Croatian ‘batana’ boat coming to Wooden Boat Festival

Posted 9/8/22

A boat unlike any other will be displayed front and center at this year’s Wooden Boat Festival.

This year’s festival is themed in honor of the Croatian influence in the Salish Sea and …

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Croatian ‘batana’ boat coming to Wooden Boat Festival


A boat unlike any other will be displayed front and center at this year’s Wooden Boat Festival.

This year’s festival is themed in honor of the Croatian influence in the Salish Sea and to that end a Croatian Fishing Village exhibition will be the centerpiece of the event including a “batana” — a traditional Croatian fishing skiff — as the crown jewel.

Michael Vlahovich, born in Tacoma but now a permanent Croatian citizen, is the vice president of Maritima Educare, a nonprofit located in the fishing village of Sumartin on the island of Brac, Croatia. Vlahovich and other members of the group worked together with the Wooden Boat Festival to design and build a brand new boat in the Croatian style specifically for the festival.

“It’s of Croatian design, built strictly for fishing. A two-person operation,” Vlahovich said.

“They fished with nets and pots and maybe hook and line. This design was first written about in Croatia in 1751, so it’s been around a while,” he said. “I’m not going to call it a strict reproduction, but I didn’t want it to look like a brand new boat. We’re trying to tell a story.”

To make sure it had that Old World feel, they used old growth Douglas Fir milled in Port Townsend at Pacific Northwest Timbers, who were generous enough to donate all of the lumber.

“We chose that because, Number One, we wanted to make an environmental statement; we didn’t want to see another tree cut down to do this. The lumber is probably over 100 years old,” Vlahovich said.

While it may not be the only reason they chose to donate what Vlahovich estimates to be $10,000 worth of Douglas Fir, it is worth noting that co-owner Jake Jacob’s mother is Croatian.

“The Croatian connection has assisted this project quite a bit,” Vlahovich said with a laugh.

Croatians first arrived in the Puget Sound in the 1880s when young men, around 17 and 18 years old, came over with their fishing and boat building skills.

“I’m sure word spread quickly that there were a lot of fish to catch here and that there were still virgin old growth forests,” Vlahovich said, recounting that at that time the Adriatic Sea had been pretty much fished out and the forests had been cut down over the centuries by invaders.

“You would come here, I would think, and it would be like paradise,” he said.

Another historic part of the construction of the boat was Vlahovich’s refusal to let any glue touch the vessel, while also disallowing the use of belt sanders.

“I’m such a traditionalist,” Vlahovich said. “It’s a little rough and tumble and that’s the way I wanted it. I wanted it to look maybe a little bit more like it was built a few hundred years ago when they didn’t have all the modern materials and the modern tools.”

He did, however, admit to using a band saw and table saw for big cuts. But when it came to the hand work they tried to stay with traditional hand tools.

“There’s still marks on it from the planer and marks on from a hand saw, and I wanted that to show,” he said.

While they were not able to secure a place in Port Townsend to do the actual work of building the boat, the Gig Harbor BoatShop, a nonprofit celebrating the historic working waterfront and craft of wooden boat building, was able to offer their space for the construction.

The sail, however, was made in Port Townsend by Emiliano Marino of the Artful Sailor.

Vlahovich hopes that the project will be the beginning of an international maritime exchange.

“Croatia comes here to build the boat and engage with the public and the next step would be for people from Puget Sound to come to Croatia and help with a project,” Vlahovich said. “That’s a dream, but not totally a dream because we feel like we’ve accomplished the first step of that.”

Croatia has long been a popular tourist destination, but Vlahovich aims to show a different side through this dreamed exchange.

“When people come and do something with us, they are in the midst of an entirely different culture which is quite intriguing,” Vlahovich said. “What we want to offer is an opportunity for people to become immersed, and not only in some educational programs, but also within this extremely traditional shipyard in Croatia.”

Vlahovich will be stationed next to the boat throughout the festival and if people want to know more, he’s more than happy to have them stop by and chat.

To learn more about Maritima Educare and the work they do, go to


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