Sailing in Croatia: Experience and Impressions of Hvar Easter Regatta 2019

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From the 11th – 14th April, 2019, I attended the PBZ Easter Regatta (Uskršnja Regata) on Hvar island. I was the only woman in a 12-man crew, aboard “Franko II” (First 47.7) with Mario Kundih at the helm; as a first-time crew together, we won the ORC-Nauta class.

This year marked the 23rd Anniversary for the PBZ Easter Regatta (Uskršnja Regata) on Hvar island (previously held in Vodice). The Easter Regatta was the second regatta in a series of four regattas for the CRO-ORC Cup – the most important ORC regattas in Croatia. As such, this regatta attracts a myriad of high-calibre sailors and a variety of yachts – ranging from a Salona 34, X-41 all the way up to the very sexy TP52; and, while there were a few crews from Slovenia and one from the Czech Republic, it is a predominantly Croatian dominated regatta.

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Photo credit: Miro Zadravec

I was invited to join the crew aboard “Franko II” (First 47.7) by Mario Kundih, and was to be the only woman in a ’12-man’ crew. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little apprehensive. While I have been at sea here for 7 years now, 2018 was my first year getting into the world of sailing – thanks to doing a skipper training course with Kundih aboard an X-43 last year, and my first season with my husband sailing a Scorpio 72 in Charter. The world of regattas is still very new to me and I have a lot to learn; so, I was extremely honoured to be asked to join the crew for the 2019 Easter Regatta.

I met “Franko II” and half our crew in Primošten on Tuesday for a day of sail training and delivering the yacht to Hvar, in preparation for Thursday’s first race. As with anything in Croatia, it was – first coffee, provision the boat, then we were on our way to Hvar. Unfortunately, there was no wind, so we motored all the way, but around 4 pm, the wind picked up, so we did some night sailing around the port of Hvar until 9 pm, practising manoeuvres and getting acquainted with the boat and each other.

My earlier apprehension about sailing and being the only woman aboard, quickly washed away as I felt immediately comfortable with the guys aboard. I had experienced Kundih’s relaxed yet informative approach to sail training last year, and this was the tone that was set aboard. As a crew, we had a mix of experience between us, the connecting factor between all of us being Kundih; some of the guys he has been sailing with for years, half the crew are experienced skippers – sailing in charter every year, while others (like myself), he had recently trained and were very ‘green’ in regards to the world of regattas. Considering Kundih came first in the ORC-Nauta Class the last two years, and 3rd overall last year, I was impressed that he was willing to form a new crew and take a ‘risk’ on some of us, just to give us the opportunity to sail in this sort of high-calibre regatta.

After a few hours of sailing manoeuvres: tacking, raising the spinnaker, jibing and dropping the spinnaker; we got a spot on the Riva in Hvar, and I was reminded how much I love Hvar pre and post-season.

I prepared an easy bolognese for dinner, not because I had to (being the only woman) but because I wanted to, my way of saying ‘thanks for having me aboard’. But ‘true colours’ were shown quickly when a few of the boys immediately said: “please don’t feel you have to cook just because you are the only woman.” They jumped in to help and did all the cleaning up, who said Croatians aren’t gentlemen?

With no race day the following day, we took the opportunity to have a few drinks and get to know each other; a brilliant night, sitting around the table in the salon, drinking and singing until the small hours of the morning. Team bonding at its finest.

We had planned to train together on Wednesday, but rain all day and no wind hindered these plans. The rest of the crew arrived to Hvar that evening – four more guys to make our 12-man crew complete. We went out for dinner with another great crew from the Czech Republic and had another night of gemišt (the sailor’s choice) and singing. But it was a much earlier night (for most), as we had the first day of racing on Thursday and were hoping to hit the water early to get in some training altogether as a complete crew.

