Joško Berket: A Captain’s Story

9 minutes

Marina Kaštela owner talks about this special project, from when it was conceived to present day, but also about important environmental issues and philanthropy that are integral part of his life’s journey

Kaštela’s most famous captain Joško Berket had been a sea captain before he set out to become a maritime manager. In that period, two decades ago, he started the construction of Marina Kaštela, in many ways a unique project on the Croatian coast in the past 30 years. It wouldn’t be as unique if its originator didn’t have such excellent judgement and a firm captain’s hand when implementing projects. Apart from being a successful entrepreneur, Mr. Berket is actively involved in politics, having served a term as a non-partisan Mayor of Kaštela. He has also always enjoyed helping others, giving rise to many successful humanitarian projects. It can hardly be summed up in a single feature, but we think we scratched the surface by asking how the Marina project started.

Marina Kaštela
Marina Kaštela is unique project in which there are berths for private and charter yachts, but also for local boats

‘Some twenty years ago, I was sailing and owned a maritime management company abroad. I was getting into the charter business and purchased five Bavaria sailing yachts that were docked at the ACI marina. People approached me on a weekly basis to offer investment opportunities, I guess they thought I had money to spare and they intelligence to spare. Some meant well, while others wanted to make a profit. Then I was approached by an acquaintance from the local fishermen’s association and said they needed a strategic partner. His name was Čedo Mihaljević. He showed me the draft proposal for the marina and it was the first time I had an interaction of this type in which the other side wanted nothing. I knew he had a heart of gold and that the local community held him in high regard, but I didn’t think that he had a knack for business for me to trust the plan. However, he’d already prepared the spatial planning documents! It’s the Bible of any construction story, from project idea to implementation, and one that’s incredibly difficult to come by.

He also had the general development plan and local urbanism plan that included the sports port and a nautical tourism port. 180 docking spaces were envisaged at the time and, roughly speaking, I thought it would be convenient to include charter services as well. There was a bank in Graz that was interested in the project as its CEO Dr. Bruckbauer was a passionate yachtsman who started sailing in the Adriatic back in the 1960s and who knew our bays better than I did. He even had photos of Palmižana before it had an ACI marina. He saw the potential in it and didn’t ask for collateral in Croatia, but our private property in Austria was used for this purpose. A feasibility study was carried out and he approved the loan for the first six million euro. In time, we became a special purpose seaport of national importance and the first general development plan included the exact same version of the marina that we have today. It also featured a sailing club and a pool, the SPA centre was my addition, and so we rounded off our story.’

How much did you invest in the marina so far?
The investments were gradual. I first told Čedo that I didn’t have enough money for such a project, but the marina was never profitable, we made a living from our other jobs and then invested everything into developing it. We invested an estimated 30 million euro in the project.

The rowing club played an important part?
When the war ended in the 1990s, we formed a rowing club in Kaštela that I could finance. I assembled my friends from the local community and the project came to life, with some resistance you typically meet in a small town. I imagined that my Croatian company that was making profit could sponsor the project, so Čedo’s idea to have a marina and mine to have a charter company were the two main reasons why the Marina Kaštela came into being. The story endured to this day, we just raised half of the funds we need to buy a new coxed four boat for the rowing club. You wouldn’t believe how many people reached out and offered money, these were former rowers, family, friends… The rest will be paid by the marina.

Marina Kaštela new buildings
Organization of sailing regattas gave the additional meaning to newly built marina

The sailing club came next?
The marina’s plan included a sailing club because I had noticed in Spain that sailing clubs on islands can’t have the same position as those on land. Children won’ stay on islands if there are no activities for them: a klapa music group, folk dancing and sports – sailing and rowing. Vela Luka is the best example of this, they dominated in Europe when it comes to rowing. They’re still good, but in order to be in a regatta, they need to leave the island, spend the night here, sail, spend another night here and only then can they take the ferry home. The same goes for sailors from Hvar. Besides, parents sign their children up for rowing and sailing because they know it will direct them towards universities.

We added volleyball later because we also thought of it as an academic sport. Any self-respecting university in the world has a rowing team. It wasn’t invented by Berket, it’s an academic sport because you can finish university and be a top athlete, an ideal combination. We now have 100 children and two coaches and works are under way to renovate the rowing dorm, which is the basis of the club and will always be owned by the town of Kaštela, even when I’m gone. It’s the most beautiful building in Kaštela, formerly owned by the Prkut Family, who were wine traders. It doesn’t matter who provides funding or which children join the club. It’s similar to Marjan in Split – when it was decided that the land would be gifted more than a century ago, it didn’t matter which children would run around it…

‘No square inch of land is under greater pressure than the maritime property in the Croatian part of the Adriatic’

Helping others is an important segment of your life?
I didn’t invent it, the only thing that mattered to me at the time was how to raise my children. I now have four children and five grandchildren, hopefully more to come with my two youngest. There’s no way you can raise your kids ‘as God intended’ if your top and only priority is work. I learned from others in Austria that if you do well, you need to keep a low profile or your money will spoil your children. It’s terrible when you don’t have enough, but it’s even worse when you have too much. There’s a saying ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God’. If you are rich in this life, than it’s over for you, but if you’re not, then you will be rewarded in heaven. I believe wholeheartedly that we should help those who can’t pay us back. If they can, what kind of help is that anyway?

