Photo: Igor Turčinov Stijić – Murter

LATEEN SAIL

A lasting custodian of Croatian maritime heritage

The Lateen Sail Project is an emotional departure from everything that today’s modern and sophisticated sails in our ports bring to mind, a sincere move towards heritage and everything that we once were, yet haven’t stopped being in our heart of hearts – acknowledging at the same time all the benefits of modern navigation. In an uninterrupted line running through time, this sail has kept the people from Murter and Betina in the big community of the Mediterranean peoples, making them part of an enormous maritime tradition, which they – in spite of all the changes that the Croatian Adriatic coast underwent – have never forsaken. Hopefully, they never will. And that means that Lateen Sail, in fact, is neither a boat, nor a sail; neither a race, nor a tourist festival. Lateen Sail is a reminder of a way of life, of an extraordinary place, of a spiritual world and its existence.

The waters of the Lateen Sail

Lateen Sail is the name of the association whose members – some of whom are current, and some have sadly passed away – started in 1998 a race of traditional boats which, until the early 1960s, had only used sails and oars as means of propulsion. That this kind of traditional navigation has been revived in Murter, albeit as a part of a race, is not entirely unexpected. In terms of the Adriatic, Murter has – in proportion to the number of its inhabitants – the greatest number of boats, the greatest number of wooden boats, the greatest number of boats with lateen sails and, most importantly, the greatest number of individuals, men, women and children, who can sail such a boat.

Why is it so? Murter-Kornati is a municipality whose area on the other islands in the archipelago is ten times bigger than on the principal island. It encompasses almost all the Kornati islands, Murter’s islets, Gangaro and its archipelago, as well as Modrave and Makirina on the mainland. Since the mid-seventeenth century, when the people of Murter and their neighbours from Betina came to the Kornati as tenant farmers, to the nineteenth century, when they bought off the land, to the present day, a boat has been the only means that has made it possible for people to live on two or more parts of their scattered property. Today, the Murter-Kornati municipality is the largest island municipality in the Mediterranean.

Lateen Sail, in fact, is neither a boat, nor a sail; neither a race, nor a tourist festival. Lateen Sail is a reminder of a way of life.

The first occurrences of what might be called serious boat building were recorded on the island of Murter in the early eighteenth century. It was started mainly in Betina by masters from Korčula. Since then we can follow its uninterrupted development on the island, which has today led to the opening of the Betina Museum of Wooden Shipbuilding. Shipbuilding fanned out of Betina along the coast and islands: from the neighbouring Murter eastwards to Šibenik, westwards to Biograd, Sukošan, Kukljica, Brbinj, Sali etc. An exceptionally large number of boats shaped the urban character of Murter and Betina; Betina with a large number of small shipyards, and Murter with its kilometre-long network of dry-stone piers, which, de facto, were terminals for the produce from the land the farmers owned across the sea. After all, a boat has to lie safely in a port, both in its home port and in the archipelago.

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