Sailing

”THE DRINA REGATTA 2017”, FROM PERUĆAC TO ROGAČICA
The Day when Serbia Danced
Following the tradition of ancient raftsmen on the Drina, who transported timber from the slopes of the Tara and Zvijezda down the river, a large number of people and vessels set sail every year from the dam in Perućac. It is a real carnival on the water. A rite of joy. The forcing of the novel-river... Everything is clear and elementary like the Drina. Simple and powerful, magnetic. There is a lot of singing and dancing, concerts and parties, cauldrons in which delicacies are simmered, beer cooled in the river. And one giant smile that covers it all

Text and photo: Petar Branov


It looked like the scenes that – thanks to documentary shots and, even more, filmed stories – we remembered from various historical literature. When warriors navigated various rivers to reach the enemy territory. All in boats and in the water, everyone with weapons on their shoulders, rounds with ammunition in their hands... Like on that D-Day, the landing of the Allies in Normandy, in June 1944.
It was similar here, but – fortunately – only at first glance. There were a lot of people, fewer vessels of all shapes, all kinds of flags, hustle and bustle everywhere. Instead of guns, cartons of beer and parasols were swinging on the shoulders, refrigerators and plastic barrels in the hands, were pierced on their shoulders (the necessary glass supplies are packed there). Instead of boots, the locals were sliding down toward the river in flip-flops. Instead of uniforms, t-shirts and swimwear. Instead of helmets, hats and caps of all shapes. Over the heads of those who arrived late, those who failed to put their boats into the water at the crack of dawn, on many united, rubber vessels were jumping up and down in an attempt to get as close as possible to the shore. It was important to find the appropriate place before the start. The more experienced ones placed their vessels on the stone edge of the river, knowing that the river would soon rise and their boats would be in it. Namely, by agreement, employees of Hydroelectric Power Plant ”Bajina Basta” in Perućac release larger quantities of water from the lake in front of the dam to make the navigation safer and more comfortable.
Everyone is busy everywhere, and it all looks like a giant human anthill. And, miraculously, just like the ant world, as if everything here was completely organized. Some are running to one side, others to the other, the third already victoriously, with already grilled barbecue, sit in their vessels on the water, the fourth are watching all this from the surrounding slopes with a smile and an unbridled jealousy because they, for various reasons, are not an active part of this world.
The world that arrived for their D-Day, on the Drina, the 24th ”Drina Regatta”.

THE BRIGHTNESS OF THE DRINA

Although the official program of the ”Drina Regatta 2017” started on 19 July with a lot of interesting events, the peak of this tourist festival was undoubtedly on July 22nd, at 11 am, when a real carnival on the water set sail on the Drina. According to the available data, there were about 20,000 participants on approximately 1,500 vessels that were ”strengthening the Drina” for almost four hours, 25 kilometers, from Perućac to Rogačica.
The event is based on the tradition of the ancient Drina raftsmen who, since the mid-19th century, transported the timber from the slopes of Tara and the Zvijezda down the river for sale. Then, in 1966, the Drina was harnessed with the dam of the hydroelectric power plant in Perućac, previously also taming it at Višegrad, then much further, downstream, near Zvornik. The Drinos River, the former border between the Western and Eastern Roman Empire, then Austro-Hungary and Serbia, today Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, namely the Republic of Srpska, was called by our people Zelenika or Zelenka (”the green one”) because of its unusual color. And they always used terms of endearment when talking about it, such as: ”Drina, water, noble border...”, or dreamed: ”Here brightness comes to us from the Drina...”
The tamed green-eyed shrew long awaited some new raftsmen on its shoulders. And they started, little by little. First individuals and then increasingly numerous societies of people in love with the river, after which, according to an urban legend, the famous actor Robert de Niro named his (adopted) daughter, after reading the walloping novel The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić. Improvised wooden rafts, well-patched (military) assault boats, more recent kayaks... As if everything called for a more numerous return to the river, which it deserves.
And so, almost a quarter of a century ago, matured the idea to organize rafting in the right way, and it became an important and useful part of life of the city and the region. Its initiators were the Sport and Tourism Center in Bajina Bašta and the Municipality. The extent in which this was a smart move and how much energy, knowledge and love have been invested in it, maybe best reflected in the fact that last year the ”Drina Regatta” officially became the best Serbian tourist festival. First, the Tourist Organization of Serbia, at the World Tourism Day, awarded the ”Tourist Flower 2016” to it for the best tourist event, and then the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications awarded it the ”Best of Serbia 2016” as the best tourist event for promotion of Serbia.
This was confirmed by the minister Rasim Ljajić, while opening this year’s regatta. Having listed all the mentioned records, he also added that the Regatta ”is very important from the economic point of view, because the restaurant and hotel managers in Bajina Bašta sell more products and goods during this event than during the remaining 360 days of the year”.