Easter Regatta: Race Days

Thursday’s racing was an upwind – downwind race, with three races for the day; with a forecast of up to 20-knots and SE winds (Jugo), it was to be a good day of racing. Our 10 am race start was delayed, but instead of heading back to port as half the fleet, we stayed out and used it as an opportunity to train – because we still hadn’t all trained together. As a 12-man crew, we were a lot of bodies on the boat, with mixed experience and it was essential that everyone knew their role. Mario Kundih was our helmsman, Luka Bebler was our tactician, Luka Blaic our key sail trimmer and all-rounder, Korado Gabo on mainsheet, Rudi Marx and Siniša Bartolin our Mast-men, Tomislav Šujeranović and Matej Doždor our bowmen. Ivan Cevra, Matija Bogadi and Alex Bilik formed the rest of our pitmen. I was ballast and floating – mostly on the bow. And, we had Miro Zadravec on board as our official photographer.

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Photo Credit: Tash Pericic

Considering half the crew were very experienced skippers, it was going to be interesting to see how we would work together and cooperate – ‘too many chiefs’ came to mind. Add this to the fact that we were a first-time crew together, first time on the boat and an international crew (Croatia, NZ, Slovakia and Germany), it was clear that communication and teamwork were going to be vital to our success. It was either going to be a fantastic few days, or a really stressful week!

After practising a few manoeuvres, we geared up for our first race. With 13 yachts in our ORC-Nauta class, we had a strong start and quickly took a decent lead, which we needed because of our handicap. In race one we came 1st, R2 – 2nd, and R3 – 1st. So, after calculations for our first day of racing, we were coming 1st overall. A solid start for a first-time crew together.

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Photo Credit: Miro Zadravec

As it turned out, day one would be our most exciting day of racing in the Easter Regatta; with an upwind-downwind course and great wind, it was more a skilled, technical race, less about tactics. A great vibe and dynamic quickly established itself aboard. The only drama was our spinnaker pole not shooting for the last two races, but thanks to quick reactions and leadership, we managed to keep it under control to cross the line – we probably lost around 30 seconds, but maintained 2nd place in the second race and first overall. And more importantly, we survived our first day of racing – no injuries, major dramas and an excellent team energy maintained throughout.

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Photo Credit: Tash Pericic, manually handling the Spinnaker to get across the line!

The next two days of racing were navigational races in less wind, making it a game of tactics over fast action and technical sailing. Friday was a slow day, on the Spinnaker for most of the day in search of wind but it was a great chance for me to learn more on the bow, and fine-tune my skills in bringing in and prepping the spinnaker. As it was my first serious regatta and I had less experience than the rest of the crew, I was thankful to be ballast and floating on the bow, to have a prime position to watch everyone, learn, and jump in when I could. The course was from Hvar across the channel to Vis, returning around the Pakleni islands, finishing in the port of Hvar.

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Photo Credit: Dubravka Pajk

While it was a quiet day for the majority of the crew, it was still a full day of concentration for Kundih, our tactician and main trimmer. Even though the vibe on the boat was light, and a few gemišt were always in hand, it was great to watch these guys work, see their concentration and hear them talk tactics. My initial thought that there may be too many ‘chiefs’ aboard, was easily allayed as yes, there were discussions and a few differing opinions over the 3 days, but the boys managed to respectfully listen and/or compromise. I have worked on a lot of boats and seen many different crews, and it is typically ego which kills the vibe on a boat; considering the level of experience half the guys had, the lack of ego and pride was truly admirable.

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Photo Credit: Tash Pericic

We had a different sort of photo-finish over the line: we were behind two other yachts in our class, and 100 m from the finish line, the two yachts ahead of us lost their wind and came to a complete standstill; we somehow managed to keep our wind and crept over the line to finish first! This just goes to prove that while skill and tactics are key, lady luck still has her part to play sometimes. After calculations, we came 4th overall for day two.

Day 3 of racing leaves even less to write about; light winds and another day of mostly downwind sailing. It was another navigational race, in front of Hvar and back down the channel; we had until 3pm to complete the race and the majority of the fleet didn’t manage this. Floating in the currents may be a better way to describe the day’s sailing, rather than racing. But still, any day at sea is a good day.

Results and Prizegiving

We finished 1st overall in our ORC-Nauta class, which was Kundih’s third year in a row placing first in his class. In 2nd place was Krka D (Elan 410) with Sebastijan Levstik at the helm, and 3rd place Srna V (Bavaria CR 46) with Ciril Vrančić as helmsman.

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Photo Credit: Uskrsnja Regata, FRANKO II, our winning team – missing a few crew members.

