Turning the tide for traditional crafts | WeBalkans | EU Projects in the Western Balkans

Turning the tide for traditional crafts

Montenegrin wooden shipbuilding becomes a worldwide brand


For some time, Petar Bokovac was the only person along the Montenegro coast who used the ancient technique of making wooden ships. He had no formal training in shipbuilding but since the 1960s he has been offering repair services using the traditional craft of making wooden boats in his Bokovac Calafat workshop in Bar.

There was no significant profit in repairing boats, but twenty years ago, Petar and his son Nenad built their first 30-tonne fishing vessel. Then Nenad’s wife, Miroslavka, decided to join the company and take the business to another level, turning the Bokovac Calafat Workshop into a worldwide brand. Miroslavka offered marketing of the wooden ships produced by her husband and his father, promoting their craft – as an important element of cultural heritage and tourism potential – among the local community, to the authorities and to an international market.

“What we could share was our approach which is unique to us.”

Miroslavka Bokovac, Calafat workshop

Local art presented to the world

Miroslavka explains that when she first introduced the idea of promoting the production of wooden ships in traditional style, the local community had serious doubts about it. “They asked who would be interested in our wooden ships in these times of modern yachts and advanced technology,” she says.

However, she persisted. “I thought that what we could share was our approach which is unique to us.”

In order to maintain brand exclusivity, the Bokovac family must fulfil the condition that more than 80% of the material used in making a ship must be of Montenegrin origin. The wood they mainly use for construction is mulberry, which is well known along the Montenegrin coastline and which the Bokovac family call “Montenegrin teak”. It is extremely lightweight but also strong, which is key to the quality of the final product, as wood has to undergo significant processing before being used in the ship. Miroslavka says, “It’s not always easy to buy mulberry, but as more and more people in our area know that these materials are needed, there are more and more frequent calls from landowners who have mulberry trees on their property and who offer them for sale.”

The shipbuilding event that aroused the most media interest in Montenegro and the region over the past few years was the news that the Bokovac Calafat Workshop had been recognised by the royal family of Abu Dhabi, through an order for three ships: one small one with an engine, another just a metre longer than the first, and a third 10 metres long. Nenad and Petar worked hard with their team to fulfil all the requirements so they were able to finish the vessels on time. With the arrival of the boats in the Emirates, the Bokovac family had become a globally-recognised brand.

“The ReLOaD project helped us with further promotion of this skill to our community and to the world. More importantly, it helped us to pass on this skill to younger generations.“

Miroslavka Bokovac, Calafat workshop

Recently, the Calafat workshop has joined forces with the EU-funded ReLOaD project and started the mission of promoting their tradition along the entire Montenegrin coast. The Cattaro Sail Project offered training on shipbuilding to young people, and promotion of sailing through publications and social networks. The grand finale was the “Days of Sail” event and the Kotor Regatta. Models of sailing boats from this project were donated to the Maritime Museum, and a big step was made towards the preservation of this historical skill and its value for tourism. Miroslavka says that for the Calafat workshop, “The ReLOaD project helped us with further promotion of this skill to our community and to the world. More importantly, it helped us to pass on this skill to younger generations”.

The word calafat can be found in Greek and Arabic, and since ancient times has referred to a ship’s craftsman with expertise in maintaining a wooden frame. Later, this term began to refer to the most experienced and respected of shipbuilders. The Bokovac workshop is the only one in the world who has the right to use the name “Calafat”. For them, as well as for Montenegro, it is an honour to be keeping this tradition alive.

About the programme

The Regional Programme for Local Democracy in the Western Balkans (ReLOaD) is funded by the European Union and implemented by the United National Development Programme. ReLOaD is now in its second phase, lasting until 2024.


Photo credits: ReLOaD

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