The old man and his caïques

Traditional craftsmanship in Greece – traditional boatyard on the island of Spetses for caïques, the Greek fishing boats

Their islands have been calling the Greeks to the sea for a long time. The caïques, Greek fishing boats, are the remains of a culture of boat building developed over centuries. We are visiting Dinos Korakis, one of the last boat builders of the island of Spetses.

Greece’s islands, a lynchpin between East and West
Greece’s unique island world with over 3000 islands, around 350 of those inhabited, forms a natural bridge between East and West. Early on, this geographic position has allowed for active international exchange and was also a place of conflict. The topographic image hand and finger of the Greek mainland could also be seen as a symbol of the gesture ‘give and take’. Much like little pearls, the islands seem to have been thrown into the sea while at the same time being held tight by this giving and taking hand. Invisible threads tie the islands to the mainland and invisible they want to remain when it comes to autonomy and independence of the islands’ inhabitants. Spetses’ residents claim to be cosmopolitan. The mainland is only a stone’s throw away. In merely 10 minutes by water taxi we reach Spetses from port of Kosta on the opposite side. There, we are meeting with Capitano Manolis. He arrives with his rattling scooter and flags down a taxi while we meet and greet. “Get in, let’s go meet Dinos.”

A workshop right on the waterfront
Dinos Korakis’ workshop lies protected in a bay. Right on the waterfront boats are constructed in the open air. The wooden shack resembles a fishing hut more than a workshop. There is a fresh breeze, the sky is grey. A smell of turpentine, oil paint and freshly sawn wood mixes with the scent of salty sea air and resinous pine trees. Stefanos, the only employee treats a mast, placed on two wooden blocks, to its finishing touches. There aren’t many boat builders left that master the craft like Dinos Korakis. When he opened his workshop around 35 years ago there was no need for a permit, “I just started to construct boats,” Dinos says. He is 92 years old and still happy to come to his workshop every single day. Meanwhile, his son Pantelis took over running the family business few years ago. It’s a small business: father, son and one employee build new and repair old caïques. Serenely Dinos sits in a plastic chair and sips his Greek coffee – he spends most of his time here, it is like a home.

Captain of the last Hellenic king
Manolis Pantelis knows everyone on the island and he knows about everything that’s going on, especially concerning boats. As an experienced navigator he served as captain on a ship of Greece’s last king for a long time. Since a couple of years Manolis lives on Spetses all year round. “The city and its vibrant life, I don’t need all of this anymore. I ditched my computer, and now I do everything by hand with pen, paper and letters.” A person, who was authorised to prohibit royal highnesses to wear walking-shoes on board, knows the meaning of discretion: He has no smartphone, no credit card and always pays cash.

Manolis tells us about his initiative to develop a children and youth programme. Together with the yacht club and a couple of shipyards he wants to create a summer course to give the young generation an understanding of traditional boat building.

„We are much more open than other islanders“

Turning a childhood fascination into a career
Their islands have been calling the Greeks to the sea for a long time. The caïques, these Greek fishing boats, are the remains of a culture of boat building developed over centuries. For a fisherman a caïque means a second home and economic independence. It therefore isn’t surprising that a boat owner and a boat builder maintain a close and familiar relationship. Most boat owners take their boat to the same shipyard for reparation and repainting every winter.

After having served us some coffee, he starts telling his story. When he was a young boy he often came to the shipyards to play. The boats rocking on the water fascinated him so much, he decided to leave school when only 11 years old to start an apprenticeship at Mariettas’ shipyard in Kilada. Apprentices weren’t paid at the time. Not even lunch was provided, “tipota – nothing,” Dinos says. Only after turning 16, when he had constructed his first wooden dinghy, he received his first salary. It was a tough but instructive period and the years of watching and imitating helped Dinos to develop his sense for form and procedure. Each step he wasn’t familiar with was shown to him by his master before he could continue his work. Six other boys had started the apprenticeship with him at Mariettas’ but he was the only one to also finish it.
The boats are Dinos’ life; each one is a part of him. His goal isn’t just to build a functioning boat and to work efficiently. The beauty of a caïque shows in the harmony of its forces and the sea. How softly does it glide through the water and how steady is it amidst heavy swell. For the old boat builder these are important characteristics that define real beauty. He wants to create something that he can fall in love with over and over again. Smiling mischievously Manolis asks: “But when you fall in love, Dinos, it won’t make you rich, right?” The men are laughing.

There are many boats in the shipyard, waiting to be repainted and repaired for the coming season. Dinos gets up and walks to the jetty. He takes a long look at the sea. When he comes back he seems to know about the weather we can expect for the rest of the day. Navigators and people who live by the sea can read the weather on the horizon.

A special thanks to Captain Manolis Pantelis, founder of the Yacht Club of Spetses, as well as Annika Barbarigos and Emmanouel Vernicos of the Traditional Boat Association of Greece.