Our Characters of the Sea series is set on bringing you different characters from all walks of life who have some affiliation, connection or passion for the sea and not all are as obvious as the salty-seadogs. Take this week’s character Luka Grubor for example, you may be wondering what a former Great Britain Olympic rower and the Adriatic have in common? Well, read on and find out.
I met Luka Grubor at the beginning of the year in relation to the University rowing and Oxford-Cambridge-Split Legends race. And while rowing is not technically related to the sea, the Legends Race does take place on the Adriatic, I knew Luka has worked in the sailing and charter business and he now lives beside the sea in Split, so I think he more than qualifies as a Character of the Sea. I met up with Luka to learn a little more about his story.
So, how does a Zagreb-born, Great Britain Olympian, end up living in Split?
The move from Zagreb to Split was definitely not a typical route…
I came to Split via London [from Zagreb] over around 20 years. After school in Croatia, I went to the UK to study, I went to Imperial College and then studied at Oxford. After my athletic career – including rowing for Great Britain at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, I began working in the sailing and charter business in Fulham and Chelsea. Eventually, the job demanded that I spend more time in Split. After spending over a year commuting on a weekly basis, 180-something flights and a Platinum Lufthansa card, it only made sense to rent a place in Split and by 2007 I had moved into the old town.
Tell us about rowing and how you started a rowing regatta that takes place on the Adriatic (just quietly, one of the best settings in the world)?
Bizarrely, I started rowing in Zagreb, I was the last year to row for Yugoslavia in the Junior World Championships, I rowed for Croatia as an Under-23 Senior and then I rowed for Oxford and Great Britain at the 2000 Olympics. Actually, fun fact – in a very geeky sense, I am the answer to Sudoku questions in some publications – “who has represented 3 countries in rowing?”
While I loved rowing and it was my life for a very long time, it was actually my connection to sailing which brought me back to Croatia. But the rowing regatta was a fun way to get everyone over to Croatia, especially from 2007 when I officially moved here.
Luka Grubor, along with Toni Gamulin set out not only to create a great University Sports event of the highest calibre but an excellent event in general, attractive to spectators and competitors alike. This year the Saint Duje International Rowing Regatta was in its 12th year and again proved to be another success!
What started out as a selfish endeavour to get some mates over, turned out to be a very positive thing. Because of the event many UK students and former rowing legends now have a connection to Croatia, Ben Smith (past competitor) met his wife at the event and they are now moving here and another friend and rower – Alex Groves, got married here in the summer.
See the legends’ thoughts on the Regatta and Split below
Last year, Luka Grubor also organised an adventure sailing holiday in November (yes, out of the summer season) with a bunch of the ‘lads’ (all ex-athletes) which encompassed sailing, kayaking, and biking around the central Dalmatian islands. You can look forward to this story from his perspective coming soon.
And tell me about working in the charter business?
Like I said, I began working from the UK before I eventually moved to Split to help manage the business. We built a charter company in Kaštela and it really is one part of tourism which has stayed the mark. Sail-Croatia (not to be confused with the Antipodean Sail Croatia), at its peak, had 50 yachts in Šibenik and Split as well as an excursion company.
Over the years, we sorted out the company and systems to own fewer boats but established a great boat management program. We were maybe one of the first to truly establish ‘transparency’ – which our clients really appreciate. Our clients mostly come from the UK and Norway, they leave their boats with us, we manage, maintain and charter their boats accordingly.
From what I know about the charter business, it is an extremely dynamic job and environment, what has it taught you?
From the outset, the charter business seems simple enough – take care of boats, rent them to guests, deal with skippers and crew… but working in the role taught me that there is so much to it, you need to be hands-on and adaptable.
Everyone’s job profile changes throughout the season depending on what is required of them – i.e. for mechanics, in the winter they take the boats apart and get stuck into maintenance, whereas in the summer, they are dealing with accidents at sea and idiotic damage to boats. Our receptionists are so much more – they are IT and social-media literate, speak 5 languages, know where all 30 boats are at any given time and exactly what attention they need, they also deal with a lot of conflict resolution ALL while trying to be a friendly host!
“You develop exceptional and diverse skills in this role.”
Which brings me to the next point – we often hear in Croatia about a lack of talents and also that there are programs that support and educate in the kind of work we do (which may help to an extent), but if Charter has taught me anything, it’s that you learn by doing. If I tried to tell my staff from a ‘handbook’ what they should be doing, they would laugh at me! You can absorb principles from a book, but in practice, it can look very different.
What about your connection to the sea, did this come from chartering, rowing, or…?
My only holidays with my Dad as a child were on a boat in this part of the Adriatic. He was of the school of thought that the engine is the auxiliary power system; so, even if there is no wind and it will take 12-hours to get to Sušac, then it is going to take 12-hours to get to Sušac and I loved it.
“The sea really taught me that it is the best plug-in you can have to basic reality”
I can never get enough of being at sea and that connection makes you an outdoors person in general, the kind of person who doesn’t mind getting up in the cold, dark or rain to get outside and be active. Also, if I have a friend who is having a hard time or a group of friends who need a break from their job, put those people on a boat and they start helping each other out which is a shift from normal life where it can sometimes be a dog-eat-dog world. On a boat, you have every reason to help out the guy next to you because the sea is bigger than all of us and even the typically calm Adriatic can pick up and remind you of who is Boss.
“The sea challenges you and your ego and shows that you’re not such a big deal, it’s just a really healthy way to reconnect and get perspective”
Thank you Luka for sharing your story with us, yet another example of how the sea insipres us all.