busy one day, and asked me to help her, so I guided one of her tours and thought – wow, maybe this is for me, I am good with people, I can speak different languages, I know a lot about history, stories, literature… maybe this is something I can move into.

Back to study I went – I studied at the Economy University in Split for Tourism. I was in my last year of studies when I came across Nava. Part of our course covered Nautical tourism, so we spent some time in ACI Marina. One morning, as I walked past Nava’s office which is situated in the ACI Marina, I saw that they were searching for someone to work there. After that one hour in ACI Marina, I went back to Nava and that’s how I ended up working for Nava, that was 15 years ago!

Is this how you got back into sailing?

Yes and no. I started working in the office for Nava at the beginning. I was doing everything from charter inquiries and bookings, secretary, organising transports, sales… we were a small business at the time, so I got to learn every aspect of the charter business.

But it was thanks to Mario Kundih, one of our skippers (and sailing trainer), that I entered the real world of sailing and regattas. He asked me regularly to join him to see what it was all about but I was always too busy working plus I have a family. Finally, he asked one day and thought – ok, I’m gonna do it. I went along and I loved it, that feeling from childhood came rushing back and I have been hooked since.

Alenka and Mario Kundih

I try to attend regattas as frequently as possible, I do around 6 – 10 regattas a year. It was because of this that I decided I needed to go back to basics and do all sailing training and a skipper course. In a regatta, you are often only in one position, so you don’t necessarily understand everything that is happening around you. I mean I understood but only at the surface level, I realised there were gaps in my knowledge so I wanted to immerse myself in learning everything as if I were an absolute beginner.

What is your favourite position on the boat and what are your favourite regattas?

I prefer the bow and am normally on the bow, in the pit or floating; but the bow is where I love to be.

Credit: Dubravka Pajk, Easter Regatta

I love the Easter Regatta and Jabuka Regatta because it is a little more unqiue. Our crew came first in the Easter Regatta last year!

credit: regate.com.hr

From a charter perspective, what would you like more people to know when they charter bareboat?

I really invest a lot of time with communication with the clients, I always try to teach, to educate them and prepare them for the realities of what can await them at sea. It’s funny but many don’t actually think about the aspect of sailing and managing a boat when they charter, they are only thinking of it as a holiday. So many people are not aware of the dangers that can await them at sea. First, I see what their experience is and if they don’t have sufficient licenses, I research schools that are nearby where they live so they can attend before they arrive.

Second, I try to give them as much information as possible. I always send ideas, information about the area and route suggestions. We go back and forth and I make personal recommendations based on their preferences. I will also tell them things to be wary of – for example, if they are a family and they have said they want to go to a certain marina, I let them know it can be very busy etc. I am always trying to show them the wider picture so they have as much information as possible to make the right decisions.

I do it because I love this job, I love communicating with people. This is not a job, it becomes part of your life.

Are there common charter mistakes/problems from charterers?

Often, they are not aware that the boat needs to be maintained; for example, if they don’t go to a Marina for 3 days, it is natural that the battery will die. The next big thing, is that new charterers don’t have a ‘feel’ for the boat, so when they come into marinas, they rush docking and often come in at the dock full throttle – which naturally leads to incidents.

I always recommend to new charterers and skippers to use the first day as a training day. Get familiar with the boat and how you will use the rest of the people aboard as crew, practice a few manoeuvres so they can begin to feel how the boat moves and responds.

On power boats in particular, my colleagues will first go out with the clients and if they sense that they aren’t very confident, they may ask them to do something tricky just to show that things can go wrong. After people realise they may be out of their depth, they often request a professional skipper.

A holiday should be a holiday, many people don’t understand that it is actually a lot of work and responsibility, for those who are inexperienced, it may become less of a holiday and more like work. For a family holiday, if you have little experience with sailing, it is maybe best to take a professional skipper; you will still learn a lot and have a chance to sail, as well as the whole family getting involved but you have that extra support there if needed.

Why have you stayed with Nava so long?

We started small, it was a family company. Most of the employees have all been here since 2003. We are more than colleagues, we are family; I even met my husband there and my children are now going to sailing school in JK Mornar. It is a lifestyle, not just a job.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned from the sea?

To always respect nature, never to act against it. You have to create synergy with nature.

What would you say to anyone who wants to get into sailing?

It is never too late, just look at my story.

Credit: Dubravka Pajk, Easter Regatta

Closing

In sharing Alenka’s story, she wanted me to emphasise that she is not a pro sailor in any sense but she just loves the sea, sailing and her job. But, this is exactly why I wanted to share her story, to point out that there are many paths that lead to the sea. Alenka fell in love with sailing when she was first 9 years old but didn’t really return until adulthood.

So, if you have the slightest inkling that sailing is something you could be interested in, even without any experience or training, give it a go – you may discover a whole new world and passion! It is also helpful to know that Nava now offer brilliant sail training for novices to pros aboard the performance X Yachts. I did it, and it only fuelled my love and passion for the sea and as Alenka said – it also highlighted the many gaps in my knowledge, making me want to learn more.

For more information about sail training or chartering you can find Nava Boats here, where you will most likely be greeted by Alenka.

Thanks for your time Alenka, see you on the Adriatic!

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