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Gajeta Falkuša | by Mediterraneo
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Gajeta Falkuša

This beauty is a very special boat with a long history…


The name Palagruža is associated not only with the main island of the small group of islands and rocks in the open sea of middle Adriatic, or with the grave of the famous Diomedes, a Greek hero from the Trojan War, but also with a millennium history of navigation across the Adriatic. This is the history of the struggle for survival of the fishermen from Komiža (small town on the Island of Vis) who used to fish sardines in their very special boats built for fishing at Palagruža.


The Palagruža group of islands and rocks consists of two islands, Vela (big) and Mala (small) Palagruža, and 13 rocks. Although the Palagruža is nearer the Italian coast and islands (29 nautical miles [NM] to Monte Gargano and 21.5 NM to the Island of Pianosa) than to the Croatian coast and islands (60 NM to Pelješac and 25 NM to the Is land of Šušac) it belongs to Croatia because it was traditionally Komiža’s fishery.


This large area of the open sea in the middle Adriatic is Croatian territorial sea.


Komiža's fishermen used this special boat “falkuša” which was suitable both for open sea sailing and coastal net fishing. Falkuša was a slender, 8-9.5 m long, open vessel with a sharp fore and aft. She was fitted with “falks”, removable planks running from stem to stern, which in creased the height of sides by half a meter, making it possible the cross the open sea from Komiža to Palagruža and back. On arrival to Palagruža, the fishermen would take the “falks” away, making her a low fishing boat. Falkuša had a five member crew and was equipped with 4 oars, removable mast, bowsprit, and 120 m2 of sails (Latin sail and gib)


Between 50 and 100 “falkuša” vessels used to fish near Palagruža, spending there three weeks of dark. In case of sirocco the fishermen had to run their boats ashore at one of the two Palagruža's beaches, where there was not enough space for all of them. They also had to build provisional barracks or use caves to store barrels of salted sardines and equipment.


Who gets the best place at Palagruža was decided by fishermen's regatta, which required strength, extreme endurance and sailing crafts manship. It was probably the longest rowing regatta in the world, taking between 10 and 15 hours of rowing. When there was a favorable mistral, a falkuša could arrive at Palagruža in 5 hours, with sailing a speed of more than 8 knots. The regatta winner was entitled to the best place on the Palagruža beaches, and the other places were taken in the order of arrival. Because it was not possible to keep the boat riding on anchor during strong sirocco, the crews last arriving had to keep rowing their boats for as long as a few days in the shelter of the island.


The fishermen had to take 3 weeks' supplies. Each boat took 25 barrels of salt, 80-100 empty barrels for salting sardines, 5 nets, 4 beams and lifting tackle for pulling out the boat, kit for mending the boat, 2 barrels of water, biscuits, oil, wine, and other provisions. Even fire wood had to be brought to Palagruža. The only medical supply was 2 kg of rice and some chamomile, the remedy in case of diarrhoea.


The last regatta was held in 1936. Engines and modern nets have now completely changed sardine fishing, and Komiža's fishermen have adapted themselves successfully to new fishing methods.


The last falkuša sank during a storm in 1986. Her remains with complete equipment can be seen in Komiža's fishermen museum.


Split, Dalmatia, Croatia

Exakta VX1000 + Meyer Gorlitz Lydith 30/3.5 + Kodak Gold 100 + Hoya polarisation filter


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Taken on December 27, 2006