Jelsa intends to establish a marina within the harbour, which will certainly be an asset for nautical tourism in this part of Hvar Island. In this context, a little piece of history from Jelsa’s rich maritime tradition may be of interest to our visitors: it is the story of the Jelsan cutter “Mica” (pronounced Mee - tsah), which was registered in the Monarchy’s elite naval yacht club, the “Yacht-Geschwader”. This was an exclusive imperial and royal yacht squadron at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
„Mica“, built in the Starigrad shipyard called Babare and launched in 1877, was owned by the Mayor of Jelsa, Captain Niko, a knight from the noble family Duboković, who was the only individual Croat among that elite group of Emperors, Kings and powerful people of the time. He was proposed for membership by Archduke Karl Stefan, who regularly brought his whole family to Jelsa on his yachts. The Archduke had three yachts, “Osor”, “Waturus” and “Christa”, stationed in the port of Mali Lošinj. Most often the family came on “Christa”, and would moor in front of Mayor Duboković’s house.
N. Duboković was proposed for membership by Archduke Karl Stefan, who regularly brought his whole family to Jelsa on his yachts. The Archduke had three yachts, “Osor”, “Waturus” and “Christa”, stationed in the port of Mali Lošinj. Most often the family came on “Christa”, and would moor in front of Mayor Duboković’s house.
On the 1st of August 1891, an inaugural meeting was held in Pula to found an elite naval yachting club which would bear the name of the Imperial and Royal yachting fleet, under the patronage of Emperor Franz Josef I. The club’s title was “Yacht-Geschwader”, meaning the “Yacht Squadron”. Alongside Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the other archdukes of the Habsburg Court, William II, Emperor of Germany and Prussia, was an honorary member, as were Edward, Prince of Wales, Prince Albert I of Monaco, the Duke of Parma, the Prussian Crown Prince, the Prince of Liechtenstein, as well as other members of the royal families of the time. In their functional capacity, honorary membership was extended to officials such as the Minister for War, the Commander of the Navy, the Governor of Rijeka, and the Regent of Dalmatia among others.
The rules of the club were strict and set out in its Statutes, which affirmed that the club’s aims were to develop sporting encounters with sailing yachts and steam-boats, to train sailors, to revive enthusiasm for seafaring, to improve ship-building and to support maritime science.
The club consisted of the founders, members and honorary members. Before the club was inaugurated, the founder-members contributed an entry fee, the first-class members paying 500 golden florins with a subsequent annual subscription of 100 florins, while the second-class members paid an entry fee of 50 florins and then 50 florins annually. (One florin was worth approximately 0.5 grams of gold.)
New members were elected by secret ballot. Each candidate had to be supported by two founder-members. As the club was an integral part of the Imperial Naval Fleet, it had a military structure, and was headed by twelve members who were generally drawn from among the founder-members.
First in rank was the Commodore, who was chosen by the Sovereign, then two Vice-Commodores and two Rear- or Counter-Commodores, alongside another six chosen founder-members who made up the committee. They were elected by secret ballot for a term of three years up to a maximum of five.
The committee had a President, a secretary-in-chief and auditors who would convene the annual meeting, which was held in Pula every May. Full voting rights were held by the founders and first-class members, while the rest only had an advisory voting capacity. All the founders and members who were Austro-Hungarian citizens had the right to fly the club flag and emblems, while the Vice- and Rear-Commodores had flags showing whether they were Austrian or Hungarian by nationality. Foreigners could fly their own flag from the masthead, but the battle flag was compulsory at the stern. The club’s yachts carried signs indicating the rank or status of the respective individuals who owned the boats, and distinguishing between those of Austrian or Hungarian allegiance.
All boat-owning members held a privileged status with the local authorities in every port, and they enjoyed all the advantages and benefits of the naval fleet.
Uniforms were strictly defined by Statute. There were clear distinctions between the uniforms of the Commodore, Vice-Commodores and Rear-Commodores and those of the other members. They were distinguished by gold braid on the trousers, and the number of pear-shaped swirls on the sleeves of the dress-jacket. For all ranks, the uniform for sailing or casual dress was a white or blue jacket with oval buttons and without insignia. Captains and engineers had their own emblems. Crewmen wore blue jersey wool shirts, bearing the name of the yacht in large Latin-script letters on the chest, with the letters “K.u.K.Y.G.” embroidered underneath. The sailors’ trousers were white or blue, and their hats had a black silk band with the name of their yacht in gold letters on the brim. For casual dress they had a red and white striped peaked cap.
The uniforms were supplied by Franz Thill and Nephew of Vienna and John Morgan and Sons of London.
The flags were made by the Ana Puhalović company in Trieste and S.W.Wolf in Southampton.
The club had several agents around the Mediterranean. To mention a few: the General Agent in Pula was Teodor Matijašević, in Zadar Luka Miličić, in Meljine Đorđe Rapovac, in Split Spiridon Tocilj, in Šibenik Petar Zanki, and in Mali Lošinj Ivan Tarabochia-Zanin.
Once a year the Statutes were printed in the most elegant form, with the finest binding, together with a list of members in alphabetical order, and a list of the boats with the names of their owners and their home ports. By 1900 there were 264 members.
Club membership encompassed royal and princely families, including the Sachs Coburg Gotha, Thurn und Taxis and Bourbon families, politicians such as Geza Andrassy, who owned three boats, as well as the richest people of the time, such as several members of the Rothschild family, the Vanderbilts with the 526-ton schooner “Conqueror” and the 2148-ton brig “Valiant”, both of which were based in New York, and the Prignon family from Paris who owned the 411-ton schooner “Fovette”.
Vice-Commodore Archduke Karl Stefan, cousin of Franz Josef I, owned the 207-ton yacht “Christa”, the 300-ton “Osor” (which under the name of “Istranka” sank in Split’s northern harbour in 2008 and was subsequently salvaged), and the 706-ton “Waturus”. He was a regular visitor to Dalmatia and its islands with his family, and supported the election of the only individual Croatian to join the elite group, the Mayor of Jelsa, the Knight Captain Niko Duboković, who became a member in 1894 with his cutter “Mica” (9.41 tons).
In fact there are other Croatian names among the list of members, but they were naval officers and commanders, or high-ranking Austrian officials or advisers. Thus the name of Count Bernard Caboga from Dubrovnik features in the 1895 list with his cutter “Valerie” (23 tons), registered in the port of Gruž, and in 1899 with the cutter “Urania”, (also 23 tons). In 1895 there were two Croats: Dr Kamil Turk from Karlovac was listed with his boat “Bubble”, and Baron Morpurgo from Varaždin. The 1899 listing included Emil Uzelac, an Austrian officer from Pula, with his 9-ton cutter “Hertha”.
This exceptionally elite organization regularly organized regattas in the waters off Lošinj and in England. Yachts from other sailing clubs would also take part, such as the “Adria-Club” from Opatija, the “Stephanie Yacht Club” from Balaton, the Mali Lošinj yacht club and the “Union Yacht Club” from Portschach.
The “Yacht-Geschwader” was disbanded at the beginning of the first world war. Dissolution of the club was provided for in the Statutes, where it was decreed that dissolution would take place if 4/5 of all the founder-members were in favour, and that after dissolution the club’s assets would be donated to a charity for the benefit of sailors.
Lukrecija Benkovic Dubokovic
Translated by Vivian Grisogono