Της Στέφης Αρέλη

(Η έκδoση στα Αγγλικά δημοσιεύτηκε στο περιοδικό "θάλασσα & τουρισμός ")

written by Stefi Areli

( puplished on Sea & tourism magazine - Greek & English version)


There is a picture that still haunts me. I was only a little girl at the end of 70’s, when I saw a huge heavy wooden black Greek boat, being towed early one morning into Corfu with no sails, no mast, just the hull.

It was being brought in to be converted and restored, as it had been submerged for some time and had really suffered. I begged the owner to let it me go in and take a look inside. I remember an endless hold, with visible frames, an enormous deck like a town square –or it seemed to my childish eyes. I visualized it fully rigged with alleys and accommodation to sail away like an old pirate’s ship. The owners planned to register it in the fleet of Greek charter boats which, at the time , was 80-90% made up of this kind of wooden boat. It was aid at the time that this would be the largest of all tourist boats to sail in the Greek waters. However it had an unfortunate end and sank in the Corinth gulf- or some where there…-undertow, when the hawser broke in a high wind.

Growing up I never managed to find out its name. I was left daydreaming, watching the flocks of traditional wooden ships ailing in our seas in the Aegean and the Ionian Sea. Caiques (Descendants of the Byzantine corvettes) big and small wooden boats that made the Greek Islands & beaches so well Know and popular, these boats that contributed the Lion’s share to what is know as qualitative tourism. This is what happened then…

Recalling scattered memories and talking to older people, I was astonished by the number of boats that until recently sailed the Greek waters… Small & big boats with typically Greek names, each one with a story of its own to tell about its deeds and its contribution to tourism. Therefore , just a dry report on the numbers of the existing boats and ships would be no help, or rather it would not remind us or awaken us. So, starting with the ones that are gone for ever, those that lay in the bottom of the sea because of an “unlucky moment” or because of “a human error” or simply because it was just its fatal timing…

There was the "Panagia Τinou", magnificent and venerable like its name. It had the most impressive stern of its kind. It was to founder somewhere in Psathoura.

Ι have still vividly in my eyes the two "Zeus" in Mykonos in Diliana, one next to the other, painted in lively bright colours of white, blue and red, radiating a sense of warm Greek summer.

The name dominated the side of the boat written in huge ancient Greek typeface, as befits the Olympian god. What is left of it is a sad picture ίπ my drawer: the mast tops of Zeus emerging in the waters of Naxos, just few days following the shipwreck of Samina.

There were, also, the two large wooden boats that Ι gazed at slowly but steadily crossing the seas

of the Aegean, the lonian and Crete. They were also called Kampoures (hump-backs): ''Angelika'' sank

off the island of Paxoi and ''Orea Eleni" was the victim of the recent storm which hit the port of Zea. Today Ι stand by the Zea lighthouse and look at the frames and the planking of those boats. Then, Ι can remember ''Angena'' with the most impressive rigging any chartered boat could have at the time: the large sheaves and shrouds of an old clipper. Its journey was brought to a sad and painful end off Sounion, rammed by another ship.

The "Kyma", a caravel with beautiful carvings, and an impressive raised poopdeck, sang its swang song in the Northern Aegean. Ι have forgotten the name of the “perama” owned by Taktikos , which was not destined to saiI, grounded on Makronissos on its maiden voyage.

There were numerous other boats that were sold and changed flag, changed waters (some ended up in Croatia, in Arabia), changed status (private, day boats): ''Alexandra'', the most beautiful boat, "Katerina", a black perama, "Dimitrios Ι", "Dimitra", ''Albatros'' that probably sailed for Turkey, ''Armenistis'' from Corfu that was turned

into a day boat.

There are hulls that Ι remember as in a dream, and no matter how often Ι asked, no one could tell me what had become of them ..

