Welcome to Krilo Jesenice – Town with Most Boats per Capita in Croatia

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This small town is the centre of Croatian nautical tourism 

If you’ve ever driven along the Croatian coast from Split down to Omiš or Makarska, you probably noticed a very small harbour filled with multi-million dollar mini cruisers glistening in the sun. This town is called Krlio Jesenice, and we decided to visit it on March 5, 2016.

It might be a town with the highest number of bank loans in the country, but trust me, no one is sweating over that fact, instead, they keep taking out new loans and investing. It is also a town with the highest number of boats per capita in Croatia, maybe even in Europe, and with each passing year 10 more boats are added to this picturesque Mediterranean harbour. Let me put it in terms that will give you an even clearer picture – in Krilo Jesenice, every 6th person (man, woman, child) owns a mini cruiser and this is an industry that has been putting food on their table for generations. Before tourism, they owned sand transporting ships so they’ve always lived by and from the sea.

As I walk along the piers which they’ve built themselves, looking at the grand mini cruisers neatly folded like sardines in a can, I can see entire families working on them, painting, replacing wood panels on main decks and not even the harsh jugo wind could mess with their repair schedule. The season is nearing and every single boat has to be ready because some of them will start going out on their weekly charter routes as early as April.

Arsen Ercegović, president of the Croatian Association of private boat owners and resident of Krilo Jesenice shared the story behind all these multi-million dollar beauties in the harbour:

“Every family in this town is in tourism. Most own large tourist boats and if you come to Krilo Jesenice on any weekday during summer, you won’t see many people because they not only own the boats, entire families work on them too. Last season we had 10 new boats in the harbour and this year we have 8 more bringing the total to 120. They are all up to 45 metres long, some are high-class 5-6 cabin yachts and others are mini cruisers that can take up to 36 guests, but they are all luxury boats and a very recognisable product that is drawing guests from all over the world. Most boats are worth more than 5 million euros and were financed with loans issued by the Split-Dalmatia County or the Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development since these institutions were the first to recognise the importance of this product for Croatian tourism in general”.

Arsen Ercegović

Predictions for the season?

“If we look at the current bookings and the speed in which the enquiries are coming in, I’d say it’s going to be a very good season, probably even better than last year’s”.

So how did this great tourism story in Krilo Jesenice start? To get an answer to that question we have to go back to the 1950s. This area was known for their sand transporting ships but it wasn’t until Ante Ercegović caved in to the constant requests of an Austrian doctor to take his family cruising around Kornati islands that they started thinking of tourism as their future: “I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I emptied all the sand bags from the boat, gave it a thorough wash, loaded as many barrels of water as I could fit, improvised a few beds and said a few Hail Maries before we set sail. His entire family loved the cruise, we stayed much longer than originally planned so I thought to myself, I could actually do this every summer. And in winter, I would go back to my regular sand transporting route. Since I wanted everything to be legit, I went to the Port Authority to register the boat for passenger transport. Everyone looked at me as if I just told them I saw an alien. You have to remember, those were communist times and tourism was not such a big deal back then so they had no idea how to go about registering a boat for this particular use. In the end, they figured it out and I can now say that I had the first boat ever registered for transport of tourists, and that was in 1958”. I asked Mr Ercegović a few years back if he can explain why Croatian shipowners and shipbuilders always seem to have to follow laws and regulations that cause more harm than good, and he said something I will remember for the rest of my life: “My child, that’s what happens when laws that have anything to do with our sea are written by the people who cannot swim”.

Ante Ercegović

Ante Ercegović’s entire family is in nautical tourism and the latest boat, luxurious Navilux, which was built in Croatian shipyards, is run by his grandchildren. A week on this boat will set you back 50 000 euros, however, booking is more than good so they are obviously giving their customers an unforgettable experience and fantastic value for money, just like all other boat owners in this town.

I asked in the local cafe who is the largest boat owner in  town and 10 people yelled out: Ante Rakuljić Šuga! But make sure you write Šuga (not a really nice nickname considering it means mange or scab) because there are 10 other people with the same name in this town! Ok, Ante Rakuljić Šuga it is. He owns 6 boats, and he has no intention to stop there. Business is good, the family is getting bigger, and here, boats are passed on from one generation to the next like a dowry.

Out of 120 boats in the harbour, they are all working well, and during summer you won’t see them back in the main port unless they are picking up supplies: “More than 700 people work on our boats during summer, and almost as many of them in winter because boats need to be repaired, refurbished and brought back into top condition. We are nowhere near done, more boats are coming. We keep pushing each other forward, it’s a very healthy kind of competition. Everyone knows this business inside and out and that is why we are not afraid to get new, larger loans to get better boats. We don’t fish, no one here can fish to save their life but we know boats” says Arsen Ercegović

Future Krilo Jesenice harbour

Now if only their drive and optimism were followed by the institutions…Their harbour is getting smaller, boats are getting bigger. Everything in this harbour, including all piers and expansions, was built by the boat owners while, for the last 10 years, the institutions were busy visiting them and talking about new expansions. Master plans were changed and then changed again, but no one is able to tell them when any kind of work will commence. In the meantime, this group of hard working people is fighting and saying that no one ever failed in Krilo so as long as there is room for one more boat they will keep building new boats since they are now a tourism force to be reckoned with.






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