We have offered monthly scholarships to children with special needs since the start and my children spend time with them. We also have more than 200 children from Bosnia come here every year. Our children spend time with them as well, so they get an experience of playing with ‘normal’ children. Giving and having are inseparable to me. When you have a lot, there’s a risk of it going to your children’s heads, which I offset with scholarships and children from Bosnia. When we visited small Croat-populated hamlets in Bosnia where the nuns and some friars showed me who needed help the most, it gave me great joy that they included Orthodox and Muslim children as well. They helped me more than I helped them. The only problem this summer is that now the Ukrainian children are in greater need than those in Bosnia.

Joško Berket with his family
Joško Berket with his family

Your children have adopted a similar perspective on things?
Luka is now actively involved in the ‘Mirno more’ peace fleet, Katarina spends the summer translating for the fleet, while Fabijan studies Law in Vienna, where he joined the branch of the fleet as well. The initiative allows us to accommodate 1,100 people, doctors and sick children in our marina every year. The story grew on them too. Also, my children don’t have cars because they don’t need them in Lyon and Vienna. They use public transport or rent a car when they need one. We also don’t own a yacht, but go sailing for a week or two using our charter yachts. Still, I think my younger children would like to show off sometimes.

What is your business philosophy?
I’m a sea captain and I built my career thought navigation and later management, I’m no professional developer. We get constant visits from potential marina buyers who graduated from top schools, but I’m always conservative, and there are 300 captains like me in Split alone. We all have the same background – Jadroplov shipping company, so now we think alike. I act like a captain in investments as well, the ship can’t go under, you have to be in the black.

Joško Berket at sailing regatta Mrduja
Joško Berket is an experienced politician as ex-mayor of Kaštela, but is also proud winner of the oldest Croatian sailing regatta Mrduja

What are your plans for the marina’s future?
We have a legal right to an extension, so we will apply for two new service piers and two new commercial piers within the existing concession because we also pay for the unused area. We intend to buy a new 240-tonne travel lift and build a concrete box for it, as well as refurbish some buildings. We have also applied for a location permit on the site of the former Jugovinil plastics and chemical products factory, where we intend to build a special purpose nautical tourism port, provided that the present buildings be torn down. The process is pending, followed by an environmental impact study and a demolition plan, in order to turn Jugovinil into a city promenade and its sea-facing part into a 280-dock marina.

Joško Berket
‘It’s terrible when you don’t have enough, but it’s even worse when you have too much’

Our coast is under a lot of pressure nowadays, how do you feel about that?
It’s a huge problem and we simply need to learn from others. We need to find a way for the Adriatic to be treated as a national park with established rules of conduct. The fact is that all the loud-mouths that were expelled from Ibiza and Mallorca came here. They introduced a law limiting the level of noise there and simply put, not every bay can turn into Zrće. If you’re anchored, party all you want. No square inch of land is under greater pressure than the maritime property in the Croatian part of the Adriatic that God blessed us with. For example, sea and maritime property in Italy are watched over by four or five national organisations, with 15,000 staff. We have 12 ‘geniuses’ in Zagreb and that’s it. I think we need reorganisation and 500 people involved.

Maritime domain borders need to be defined in the entire Adriatic and the local communities will profit way more if this is decided on by the competent ministry. They have the expertise and the persons responsible need to take care of it. There’s one problem here – you need to take care of your heritage, but also your legacy. The Adriatic can’t simply be turned into a party-destination only. We need to look after our yachting community, the true mariners, and especially the locals who have the right to sail the Adriatic in their small vessels. The current dock and buoy prices on islands make it impossible for them to do so. This is why we need a plan for the entire Adriatic to be drafted by a single team. We are sawing off the branch we’re sitting on, because if our tourism runs amok… The way things are going, our coast is so popular that everything will be sold. Take a look at Bled, or Schladming for example, foreigners can’t make money off of Schladming’s snow or buy half of Bled just because they have money… We can protect Hvar or Brač in the same way. No place on Earth is currently more valuable than the Croatian coast.

Text Darko Šupuk
Photos Archives Joško Berket

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Follow #YachtsCroatiaMagazine, find the magazine on the nearest newsstand & read us on the link above