THE SITUATION SO ORDINARY AND SO EXCEPTIONAL

The author of this article arrived on the Drina, or regatta, for the first time as a reporter on duty. And while trying to organize his impressions and place them into a newspaper article, he can still feel the waves of laughter and joy of the participants. All the time without a moody look, cursing, regardless of the unusual crowd of people and vessels. Especially when the current ties them into a knot, so everyone is looking for the opportunity to move their ore for free sailing. And everywhere, as far as one can see, an almost universal dance. Both those on water and the crowd on the shores are singing and dancing. In most vessels there are speakers the size of a cabinet.
Vladimir Jovanović, born in Krivi Vir, about twenty kilometers from Perućac down the Drina, for the past ten years working as a policeman in Novi Sad, commands a patched rented boat, in which this journalist also is. There are ten of us in it. Bora, Zeljko, Bilja, Milentije... For the past fifteen, Vladimir has been planning every annual vacation at this time.
– The first sound I heard in my life was the sound of the Drina – he says. – Since then, I have been constantly carrying it with me and it helps me, it seems, when I am on a serious task. It calms me down and assures me that everything will be fine. The regatta is the culmination of that love. I don’t care about the sea, Seychelles, Greece and so on. For me, the Drina is border with the heaven...
While pulling a sack out of the water, tied to the boat, with cold cans of beer, a guy named Živojin, from the bow of the boat that is in the general disarray leaning on ours, is yelling that the most satisfied people today are the sellers of these transparent potato sacks because they sold all their stock. Instead of potatoes, it holds elongated tin cans.
Almost by command, participants turn to a fast black motorboat that follows the regatta. On its side there is inscription: MČS, the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations. The only emergency here is that its crew consists of four beautiful girls, blondes (it is hard to see from the distance if they are blue-eyed), in orange-white vests.  The most joyful is the aged guy with moustache who, in a t-shirt showing Putin in uniform, jumps and invites them to have a beer. They barely keep him from falling off boat.
We are not able to get our Bora into our boat. He is constantly in the water, swimming from vessel to vessel, with a smile from ear to ear. And he tirelessly woes the girls from the edge of their boat, regardless of the fact that they are in obviously serious male company. And they, the men, also respond with a smile.

TREASURE SACKS

Alongside us, we almost got pushed onto the rocky coast, carried by the current but also with own weight, and wooden rafts sails, made especially for this occasion. In it are mostly the so-called VIP guests, with neatly arranged tables, all with plates and cutlery, along with mandatory white napkins on the left. Near them, the river patrol of the Border Police and members of the Diving Center of Serbian Ministry of the Interior who carefully checked the route of the regatta in the past days. Times are not safe, and extra caution is always welcome.
The current pushes us also toward, in my opinion, the most unusual vessel on this paradise road. It’s a tiny, almost children’s boat in which an elderly man is sitting holding a little plastic paddle over its side. We call him to join us, to tie to our boat so it would be easier for him to reach Rogačica, until the end of this navigation. With a smile, he shakes the paddle and says that he has time, he is not in a hurry, wants to be on the Drina for as long as possible.
At the bridge toward Skelani, explosions are heard. Fortunately, this time, unlike some recent events, these were firecrackers, colorful ones. It was somewhere there that a stream of water was poured on my back. I turn around and I see a frustrated guy pulling out black plastic bucket from the Drina and throwing the water back at me. My guys respond in the same way, to protect me. They say it is a common game. Laughter and name calling. And dive into the water. Now they can’t do anything to me.
– I really like this – says a Macedonian girl from the boat that was tied to ours and adds that she is from Kumanovo and that this is her third time here. She cooled me down with a bucket of water...
Unfortunately, the true ball on water has its end. After all, same as everything that is (too) beautiful. Rogačica is on the horizon, crowded. There are probably more fearful Penelopes who are waiting for their Odysseys. Then there are handshakes, hugs, let’s go for another beer, exchange of phone numbers... See you next year...

***

Full like an egg
The program of this year’s ”Drina regatta” lasted from 19 to 23, or more precisely until the dawn of July 24. Organizers claim that there were about 120,000 guests in total. There was very good music, from the concert of ”Tropico Band"”, trumpet players of Petar Milićević, ”Jukebox” band from Bajina Bašta, ”Pink” stars to the climax of musical events, the concert of Zdravko Čolić and, finally, ”Neverne bebe” and ”Kerber”.
In the meantime, there were people competing in preparing fish stew, jumping from the bridge in Rača, window shopping and shopping at the Fair of Souvenirs and Crafts...

 

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