The love for unexplored spaces and the enormous strength of will for Nenad Vlahović were enough for an epic endeavor. As the first Croat to sail around the world in a sports sailboat, built with his own hands, he experienced what many can only dream of. In the fifth decade of his life, he set out on a journey, without much experience in sailing, but with great desire and exceptional ability. His success is evidenced by 3 years of sailing, with 26,000 nautical miles and 4 books called The Call of the Distant Shores, Around the World in a Sailboat (you can find more about the books at www.zovdalekihobala.com).
My trip around the world was anything but pleasant and safe, both at sea and on landNenad Vlahović
- You have participated with great success in many European and world championships in dancesport, and today you are also a coach, so it can be said that dance is your love and way of life. Considering that in dance sport you need a partner, is it also needed on the high seas?
The stories that we sports dancers express with movement are most often love stories of seduction between a man and a woman, so it’s no wonder that two people in a dance couple often join in a life partnership. It was the same with me and my partner Vesna Gojsović. The two of us were completely dedicated to dance and in our desire to become world champions, we moved to London to train there with the best coaches in the world. However, the way men go towards success is different from the way women do, so Vesna and I often disagreed over how and how much to train and in the end we gave up on the whole thing. I had similar fantasies with my initial ideas about sailing around the world. I am a great romantic, so my initial plan was to search for the “most beautiful place in the world” with the love of my life and our children, far from the Western civilization (which in my opinion does not provide the right way to live) and live there on our boat. If we had enough of that place, we would raise the anchor and look for another, better destination. It is said that a woman on the boat is a misfortune. In my opinion, it is a misfortune when there are no women on board! Every boat simply flourishes when a female person is aboard.Nenad Vlahović
Due to a combination of circumstances, I was forced to give up on this idea of life at sea and turn everything into “ordinary” sailing around the world, sailing from one destination to another in the same direction, until I returned to the same place I’d started from.
- What pushed you forward in situations when you thought it was too much of a challenge and that it would be best to give up and return?
My trip around the world was anything but pleasant and safe, both at sea and on land. On the trip, I did not want to be a tourist who would only visit historical buildings and museums. I was actually driven by the passion of discovering and experiencing firsthand of something new – a new world and a new life. In my quest for something new and better, I often consciously risked being seriously injured. In almost three years, as long as the trip lasted, I found myself in many potentially life-threatening situations – from natural forces, from wild animals, and from people. However, what bothered me the most came from the fact that I set out to sail the world with very little experience in boat handling skills. My only connection to the sea before I started building the boat was a leisure splash on the beach during summer. As I managed to finish building a boat after 10 years, my life situation (along with the time suitable for sailing) became such that I could either set off on the trip around the world immediately or I would never set off at all. And so I set off, not having even nearly enough knowledge or experience for something like that. Sailing from one destination to another, I always felt some irrational fear – not of death or pain – but some serious discomfort that I would not be able to do something, or simply would not know how, or that I would face something I had no idea existed. On such occasions, I would often swear to myself that when I reached the next piece of dry land, I would sell, sink or set fire to my boat, and return home by plane. But then, when I finally reached my desired destination and dropped anchor in a quiet cove, the only thing I would think about was what I would experience on land. I could hardly wait to reach it and I would forget all my problems at once and immediately break all my vows while approaching a new exotic place in a small dinghy.Nenad Vlahović
- How did you spend your time on the sailboat, what was your daily routine, starting from eating to relaxing?
Before leaving for the trip, many great sailing connoisseurs wondered why I wanted to go on “something that is so boring”, such as sailing the vast seas. They said I would die of boredom … My experience is that there was never enough time. There would always be finishing or repairing something on the boat, where you should at the same time live, eat, maintain personal hygiene and keep the small space tidy. It was also necessary every day to enter the position of the boat on the map, and that was a rather cheerful part of the day that I eagerly anticipated because I would see the length of the new line towards the desired destination. An activity that certainly belonged to my daily routine on the boat and that took me at least an hour or two was also writing a log in which I described in detail the events of the previous day. I would then send that text via satellite internet to my homeland so that my family, friends, and followers of my trip could find out in real-time what was happening. In this way, a diary of 2,700 pages of text was created, which I am now shortening and turning into 4 books under the common title The Call of the Distant Shores, Around the World in a Sailboat. The first two have come out and people say they are good and interesting. I am currently working on the third book, and the fourth one is waiting for a bit better and less turbulent times. At sea, there was screaming at big waves and bad sea conditions, not every day, but certainly more often than I wanted. In this way, I got rid of the accumulated frustration and exhaustion in extremely difficult sailing conditions. There was also fishing, of course, but when a fish of ten or more kilograms is scaled in the conditions of constant rocking of the boat and in a small space, everything gets dirty. On the other hand, there was no refrigerator on board, so the whole galley would be smeared while marinating delicious fresh fish. As I am no gourmand, I eventually gave up fishing and stayed only on rice, pasta, and canned food.Nenad Vlahović
If it miraculously happened that I had some time to spare (as well as will and strength) to do anything else, I would read books. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is my favorite writer, for example, his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Finally, the description of spending time on a sailboat would certainly be incomplete if I did not mention my strict captain’s principles, saving electricity and drinking water. Their quantity on any smaller boat is necessarily quite limited, so it was allowed to switch on the boat lights only in cases of great necessity, and everything that needed to be washed was washed in seawater.
