(written by Dr. Jakša Kivela)
Falkusa and Palagruza are like hands and fingers … inseparable…my father said to me. Palagruza is located about 42 nautical miles SSW of Vis. It is actually a small archipelago group called Palagruza, which sits on a shoal in the middle of Adriatic. Shallow water and a current, which mixed deeper colder water with the shallow water, and the natural marine conditions, promote a nutrient-rich area for the blue-fish groups e.g. sardines, mackerel, and pilchards. The main island has a lighthouse and there is also a weather station.
In the bygone days the fishing at Palagruza was done by an age-old method. That is, the seasonal fishing area rights were acquired and determined on the basis of who got there first. To preclude continuing problems a Regatta was held each year to start off the season. Fishing boats called Falkusa or Gajeta, raced to the island on a given day. The race was started by a cannon shot from the fort at Komiza and those boats arriving first laid claim to the best fishing spots.
was a kindly fishing boat, which was unique to Komiza, and in all the time the local builders only built it in Komiza. It was a beautifully sleek double-ended plank-on-rib wooden boat, of about seven to eight metres in length and about 3 metres wide and was fast – very fast both under sail and under oar. The Falkusas
underwater lines have the same silhouette, as the mackerel’s back – sleek and very hydrodynamic. For such as small craft it could carry up to eight tonnes of salted fish barrels. With a low draft under a large lateen sail made from flax falkusa
could surf at about eight to 12 knots.
The upper structure was covered with a low forward deck where men bunked and a smaller aft deck with an opening for the helmsman. The mid-ships were exposed leaving enough space for the mast and rigging, nets, provisions, stove, oars and oar seats. A special design feature, hence the name falkusa
meaning ‘false sides’, of this unique and indigenous fishing boat is that it had removable gunnels. These gunnels were rather tall and extended about a metre from the decks, thus creating false freeboard sides. This clever design allowed for sailing under full sail without swamping the boat on its lee side, and during fishing, gunnels could be removed to provide fairly shallow deck freeboard for hauling in the gillnets or heavy purse seines. Also, the salted sardine barrels could than be stacked and lashed on decks against the ‘false’ sides of the boat, thus doubling the carrying capacity of the relatively small craft.
When the wind conditions were poor or if the wind came from the South, (Jugo or Levantine SSE) which was often, the boats had to be rowed to Palagruza, a tough journey that usually required thirteen to sixteen hours of rowing (oars were 7-9 m in length). With a fully laden boat the return trip necessitated in a backbreaking and Herculean rowing feat of twenty-five hours (Jakov Kivela). Despite the
chronic tiredness, on occasions when the wind was fair, men’s spirits would mend. It simply meant no rowing, and despite the heavy load, the slender underwater could slice through the salty liquid at good eight to ten knots reducing the home journey to little more than seven hours, and affording the men a much welcomed reprieve from the exhausting rowing.
A typical falkusa
carried a crew of six men, who had to catch and salt, in barrels, about eight tons of sardines during the twenty to twenty-five day period before returning to make the trip financially viable. At the same time cooking washing, repairing, going to and fro one’s fishing post, and all manner of other odd jobs and duties had to be done. There was foul weather to contend with also. In actual fact, in a typical journey there were only about twelve or so days
left for the actual fishing.
On average, the men had to catch, salt, and store about 500 kilos of
sardines every day. The sixth man was usually an old craggy fisherman who was well past his seagoing days but who
“Like the aged and weather-beaten fishermen and fisherwomen the last
falkusa, as was the custom of old, was laid to rest*
to honour Saint Nicholas at Muster; our Patron… Komiza’s nono;
… And with it laid in rest the toil and dreams;
The strapping young men with their backs to the summer sun,
With their youthful innocence of the world unknown and yet
to be known;
And a legacy that allured Komizans to sea;
Oh… and the bitter disappointments and resolves …
the baškot**…the sturdiness of it all;
The loves and sweethearts who waived them off from
the beaches of pebble;
And the lives and times of an epoch unrepeated to be….
Was at long last on a wisp of smoke at eternal rest.”
* the last falkusa was burned in 1989 to honour Saint Nicholas
** double-baked bread similar to the English navy’s biscuit
had little choice, and who was too old to even think about fishing, but who could cook and wash for the crew.
And so the end was swift...