Life Is Sailing
The opinion that Serbs are afraid of water is only one of the jokes they planted to themselves in self-defense. The truth is, regattas, rafting, sailing on wild and peaceful waters are regularly organized on many Serbian rivers. The most attractive and most requesting is rafting on the Lim, the most joyful on the Ibar, memorable are also raftings on the Drina, Uvac, Southern Morava, Nišava. Only some rowers managed to see the Svrljig Timok Canyon from the water, as well as Vladikine Ploče on the Visočica

Text and photo: Luka Vesković

Ever since the ancient times, troubles have been coming to the Serbs by water, and the waters took away some of the most precious things one can have in this world. It is sufficient to remember Marica, Lab, Sitnica, Slivnica, Bregalnica, the ”Blue Tomb”… A joking history states that, whenever they crossed a bridge, the Serbs would cross themselves three times and call St. Nicholas for help. So much were they afraid of water. ”Crossing the Morava with a ferry was an adventure and boarding a boat a real miracle.”
However, to be serious, when the rest of the world began using rivers for fun and raising the level of adrenalin, they went down to the rivers too. Shyly at the beginning, first down to calm rivers of the plains, then to the wilder ones. In time they discovered it could be really fun and provided things without which fun is not even worth mentioning: food, drinks, trumpet players… At the beginning, trumpet players made problems, because in each rapid they would leave their trumpets and run for their lives. It is also not really convenient to make a grill on a rubber boat. However, everything can be fixed, even this.


Rivers in Serbia are relatively calm, but not uninteresting. They have their wide and narrow parts, interesting edifices on their banks and unusual flora and fauna.
The Ibar river, also known as the ”Valley of Kings” and ”Valley of Lilacs”, is famous for numerous monasteries and ancient cities raised on the river banks. It is a bit wilder in its upper part, and there, in the part from Leposavić to Raška, is where the Rafting without Limits is held. Two kilometers downstream from Ušće is probably the most attractive rapid in Serbia. It is seventy meters long, up to three and a half wide, and six meters deep. The water in it is thundering, thus the name ”Grnčić” (Serbian grmiti – thunder). Others call it Grnčić, because of pots (Serbian: grnčarija), ”the pots of St. Sava”. They are two openings in a rock into which, as the legend goes, St. Sava threw in fish from the thundering Ibar using a stick. In the calmer part of the river, from the old city of Magliča to Kraljevo, the Merry Downriver is organized, probably the most joyful and most visited one in Serbia. It is 25 kilometers long, and the regatta is organized around St. Vid’s Day. The first one, twenty years ago, gathered about 150 participants in 20 boats. Today, the number of participants increased to 10.000! During the rafting, now already traditionally, the participants stop in Mataruška Banja spa, where excellent soldiers’ beans and other refreshments are prepared for them. The real party, however, begins at the end line, in Kraljevo, always with trumpet players and everything else accompanying them. All this because, according to the generally accepted definition, rafting is a supreme enjoyment, including good food and good fun.
The river Drina used to be called Zelenika, because of the magically green color of its water (Serbian: zelen – green). From Šćepan Polje, where it is born by merging of the Piva and the Tara, until its confluence into the Sava, Drina is 346 kilometers long and has a drop of 358 meters. The drop is a bit softened by the dams of the Drina hydroelectric power plants and their accumulation lakes (Višegrad, Bajina Bašta), but they did not reduce its potentials for good rafting. Experienced skippers know exactly when the mentioned dams and the one in Mratinje on the Piva release the surplus of water, so they ride the wave and speed up the sailing.
Two regattas are held on the Drina: Ljubovija organizes sailing downriver at the end of the first decade of July, and Bajina Bašta about ten days later. The Lim, the largest confluent of the Drina, is the most attractive river in Serbia and Montenegro for rafting. The Lim regatta is organized at the end of May, as a one-day version from the monastery of Kumanica to Brodarevo, or a three-day version from Plav Lake at the spring of the Lim. Rafting at Lim is a big challenge because the river has problematic sills and many protruding rocks. You pass through attractive canyons, by numerous monasteries and cities, which makes the sailing attractive and interesting. An interesting regatta is also organized in Priboj. Its end is in Rudo, with the perhaps most attractive rapid resembling a real boiling pot. We should also mention the Uvac river, today practically reduced to three calm lakes. The beauty of the slow sailing through winding canyons is enhanced by the flight of griffon vultures.


Also interesting is sailing down Southern Morava through the Stalać Gorge. It starts by the Monastery of St. Roman, continues by the Mojsinje holy mountain, and ends by Todor’s Tower, where the Southern and the Western Morava join to make the Velika Morava. There are several local regattas down the Velika Morava and the Swimming Marathon is organized on Western Morava near Ovčar Banja.
The people of Niš would not be bohemians if they did not organize sailing in the narrow Sićevo Gorge. Only a few rowers saw the Svrljig Timok Canyon, from Svrljig to Knjaževac, from the river. The same goes for the Vladikine Ploče Canyon, through which the Visočica river flows on its way to Zavojsko Lake. There is no organized sailing in the Vlasinsko Lake, but it is possible to rent a boat and enjoy the highest lake in Serbia and its interesting floating islands.
Belgrade has its regatta which is more of a parade type. Interesting was the rafting organized by the Tourist Organization of Indjija, unfortunately only once, from Čortanovci to Stari Slankamen with a visit to Gardinovačka Ada. It wasn’t really a rafting until a large Ukrainian ship passed by and raised waves comparable to the wildest rapids on the Lim. Those who love rivers of the plains visit sandbanks, canals and numerous river islands in their yawls, cabin-boats, even motorboats, searching for hedonism which only life on the river can offer.


The choice of boats was also very different. First they were wooden ferries, then classical boats, tractor tires and all other kinds of things, but at the end, rubber boats became dominant. A vest and a helmet are often sufficient on wild rivers, because they are more convenient for rushing into attractive rapids several times in a row.


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