On Monday 22nd April 2019, sad news spread along the coast with Jugo that Željko Jerat, the man who spearheaded the revival of the Lateen sails and gave so much to his community and the sea, passed away.
Željko Jerat was viewed as a visionary and leader by many. When most move away to study and never return, Željko returned from studying engineering in Zagreb, back to his “malo misto” (small place) of Murter. For the past two decades, it is from here that Željko revived the story of the Lateen Sails and played a vital role in preserving the maritime traditions in Murter and surrounding areas.
More than two decades ago, Dr. Vladimir Skračić had the idea that a regatta should be held alongside the anniversary of the Patron Saint Michael, to recognise the traditional sailing vessels which symbolised the life of Murter, and preserve the heritage of the region. This idea grew to reality, thanks to a team of enthusiasts spearheaded by Željko Jerat.
At that time, there were only three boats with Lateen sails on Murter, but thanks to a push from Jerat and others, four more traditional boats were restored just in time, so there were seven boats for the first “Latinsko Idro” (Lateen Sails Regatta). In time, this event has grown to a point where it now features 77 boats, not only from Murter, but also from Krk, Rab and Vis. This project united people from all across the Adriatic to restore these boats and keep a piece of priceless island history alive.
In an article by Sibenski Dalmacija, Jordanka Grubač described Jerat as a man with “seemingly limitless energy, infinite actions, endless devotion and loyalty to traditions and the sea… a man with exceptional organisational skills, a generous spirit, honesty and unbounded enthusiasm, right ‘til his end”.
“Every house in Vrulje which did not have a boat, knew that the olives would make it to the press in Murter if Željko was there with his leut. There was no sea nor cargo that Željko and “Jaruh” couldn’t do. And certainly, no lateen sail regatta that they couldn’t win.”
He held many prestigious titles in his time, founded one of the first charters in the region, which created many jobs for Murter locals, he was Head of the Croatian Charter Association, head of the Murter Tourist Board and of course, president of the Latinkso Idro Association – which has kept the story of the Lateen Sails alive for 21 years.
Željko Jerat was truly a character of the sea and man of the people, who will be sorely missed by the entire community.
In 2017, in an interview with Slobodna Dalmacija, when asked about the future of the regatta, Jerat said the same question needs to be posed to the public, the local authorities and the state institutions:
“How much do we actually care and are we ready for the next step?”
We wrote a post about whether Croatia should brand its traditional boats and regattas like they do in Sète, France – an event and manifestation which attracts close to half a million guests over Easter. Two years later, and not much has been done but hardly surprising considering the Croatian Tourism Board can’t even use Game of Thrones to their advantage.
If anything, I wouldn’t mind if Croatia didn’t brand itself as Game of Thrones country, but rather cherished, revived and promoted the incredible traditions and heritage that it has – like the story of the Lateen Sails. Maritime traditions and shipbuilding were a huge part of Dalmatia’s history. The Betina Museum in Murter, with its restored Gajeta and interactive and educational programs is a testament to this, but the “Latinsko Idro” (Lateen Sails Regatta), is something else – a living testament, history in motion, something to be seen, felt and experienced. Croatia has men like Željko Jerat to thank for this and should be doing more with this.
We know his spirit will live on in those who knew him, and can only hope his work and passion will not be lost, but rather continued and pushed forward by the next generation. The country at large could take inspiration from Željko Jerat and this story.
Mirno More Željko.