Greek traditional wooden boat builders cut down on craftsmanship

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Drakaioi (AP), Greece – A characteristic shape of a traditional Greek wooden ship emerges as early morning fog swirls over the wooded slopes of the island’s mountains. Hundreds of years.

Each wooden beam, each plank has been cut, trimmed, shaped by a man and carried according to techniques handed down from generation to generation, from father to son, from uncle to nephew. It is fixed with a nail. However, the current generation could be the last.

Wooden boats are an integral part of the Greek landscape, decorating tourist brochures, postcards and countless holiday shots. They sailed Greece for centuries and were used as fishing boats, to transport goods, livestock and passengers, and as pleasure boats.

However, the technology to design and build these vessels entirely by hand is under threat. Plastic and fiberglass boats are cheaper to maintain, so fewer people order wooden boats. And young people are less interested in occupations that require years of apprenticeship, are physically and mentally exhausted, and have uncertain futures.

“Unfortunately, this profession is slowly declining,” said Giorgosquiassos, one of the last shipyards in Samos, an island in the eastern Aegean Sea that was once a major production center. Mentionned.

“If something doesn’t change, there will come a time when no one will do this kind of work, and that’s a shame, and it’s a real shame,” Kiassos said during a short break in the mountain yard. He said he worked on two 14-meter (45-foot) and 10-meter pleasure boats, between walnut trees and wild mulberry trees. One meter fishing boat (about 30 feet).

The boats are made to order, the larger boat costs around 60,000 euros ($ 70,000) and the smaller boat costs around 30,000 euros ($ 35,000).

Samosaik is famous both for its manufacturing and its raw materials. Pine seed wood, with a high resin content, is durable and highly resistant to woodworms. Decades ago, many shipyards were scattered around the island, providing a major source of employment and supporting the entire community. Currently, there are about four left.

“Yes, it’s an art, but it’s also a heavy task, it’s hard work. It’s the physical work that tires you out, and now the young people no longer follow, ”said Kiasos. He encouraged his 23-year-old son to learn, but he’s not particularly interested. He wants to be the captain of a merchant instead.

Kostas Damianidis, Ph.D. architect Regarding the making of traditional Greek boats, he said that there are several reasons why the number of shipyards or traditional boat builders has dropped dramatically in Greece.

“It’s a traditional craft that’s slowly dying, but it’s still treated as if it were just a manufacturing or sourcing business. There is no state support, ”he said.

In addition, the European Union, of which Greece is a member, has for years subsidized the physical destruction of these vessels in order to reduce the country’s fishing fleet. This practice has given birth to thousands of traditional fishing boats. Some of them have been described as unique works of art by environmentalists and destroyed by bulldozers.

The policy “deals a blow to wooden ships,” said Damianidis. “They might be old boats, but that’s a contempt for craftsmanship. When you see young people breaking wooden boats like useless, why do they bother to learn how to make them? “

The destruction is a pain for their creators.

“It’s bad, it’s very bad, because this art is one of the best and one of the most difficult. Ancient art, ”said retired shipbuilder Giorgos Zinideros. Now 75, he started working in his grandfather’s shipyard in Samos at the age of 12. After years of apprenticeship, he moved to the main shipyard in Perama near Piraeus, Greece’s main port.

“You won’t learn this trade in a year or two. It will take years, ”he said. “Don’t forget to take the tree and make a masterpiece, a boat.”

Another important factor in the rapid decline in the number of captains is the lack of formal education.

“Young people often have to learn for five or six years from old craftsmen so that they can make their own small boats, kaiki,” Damianidis said. It was. “There is no boat building school.”

Damianidis is the curator of the new Aegean Shipbuilding and Maritime Crafts Museum in Samos and hopes that Greece’s first traditional shipbuilding school will open in the museum.

It could also help Samos’ last boatbuilder, who currently works mostly alone due to a lack of skilled assistants.

“It’s important to get someone to gain experience because if you make a mistake, especially in the early stages of (building) a boat, the boat can become a basin rather than a boat. . Ria Kiassos.

Like Tsinidelos and all current boat builders, Kiassos started at a young age. Currently 47, he says he has worked for over 30 years but continues to learn. As a schoolboy, he sat in his uncle’s shipyard and watched the logs turn into a beautiful ship. He started working there at the age of 16 when he was leaving school.

He learned when the right season to cut trees was, when to use naturally bent lumber, and where to put each piece on the boat. He explains that if you make a mistake the ship may have problems. If understood correctly, his work combines beauty, functionality and durability.

The time and effort required to produce means that boat builders often bond with their work and ultimately deliver it to their owners, which is often bittersweet.

Chiassos says he wants to finish each boat and start with the next.

“But when he leaves, I’m kind of sad. Yes, when I see it in the water I’m happy and I know it’s okay, but it’s like something is missing – I How can you say that, like a part of? “He gets the word. “It might sound a little strange as I say, but it is.”

Despite the gloomy future prospects of his profession, another shipbuilder from Samos, Andreas Calamanolis, 45, remains hopeful.

“I think people will go back to the wooden boats. I want to believe. To be true, other boats don’t have the durability of wooden boats. They are not plastic, they are not, ”he said. It was. “Trees are living things and will survive for years to come. “


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