Ode to an Old Ferry

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As I write this, the old ferry, the Agios Georgios, is sailing across the Aegean, so Facebook told me this morning. Its destination is a scrapyard in Turkey where, sadly, it will meet its end.

I loved that boat. Of course. It’s the one that took me to Sifnos that first time in 2006, and for a long time it was the only way I’d ever gone there. On its upper decks, I learned to savour the voyage and saw clearly how, had I chosen one of those Greek isles you reach by air, there’s so much I’d have missed.

Oh, the journey was long and the Agios Georgios never managed to arrive when the schedule promised. But on calm days, I could spend most of the voyage on its vast outside decks. Why else had I come but for the warm sun, the soft breeze, the blue seas? How better to experience these precious gifts than slowly? Besides, if it was windy, the various inside lounges were comfortable enough and the snack bars stocked with tirópita, spanakópita, Greek beers and much more. So, well-fed, we’d lumber across the Aegean, the ship’s engines wheezing out smoke and its old bones creaking and groaning.

Three hours after leaving Piraeus, the first stop was always Kythnos, a place the faster boats of today often ignore. How anyone could live in a place so barren, I often wondered. But live there people did and trucks, cars, and foot passengers poured off. The next stop was Serifos whose main town, the Chora, winds its way up from the bottom of a hill and is crowned by a tiny church at its top. And then, about an hour later and, truthfully, about the time that I’d had my fill of the sea, the Agios Georgios would round those rocks and sail into the bay and toward Kamares. “Sifnos,” I’d hear the loudspeaker  crackle or “Sifnou,” sometimes, that big horn would toot, and the huge ship would somehow turn and sail backwards as it neared the dock. By that point I’d be in the bowels of the boat on the vehicle deck, my suitcase in one hand. With my other, I’d grab my husband’s free one and I’d give it a squeeze. We’d stand as close to the exit as allowed and the huge ramp would clank and would bang as it swayed down toward the shore. How eager we were for the fresh air that would push the gasoline fumes out of our noses, how anxious to touch this place that has come to mean so much to us both.

Over time, other ships edged their way into this route, newer ones and faster. One spring day just after Easter in 2013, my husband and I were on the Aqua Jewel between Sifnos and Serifos headed for Paros when there appeared what seemed to us, at least, a rare sight. The Agios Georgios and its competitors, the Speedrunner III and the Adamantios Korais were near enough together out at sea that at one point they all fit into my camera’s lens. Until, that is, the various speeds of the faster ships prevailed and left the old dear behind. What I didn’t know that day was that what I’d seen was a hint of the future and before long the Agios Georgios sailed to Sifnos no more.

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So tonight, when my husband and I lift a glass and, as we inevitably will, talk over voyages past, I may just shed a tear. To those around the world with memories of the Agios Georgios and with sentiments like these, Stin yassas, I wish youI wish you also calm seas, smooth sailing, and slow voyages with those you hold dear.

Sharon Blomfield is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle and, new in spring 2019, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. These books are available at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop in Apollonia, Sifnos, at Tithorea, a Greek food shop in Rockwood, Ontario, Canada and on Amazon.

 

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