It’s everyone’s secret fantasy to travel for a living, but what’s life without a desk job, out on the seas, actually like? We talked to Zizoo Skipper Saša (pronounced “Sasha”) Drobac for all the details.
How did you train to become a skipper?
I started from a young age. When my parents took me on a vacation, it always involved a minimum of two weeks of sailing. I basically grew up on a boat and that’s how I learned everything.
Did you always know you wanted to work on a boat, or something related to the nautical industry?
Yes. Growing up, I always wanted to stay on the boat. I also saw it as a good opportunity to earn some money and be on the sea and get to know people from all over the world. I love my job.
What are some stereotypes of being a boat person that aren’t true?
A lot of people think that it’s too expensive to sail, that it’s just for the elite. But if you think about it, if you have a group of friends and want to go sailing, you just divide the cost by six or eight and it’s super affordable, definitely more affordable than booking a hotel. The best part is, when you plan a boat trip, you don’t have to plan for any other activities. You just wake up, and you’re in the sea, and you can just jump in.
Do you see yourself doing this when you’re older?
Yes. I think I might even get better when I’m older because I’ll have a lot of institutional knowledge and added experience. The hardest part about doing this kind of work long-term is that you’re away from your family for extended periods of time. It can be hard to maintain all those relationships.
What’s your favorite part about your job as a skipper?
Just being on the sea, first of all. I love being in the sea and hopping around islands. That “Take it easy” lifestyle. And sailing doesn’t have to be fast. You just chill on the islands, eat really good mediterranean food, swim at a nice beach every day, and just, you know, take it easy. And by the way, skippers aren’t tested on their swimming skills, but it’s nevertheless an important skill to have.
In your opinion, what are perfect weather and wind conditions for sailing?
It should be sunny and 25°C. When it comes to wind, around 15 knots makes for really nice sailing. It’s the perfect speed to really feel the boat.
Of course, though, the best part of sailing is when you turn off the engine, put up the sails, and the boat is still moving and you hear the wind. You just hear the waves and the “Whooosh,” and the boat isn’t using any fuel and it’s just coasting.
What’s something you always pack when you go sailing?
Skippers should always have their white polo shirts and working shorts. A rain jacket for bad conditions. Sunscreen. Good sunscreen for the face. A good hat; a cap works fine. Waterproof phone case. Sunglasses, of course.
What do you recommend for seasickness?
First of all, take pills for seasickness. And on the boat, I always recommend that you stay on the outside of the boat. Don’t go in the boat because you’ll feel the rocking more intensely inside. Watch the horizon and focus on a fixed point. And something I learned from my mom: Just eat something, like a salty pretzel.
What advice do you have for anyone beginner learning to sail for the first time?
A lot of things: Stay calm on the sea, have good communication with guests. Have good contacts in the marina, and with marina facility managers. I guess also, know the techniques for docking out and in, the best parts of the bay to anchor, how to use the ropes, and always, always be aware of the upcoming forecast.
What are your best sailing stories?
One of my best stories is from my first week of sailing ever as a skipper. We were going back to the marina and the wind picked up to like 30 knots. And suddenly, my Genoa (type of sail) got stuck and started ripping. So I couldn’t roll the sail in. The waves were getting really big, so I had to take a knife, go to the front of the boat, cut the rope, and tie it up with the other rope. I managed to tie up and roll the sail in, so in the end everything worked out but it could’ve ended really badly (like with the sail tearing up or with the boat capsizing from the force of the wind). It was bad because it was my first week of work but I learned to stay calm in that situation.
Another time, I couldn’t find my dinghy — that’s the boat that you use to get from the boat to the shore. I was getting back from taking my guests to a beach club, and I knew I tied it up well when I got to shore, but I couldn’t find it. Then, 200-300 meters away, I saw a guy sailing away with my dinghy. I was sure of it: that’s MY dinghy. I asked a guy who was about to sail away to take me with him, to the guy. When I got to the guy on my dinghy, I could clearly tell he was drunk. He didn’t know where his boat was, where he was, or who his skipper was. I guess when people are on vacation, they drink, get a little loose. But it’s up to skippers like me to handle those situations with professionalism, not get nervous, and make sure I keep good nerves. And by the way, I did get my dinghy back.
How do you stay calm?
Breathing is important. I also keep in mind that if I get stressed, I’m gonna transfer those nerves to my guests. So I make sure I take a few deep breaths, take a little “me” time, and make sure the guests are all comfortable.
What do you do during the off-season? (from November to March/April)
I only work this as a seasonal and summer job. It’s not my main job. Of course, some skippers do this year-round. In the off-season, they go to the caribbean or Thailand, or they do transfers from Croatia to France or Turkey. Personally, I work as a martial arts coach and work in a gym as a private trainer. During the winter, I work as a ski instructor. A lot of skippers are actually ski instructors in the off-season, so I guess that’s a stereotype that’s partly true!