Interwar Lithuanian Fishermen Regattas at Sea

Romualdas Adomavičius Jr., historian from my beloved Lithuanian Sea Museum, writes about fishermen regatta at the Curonian lagoon (that I have posted here in Lithuanian).

Although this racing initiative was coming from German-speaking Memellanders but during interwar there were some attempts to make events more pro-Lithuanian. Unfortunately, invasion of the Third Reich and consecutive loss of Klaipeda followed by the World War Two and its horrific consequences to the local population, who were either killed or deported by Soviets, have stopped evolution of this initiative. The history itself has started from zero here and not all was restored.

But do not think that our fellow Valdas Japertas has no argument to Romas!

God forbid! Hence we’ve kindly got his post and collected photos to share with you. It’s not about Curonian but Baltic Sea fishermen regattas now. Ironically, while it might seem controversial with the LBS current regattas that are mainly inland, these interwar regattas at sea were truly Lithuanian, not of local Memellanders who raced in inland waters at Curonian Lagoon. And now you dare to say that Lithuanians are not a maritime nation?

For original text in Lithuanian go here.

* * *

Text and Illustrations (c) Valdas Japertas
Translation to English (c) Egidijus Nasevičius


Coastal fishermen have long enjoyed to compete not only in the quantities of fish caught but also in racing against each other in their boats so it is hard to tell a very first date of fishermen sailing race. Of course, the loser always had an excuse: He hasn’t competed at all but was resting before nets are throw, you know. Like, if he knew it is all about match-racing then he would put an effort to win, of course…

However, in 1936, The Karklininkai Fishermen Association, encouraged by Mr Zabielavičius, Referent to the Klaipėda Region Governor, has decided it is about the time to decide who is stronger in rowing and smarter in sailing and to do so not while at work but on holiday.

Fishermen boats gather near Karklininkai. From Jūra magazine, 1936 No7

So it was decided to held first race on July 4th (we say hi to Americans! –

Late afternoon, a steamship came out of the port to sea, bringing regatta committee, judges, and media on board. From Klaipėda Yacht-Club (Lithuanian, not a German one!), two sailing experts – Mr Buntinas and Mr Mikelaitis – were asked to judge in regatta. On the way to the race, six additional boats from Melnragė has tied themselves to the ship to spare their energy for racing. When the ship arrived to the race area, it was surrounded by rowing boats who already trained here, so very soon the judges and guests were rowed ashore.

When over there, the judges have inspected all sailing boats present and have divided them into two racing divisions: Six heavy boats were put into the first division and the second division consisted of remaining ten lighter boats. After the signal, fishermen brought their boats to the sea and headed to the start area.

Coastal fishing boat against the waves. From the collection of Lithuanian Sea Museum

At 7:35 p.m., the heavier boats have started to race first and the lighter ones followed in another five minutes. All boats had to cover distance of approximately 5 to 6 miles at sea. At 6 p.m., the rowing boats with four rowers and one coxswain on boards have started to race, too. The rowing boats had a shorter distance to race – approximately 2 miles.

Fishermen from Karklininkai were too fast to be chased up and in the first division Mr Mikas Zeigys won the race decisively, sailing the distance in 32 minutes. Mr Jonas Bastians was second who finished two minutes later. In the second division, Mr Jonas Kurmis and Mr Martynas Šuišelis were much ahead of the rest competitors and they have finished in 31 and 32 minutes respectively. And the fastest rowers were from Melnragė.

The winners of regatta in 1936. From Jūra magazine, 1936 No 7

In 1937, the regatta was organized in Giruliai.

The event was planed for 24th of July but Neptune wasn’t in the mood for such entertainment. Accustomed to caprices of the sea, the fishermen were not to weep and the regatta was postponed for few weeks. Meanwhile in Giruliai at the Schmits Hall, a family gathering of fishermen was attended by 160 members and guest of Fishermen Association. It is interesting that one female has presented – Mrs Klimkaitienė from Ventė cape was among the representatives.

After the official speeches of Governor Kubilius and other guests, the fishermen sat down around the dinning tables. Then congratulating addresses began from the fishermen themselves. Mr Zeigys, a representitive from Karklininkai, was first to speak.

In his speech, he also accused Neptune of being so austere and not allowing fishermen to race so he has suggested to cut Neptune’s beard. When he spoke, the curtain was risen and all the gathering saw a lively scene: Neptune was holding his trident being surrounded by two mermaids by his sides and there was a fishermen ready to trawl the amber in a background. At once few fishermen attacked Neptune, one of them grabbed Neptune’s beard while another one offered some schnapps to Neptune and finally they forced Neptune to promise them to give a better weather next time.

Whether Neptune was angry for a cropped beard or it was too much of schnapps so he has forgotten his given promise but the fishermen regatta took place in Giruliai after few months, not weeks – on September 19.

Fishermen from Melnragė, Karklininkai, Šaipiai, and Nemirseta took part in the regatta – in total 14 sailing boats (six in the first division and eight in the second division) and 3 rowing boats. Names of the winners are same as last year – Mr Bastians and Mr Kurmis – but first names differs now. The winner of the second division Mr Endrius Kurmis told about his achievement the following:

I won first place third time in a row. Last year I won in the regatta, this year in Palanga race and now again. I’ve been lucky but it is hard to win. It’s true, I don’t need to row but I need to handle the sails and, you see, there are five sandbags, each weighting 2 quintals. When sailing, you need to move these sandbags from board to board to prevent broaching. We had to brace ourselves so much. But it is good we have started last. Initially we got lost at start but later outraced others and came first.

The winner in the larger sailing boats division, 57-year-pepper-and-salt Mr. Ansas Bastian, didn’t show his joy of winning so obviously and that’s what he said with a serious face:

It’s a great sport in the regatta and we never haven’t done that before, as it’s only a second year we race. But it is fun not only to the young but also to the old fishermen to race on holidays.

Fishermen’s boats on shore in the beginning of 20th century. From the collection of Lithuanian Sea Museum

After a hard competition, Mr Mikas Tydeks, President of Melnragė Fishermen Association, has invited all participants and guests of the regatta to the sitting-room to join awards ceremony at the long dinning tables.

During the event, to the Melnragė Fishermen Association, Mr Zabielavičius handed a flag bearing the words “We stand on guard for our coast“.

The flag was taken by Mr Mikas Tydeks who thanked Mr Zabielavičius for his care of fishermen and also said:

I will hold the flag as long as I live. Not alone but we all will. Let this flag be a symbol of our unity. We, the fishermen, will stand firmly on guard for our coast!

In 1938 the fishermen regatta returned to Karklininkai. On August 6, 14 sailing boats and 2 rowing boats have raced. By the way, one sailing boat got dis-masted and had to withdraw from the race. And the winners are from the same families: Mr Bastians, Mr Kurmis, and Mr Šuišelis.

That year the regatta closing was complimented by the Karklininkai Chapter of Santara Non-Governmental Organization which arranged united bonfire and cultural program: the orchestra, few theatrical plays, recited poems, and songs to sing.

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