''Annoula'', "Panormitis", ''Esperos'', "Glaros", "Ta Paidia tou Pirea" one of the large schooners, "Liana", ''Aigaio kyma" and four more peramas from Karystos, ''Ioannis'', "Yfi". Whatever happened to the "doxaria"! Ι should think there is only one still afloat. How about "Romana',I ''Alkyonides''I Ι was told that they were the most successful of the sailing liberties. There were -and still are- many others with hulls to which we are unaccustomed in these waters: the gantzao "Georgios", ''Andromeda'', a schooner straight from a period movie, ''Odysseas'', the Em/EI ''Artemis'' that was modified to bear sails, the three-masted 'Irini" that is laid υρ for good.

These are just a very few of the traditional boats which, until the late 80s' early 90s', made up some 70-80% of the Greek charter fleet under Greek flag. Α lot of names; a lot of very Greek boats, that certainly revive memories for older generations, but also give the young food for thought.

And now, what? Τhe first and most evident question is if all those boats that have been lost - gloriously or not, it is of no importance - have been replaced. The answer is a categorical no. During the last fifteen years very few traditional wooden boats have been built in Greek shipyards by Greek ship owners, to take the place of an older boat that was lost. Where once the traditional owner-skippers were proud of their specially designed boats from Samos, Syros, built by ship-wrights, such as Papilas or Psarros, we now import Turkish gullets with πο second thoughts. The main reason is the high construction cost (excellent but eχpensive materials, high labour costs) , and also a dearth of ship-wrights who could lay down the hull of a large traditional boat ... Few owners have the courage and patience to take such a step. Lack of bookings and the market crisis make such an investment highly risky, and it will be a long time before they see a return on their investment. Consequently the production line Turkish boats are preferable - from a strictly business point of view - even if they do not incorporate the same standards of know-how, tradition and craftsmanship, even if these boats are inferior in quality of design, wood and construction; even if these are boats which are indistinguishable from a distance; even if it hurts us to think of the traditions which have been lost together with the proud ships of Hydra and Galaxidi.

Obviously, construction -either in Greece or in Turkey - is not the only problem. Even if wood is the longest lived material for a boat" it is also the material that requires one's total devotion; in other words constant maintenance - planking, painting, burning of old paints, caulking - which brings us back to high costs, lack of proper yards, lack of trained and experienced ship-wrights etc.: a vicious circle. Added to these is the usual insensitivity of the state, eχpressed ίπ a lack of development and financial incentives which would directly encourage the owners, and indirectly the whole ship building sector. Last but not least are the problems faced by chartering today, irrespective of category and class of boat.

Second obvious question, how many are left to "defend the name of the traditional Greek wooden boat?"

It seems that the number of the big "skaria" (those that can carry 12 people and more) will soon be counted on the fingers of one hand. The most popular and known are the "Captain Antonis", “Albatros", "Viking Star", “Aegeotissa I “ & “Aegeotissa II” , “Argοnautis”, "Nikolas A”, "Sea Crown", "Panagiota" in lonian Sea, 'Άndreas Ι.Μ." in Karystos, “Agίa Sofia" in Salonica, “Eirini". Most of them are Greek by design and construction, while the rest have been naturalised by the sheer weight of Greek water that has flowed over their hulls. Some of these karavoskara will be sold before the next season, some seek buyers and some will lay idle due to lack of bookings. The smaller boats, as beautiful as their bigger counterparts, are greater in numbers but this fleet is also shrinking dangerously. The very few traditional boats still sailing today, compared to the considerable numbers in existence as recently as ten years ago, are more a source of sadness and worry than anything else.

Obviously someone must wake uρ and the necessary steps to encourage and promote the construction of big wooden boats for commercial use, to grant special ''traditional'' status to existing ones through specific legislation, so as to prevent the complete disappearance of this fleet.:

As a tribute to the wooden boats that are no longer around, lost in the deep seas, and those that have made such a contribution to much afflicted Greek tourism, and as a vindication of the few still left; it would be sad for them to remain just a colourful picture of the past. It would be a shame for all of us to neglect the values and the centuries-Iong history of nautical skill and tradition embodied in these wonderful bearers of the warm Greek soul.

As Elytis says: if you break Greece down, in the end, you are left with an olive tree, α vineyard and α boat.

Δεν υπάρχουν σχόλια: