Ships come and ships go. It’s what they do. Transport goods from one port to the next. Connect places that geography would otherwise keep totally apart. Carry people who have somewhere else they need to be. Which brings me to a favourite subject of mine, Greek ferries.
I’ve been travelling to Sifnos long enough to understand there’s a different sense in how ships come and go. The ferry that took me there the first time, the old Agios Georgios, is no more. New ships, faster and more comfortable and efficient, came along and it stopped running its route some years ago. I’d heard that it sank while sitting beside the dock in Piraeus, then one morning a few months later I read on my smartphone that the old dear was under tow on her way to Turkey and a demolition shipyard there.
Such is the way of progress, I guess, and it would be hard to argue that such changes are anything but good. Otherwise those voyages to Sifnos would still take most of the length of a day as they did in decades past, instead of the two or three hours that are possible now. But the news of the Agios Georgios’s demise brought a flood of emotion that surprised me. How I loved that old ship, I realized more than ever that day. Sure, it was creaky and worn, but it took me to a place I’d come to love, the journey there was a big part of the fun, and it was on its deck after sunset one night I’d realized that the dark hills passing by were ones that Homer himself would have seen. The day I learned of the ship’s imminent demise I did a blogpost right away and the many reactions it received taught me something else. If the connections that I as an occasional visitor to the island felt with that ship were profound, how much more so must be those of those who live there and rely and sail on it all the time. And those of the crews, who set forth every day on calm seas and through storms. And those of the men in each port, the rope attachers I call them, who drop whatever they’re doing every time a ferry appears and rush down to the pier to do the often dangerous work of tying ship to shore. It struck me more than ever that day that ships have a soul. And a relationship with every person who sets foot on their decks.
And now, another ship is going, leaving Sifnos. The Speedrunner, a ferry so many have relied on and truly loved has been sold, its route through the Western Cyclades ended, the fate of this boat uncertain. This ship is not old, certainly not creaky, and few are the islanders from the agonized reactions to this news I’ve read online who are ready to see this development as progress. Had I been on the island last Thursday, I would have been there on the dock too to witness its final departure. But I wasn’t and could only watch by video. Still, I know that when the boat’s captain edged the bow with his consummate skill to mere inches from the edge of the dock and in a gentle kiss to the island lowered the huge anchor onto it, then performed a full-circle pirouette on the way back out to sea, my eyes were far from the only ones that were no longer dry.
So, here’s to connections. Connections to friends we haven’t seen for a while. To places far away where we feel so at home. To friends we haven’t found yet. Connections that, after these two years that have kept us so apart from each other, we need now more than ever. Connections to the vessels that bring us together. To the hardworking crews on ship and on land who make all this possible. Opa! We can’t wait to sail with you again.
Video: the Speedrunner’s last moments in Sifnos.
My blogpost: Ode to an Old Ferry
MY BOOKS, THE SIFNOS CHRONICLES: TALES FROM A GREEK ISLE AND SIFNOS CHRONICLES 2: MORE GREEK ISLAND TALES ARE BOTH AVAILABLE THROUGH AMAZON. YOU CAN RECEIVE THEM IN AN INSTANT TO READ ON YOUR KINDLE OR OTHER DEVICE, OR ORDER THEM AS A PAPERBACK. IF YOU’RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO BE IN SIFNOS, YOU CAN BUY THEM AT TO BIBLIOPOLEIO, THE BOOK SHOP, IN APOLLONIA.