- What are you more proud of after such a big undertaking: is it the fact that you are a part of history as the second Croat who sailed the world on a sports sailboat, or do you find more satisfaction in getting to know yourself and the world?
I have never thought of my voyage around the world that way. In fact, I was not even aware that I was the second Croat to sail around the world on a sports sailboat (the first was our legendary captain Joža Horvat on his Besa). It was only later, a few years after my return, in a casual conversation, that a good friend of mine drew my attention to this fact. At first I didn’t believe it, and I didn’t even think that sailing around the world in a sailboat made with my own hands, without any previous experience in shipbuilding, sailing or sailing skills, is actually an incredibly rare case, even in the world. But all that doesn’t really mean much to me and I use that information to promote something else – my approach to life and things that matter, rather than promoting my own specialness. I also wanted to experience adrenaline, as well as foolishly prove my masculinity and strength, and I succeeded in that, even more than I had hoped.Nenad Vlahović
Nevertheless, experiences and new insights have left an indelible impact on my way of thinking today. After almost three years of living at sea, I completely forgot what it was like to live on dry land, so at first I felt more like a zombie than a man. I can no longer accept many things as normal. For example, this abundance that we live in is a burden to me because I know that it stems from great injustice towards the “underdeveloped” parts of the world. For me, people from those parts are not just nameless characters from photos or videos in media reports. I have met some of them and I know how nice they are, and how much they, like all of us, have their needs and desires and hopes. And when these dear people in their poverty offered me everything they have, I was ashamed to be white many times.
And so, it was obviously much easier for me to deal with big storms and waves, wild and dangerous animals, pirates, criminals, angry fathers and fickle girls, tough customs officers and other misfortunes than now with this ‘dry-land life’. Even life-threatening situations and severe exhaustion in extreme conditions belong to what I still remember with great pleasure. Because there were countless wonderful moments on my journey and all in all, in short – I would do the same thing again today. Right now!
What I am proud of is the incredibly large number of people who stood behind me and my crazy ideas to build a boat and sail the world in it. I would never have succeeded if so many friends and acquaintances, parents, as well as just adventure, the sea or sailing enthusiasts had not selflessly lent a hand so that I could make my dreams come true. So I can freely say that I am honored primarily by the support and faith of all these people in me and my project.
However, my greatest discovery, self-realization that most likely would not have happened to me if I had not realized my big boyhood dream of sailing around the world, happened to me after returning to my homeland. Eleven years ago, I had a wonderful son. His name is Matija, he is in the 5th grade now and it is not enough to say that he is perfect for me in every way. It completely turned my life upside down, for the better in each segment. But even at a very young age, I used to say that a real life must give a person more than the classic routine: finish school, serve in the army, get a job and get married, and then spend your whole life working hard to support your wife and children. After everything I have experienced in my life, after considerable sports success and the whole experience of sailing around the world, I can say that there really is nothing bigger and more beautiful in life than having a family and children.
A diary of 2,700 pages of text, under the common title The Call of the Distant Shores, Around the World in a SailboatNenad Vlahović
- Which part of the planet have you not visited, and would you like to?
I have always been in love with travel, both by land, air and now by sea, and so far I have visited a total of 52 countries on all continents. I have been everywhere, from glittering Las Vegas, traditional-futuristic Japan to uninhabited deserts, mountains and jungles … I am attracted most to pristine nature, where there are still wild animals, as far away from modern people as possible. My favorite destination on the trip around the world was the Orinoco delta in Venezuela. We sailed through this area of the South American rainforest just like the first explorers, without guides, maps, or great knowledge of how to navigate such wilderness. It was wonderful, I also had an encounter with a jaguar in the jungle, we hunted crocodiles, hung out with the indigenous Warao Indians from whom I even got two parrots, yellow-headed amazons. I was so delighted with everything that surrounded me there that I seriously thought about staying there, but the danger of malaria, cholera and who knows what other local diseases made me return to safer places.Nenad Vlahović
Of all the places inhabited by humans, these would be the areas that Western civilization has not yet changed. Where people are still turned to each other, where everyone still gathers together to help an individual, where they look each other in the eye and everyone knows and greets each other, where there is no envy, and where the spirit of community still exists. Some may call such areas underdeveloped and economically backward, but there, miraculously, there is still a principle according to which one is happy with what one has, and not unhappy about what one does not have.
If there were more such places and people, the world would be a much better place.
Experiences and new insights have left an indelible impact on my way of thinking todayNenad Vlahović