The winner of the ORC-Racer/Cruiser and overall winner of the Easter Regatta was veteran Tonko Rameša and his team aboard X-Cite (X-41). One-Salona (Salona 34) with Karlo Kuret at the helm came 2nd, and Andela X (X37) with helmsman Teo Piasevoli placed 3rd.

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Overall winners, team X-Cite, photo credit: Uskrsnja Regata

Thanks to PBZ and great sponsorship, there was a large pool of prizes awarded. You can read the full results here.

Evening Entertainment for the Easter Regatta

The PBZ Easter Regatta (Uskrsnja Regata) is well-known for being not only a fantastic sailing regatta bringing together some of Croatia’s finest sailors, but also for its organisation and great entertainment. This year’s regatta was no different. The first night saw us partying in Hotel Park, with dinner and a DJ. The second night was definitely the highlight with the “Bodulska Večera“, which saw top chefs from the island preparing signature and traditional dishes in the Arsenal building. There was everything from škampi and mussel bužara, hand-rolled macaroni, gregada, pašticada to peka lamb; all sides of the gorgeous Arsenal building boasting food and top Hvar wines – like Ivan Dolac. Then a live band took it up a notch for a fantastic evening of singing and dancing. The final night kicked off with fireworks in the port of Hvar, followed by prizegiving. The night was actually a much ‘tamer’ atmosphere – though I think many spread the party into Hvar’s bars and clubs. Regardless, our crew still shone, as basically the only ones on the dancefloor all night!

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Photo Credit: Easter Regatta Official

Comments from our Helmsman and Trimmer

Mario Kundih: “Together with a few friends and fellow skippers, we formed Sailing Club Endemi in 2010 with the aim to participate in the Easter Regatta, this was our 9th year competing. The spark which started the story was a love for sailing and the sea. Since then, we came 1st in the Second Open Group in 2011, and came 1st in our class (Open Nauta), the last two years (now the last 3 years).

In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if we chose the right boat for the regatta but somehow, I believed in FRANKO II (First 47.7) and the crew. However, this year was always going to be a challenging race, as, for the first time there was an ORC Rating System (Handicap) for the Nauta class, which meant that each crew had to pull the absolute maximum from their boats if they wanted a good result – it was no longer enough to have the biggest or fastest boat. In short, the point of the ORC Rating System is to allow boats of different sizes and characteristics to race each other with an equal chance to win – with times corrected applying the handicap. This meant, everyone was on a similar playing field. There were a lot of great sailors in the fleet this year, so with the ORC handicap, it was a greater challenge.

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The other challenge was in the organisation of the crew and boat before the race even began. The boat didn’t have ORC certificate, so we had to organise all the measurements one week before, then we realised that the main sail was too old to race with, so, in the last minute we changed for a slightly newer sail (still old), but this sail didn’t fit our mast, so we had to change some parts… in the end, we managed all of these things and it was a good decision. We got the ORC Certificate a few days before the race. Then, heading into day 1 of racing, we still hadn’t all trained together! But somehow, we managed to pull together and make it work.

First day, we had good wind and we came 1st in two races, 2nd in one, which placed us in a very good position. Next day was navigation with lighter winds, it was very hard to make decisions about where to tack, jibe… where to go to find some wind and avoid the sea current or use it to our advantage. We crossed the line first in our class, but with the adjusted time we came 4th overall, which was still a great result because our boat was the largest and heaviest in the fleet – making it more of a challenge for us in light winds.

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Photo credit: Easter, Regatta 2019 Miro Zadravec

The last day, we had even lighter winds and were racing against our strongest opponent – Krka… we chose to go right, closer to the islands, expecting some breeze, but it was the wrong decision and all of the fleet overtook us. At the end, we knew we had good points, so we could discard this race, which means we had to wait to see Krka’s result in the final race. Krka didn’t achieve 1st place so that was enough for us to start celebrating. It was not an easy regatta and each crew member played their part in it.

I can honestly say that this was the sweetest victory on the Easter Regatta so far. I will always remember my first victory in the Open Class in 2011, but this was definitely the sweetest. And I have to thank all of my crew for this, it was an honour to be the skipper for such an amazing crew, we were really like ONE from the beginning to the very end.”

