Women’s Regatta, Celebrating the Grit of our Grandmothers

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The Women’s Rowing Regatta held in Krapanj on the 1st August every year, is a beautiful tradition to respect and celebrate the true grit of Babas (grandmothers) gone by.

When I saw the picture in the header, I was instantly intrigued – who were these women, why are they rowing, where are they going and where are the men?

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I am fast discovering, that nothing in Croatia is ‘just because’ and everything has a wonderful story attached to it, so I was excited to find these answers. I reached out to the woman who posted the picture – Milena Mratiić, to learn more (yes, I am aware I could have used google, but where is the fun in that?)

The “Regata u Ženskom Veslanju” – ‘U Susret Gospi od Anđela’ or the “Women’s Rowing Regatta, Towards the Feast of Our lady of the Angels” has been held on August 1st, every year since 2012. In speaking to Milena, I learnt what it was all about.

The island of Krapanj lies just south of Šibenik, it is the smallest island with a surface of less than 0.5 km2 and it is also the ‘lowest’ island – rising a mere 1.5 m above sea level. Nowadays it has less than 200 inhabitants, but in the latter part of the 20th Century, it was one of the most densely populated islands (relative to its size of course), with a population of over 1,700 people.

What most people know of Krapanj is that it has a rich maritime history linked to deep-sea diving for sponges dating back more than 300 years. Diving was a tradition for the men in most every family, who would risk their lives daily, diving at depths of more than 40 metres.

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Collected sponges, drying in the sun.

But this isn’t today’s focus, today we turn our gaze to the women.

Sitting with Milena over coffee – whose family is from Krapanj, she explained that while everyone knows Krapanj for deep-sea diving for sponges, there is a part of history that is overlooked – the women. Living on the island of Krapanj was not an easy life, the island was essentially barren, very little grew there, the majority of their crops and agriculture was on the mainland.

As it was the women’s duty to take care of the household and family, this included harvesting and gathering the crops – which meant picking up the oars and rowing across to the mainland. You would assume this would be the men’s role, but due to their dangerous jobs at sea, the men rather took their place at the bow or stern of the boat, leaving all the rowing up to the women.

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Their days could start as early as 2am and once they were finished in the fields, they would need to row back and then continue taking care of the household and children. I will never complain about my working day again!

The idea of starting the women’s regatta came to Milena one day when she and her husband, rowed from the mainland to Krapanj; unlike history, it was her husband on the oar, while Milena sat back and enjoyed – as she should!

“As we approached the dock, I could see an old woman standing there with her hands on her hips, shaking her head at me, I couldn’t understand what was wrong. When we reached the dock, she said to me – “Who taught you that? To let your husband row, shame on you.” She was referring to the tradition of women rowing.

It made me think, there are no stories or traditions celebrating the hardworking women of Krapanj, so I thought how great it would be to hold a women’s regatta to do so!”

The first regatta was held in 2012 and has been growing in numbers ever since, last year it saw more than 40 participants on seven traditional boats ‘gajeta’, the oldest participant was a strong ‘Baba’ at 77 years young, she was more than happy to pick up the oar in honour of generations of women gone by.

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Zeljko Krncevic Photography

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Zeljko Krncevic Photography

The Regatta falls on August 1st every year, the day before the largest celebration on the island – the Krapanjska Fešta which celebrates ‘Our Lady of Angels’ hence the name of the Regatta – ‘towards the feast of our lady of Angels’. The Regatta is also made bright and beautiful by the traditional costumes and dress created by local designers and of course there is music, food and dancing – like any great Croatian fešta.

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Zeljko Krncevic Photography; Milena pictured far right with local designer and rowing participants in traditional dress.

I am personally in love with the idea of this regatta, as too often in history, the role of the women is played down, yet as we women know – we are the heart, soul and foundation of every great culture and civilisation (even if I do say so myself). It is not surprising however, that Milena is the organiser of this, as she is also one of the leading organisers of Splitski Cvit – an award to recognise the achievements of Split women.

If you find yourself in or around Šibenik on the 1st August, place this in your calendar, all are welcome to come and celebrate one of the heartier tales of Croatian history.

For more information, see the event details here.


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