Luka Blaic: “I met Kundih 10 years ago and we have been sailing together since; I have only missed one Easter Regatta since then. Kundih’s energy and passion for sailing was something that distinguished him from other helmsmen; Kundih always gives his whole heart and makes you give the best from yourself in return – it is easy to sail with someone when you see so much passion in them.

I had a great time on this particular regatta, despite the weather, this regatta was a knot better. One of the main reasons for this was the energy between the crew.”

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Photo Credit: Tash Pericic

My Experience Aboard… 

The Atmosphere aboard Franko II was absolutely fantastic for the entire 5 days, far better than I could have asked for. It takes a lot to bring together the right mix of people, to balance personalities and expectations – particularly in sailing. Then, to set and sustain a great atmosphere aboard for a week is another thing entirely. This is a huge credit to Kundih for setting a great tone in such a diverse group (in age, experience and cultures), and also to the entire crew for the respect and good nature they brought to the table each and every day. If I was worried about being the only woman among 12 men, I shouldn’t have been. I’ve always said that the sea breeds the best humans, and is a natural setting for friendship and comradery – this last week proved this true again. The guys showed me nothing but respect, support and encouragement all week. Even drinking into the night with them, the respect and good nature never once waned.

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I took the time to learn more about sailing and observe all of the crew. Overall, what I saw was a group of guys passionate about sailing; those with more experience willing to teach and those with less experience, thirsty to learn. I witnessed humility and incredible leadership among some of those with the most experience. By this point, it goes without saying that Kundih set a great tone aboard – a calm and confident leader that didn’t feel the need to assert his authority, but rather empowered every crew member to do their job. This is easier said than done during dramatic moments.

A special mention also needs to be said for Luka Blaic our main trimmer; he was quiet until something needed to be said, everything he said had a purpose and he was happy to teach, but he was also there to jump to action with solutions when shit went wrong. His knowledge of every aspect of the boat was apparent and his humility spoke volumes; he was someone to learn from and a leader in his own right. Of course, I could say a few words about each of the crew but then this would turn into a novel. We were basically “Ocean’s 12”, everyone had a talent and contributed to the ‘whole’ – whether in singing, dancing, hilarity, humility… and of course, sailing.

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As well as the aspect of sailing and learning about race sailing, I also had a chance to have insightful conversations with each of the guys. I had first-time fathers sharing their joy and showing me photos of their little ones, other fathers telling me how much they love taking their kids sailing and instilling in them the same passion for the sea. I talked psychology and leadership skills with another sailor who is a Managing Director in his company. Had another new sailor tell me about how he can’t wait to start earning decent money so he can take his parents travelling and share new experiences with them. One of the guys explained to me how he took a risk and quit his IT job to pursue a career at sea. Almost the entire crew works at sea during summer, so we all shared experiences (good and bad) and traded ‘insider info’ of favourite restaurants, destinations etc. If you are willing to listen, everyone has a story to tell and with mutual respect, we can all appreciate what the other brings to the table.

Learning to sail and the competitive nature of regattas is just one aspect, to me, the rest is all about the people.

The Real Secret to our Success at the Easter Regatta?

I think it is clear to see by now that a huge part of the secret to our success was great leadership, teamwork and respect. I think we also didn’t take ourselves too seriously; we were all in, excited and committed to the sailing, but there was no unnecessary tension. Kundih and other key players set an overall relaxed tone, which encouraged everyone to be their best.

The other secret may possibly be gemišt… sail hard, play hard – right?! But, don’t quote me on this.

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Looking ahead to the Easter Regatta 2020

Overall, an incredible experience at the 2019 Easter Regatta in Hvar, and finishing 1st in the ORC Nauta Class was just the icing on the cake. I am grateful for being given the opportunity to join this crew in the Easter Regatta. This is how these sorts of industries move forward – by encouraging and inspiring passion in others, whether the younger generation or newer sailors like myself.

Now I’m hooked and already looking forward to the next regatta. A huge congratulations to all competitors and organisers for a fantastic event, see you all in 2020!

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Photo credit: Miro Zadravec

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Photo credit: Miro Zadravec

 All photos copyright to accredited photographers, special thanks to Miro Zadravec for being aboard with us to capture the action!

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