Postcard from Greece: hero of the Small Cyclades

“That is the VIP space. Solely room for one,” quips the chief mate, aquamarine eyes aglitter. He’s sitting on an outdated blue chair plonked amongst large coils of rope, ingesting espresso from a paper cup. His crinkly smile and leathery pores and skin verify a lifetime of seamanship. He wears a sun-bleached navy T-shirt, emblazoned with a pink S wrapped round a white anchor beneath the title of the ship: Specific Skopelitis.

Those that have travelled on this plucky little boat know that pace isn’t one among her strengths. (The Specific moniker was added when her even slower predecessor, the Skopelitis, was decommissioned.) However a journey on board this old style ferry is a ceremony of passage for Greek island-hoppers — a rollicking, salty interlude that’s each pleasurable and surprisingly reasonably priced, in contrast to the stuffy high-speed catamarans that now dominate the Greek seas.

Run by three generations of the Skopelitis household since 1956, Small Cyclades Traces is an anomaly: a transport firm with only one ship. With a passenger capability of 340, and area within the maintain for fewer than a dozen autos, the Specific Skopelitis providers the archipelago of tiny islands between Naxos and Amorgos: Iraklia, Schinousa, Koufonisia and Donousa. With just a few hundred inhabitants between them, these islands and the islets round them are often called the Lesser or Small Cyclades, however I like to think about them as Pure Cyclades. The landscapes are the archetype of barren magnificence: bare coves and low-slung hills flecked with huddled white hamlets. Automobiles are scarce; you get round on foot or on fishing boats. There are not any sunbeds, no resorts, no banks (the ATMs usually run out of money), and (other than Koufonisia) no pharmacies.


The Specific Skopelitis plies the straits between these islands six days every week, 11 months a 12 months. (For one month, the ship undergoes important upkeep.) Medication, bread and different necessities are transported freed from cost. Residents additionally journey free of charge. The Skopelitis is their mailboat, their ambulance, their solely lifeline when the vacationers have gone, taking the profitable transport firms that service the Small Cyclades in excessive summer time with them. “Throughout winter, we’re devoted to making sure the islanders have every thing they want,” says Dimitris Skopelitis, the 35-year-old captain-cum-shipowner. “Climate circumstances are powerful, and the infrastructure within the harbours is principally non-existent, which makes our job tougher.”

Boat in water at sunset
Koufonisia island © Alamy

Like different routes connecting probably the most distant and sparsely populated Greek islands, this one is named agoni grammi (actually, the unfruitful line). These transport routes are subsidised by the state, as they don’t seem to be commercially viable. The latest spike in gasoline prices has introduced a steep rise in ferry ticket costs: most fares have elevated by 25 to 30 per cent in contrast with final 12 months, making a vacation to the islands unaffordable for a lot of Greeks already scuffling with surging inflation. However on the Skopelitis Specific a return ticket from Naxos to Iraklia (1.5 hours every manner) prices simply €13.60. “We’re not allowed to boost our costs as a result of the route is subsidised,” Skopelitis explains. “However the authorities hasn’t elevated subsidies to assist us take up rising gasoline prices, so working this line is turning into unsustainable.”

Regardless of these challenges, there’s no query of abandoning ship. The Specific Skopelitis hardly ever cancels a crossing. “If we don’t present up, the islanders will stage a revolution,” chuckles Captain Giannis Fostieris, a crew member since 1990. Throughout a layover on the port of Naxos, the executive capital of the island group, I watch supply vans, couriers and pedestrians drop off vegetation, a washer, a birthday cake, new sneakers, building supplies and dozens of different packages, which the 10-man crew patiently load and type. Every island has a delegated space within the maintain. “We’re extra versatile than the massive ships that hurry individuals on and off. If somebody is held up at a court docket case or on the physician, we’ll look forward to them,” says Fostieris.

Ferry on the sea
The Specific Skopelitis © Alamy

As soon as the ship units sail, passengers pop as much as the bridge to say hiya. Fostieris clacks his fear beads, eyes to the horizon, as they chat. On deck, vacationers hunched in bucket seats are sprayed because the ship rolls into the northerly swell. The waves are peaky as whipped cream. The saloon downstairs is straight out of a Wes Anderson film, with its salmon-pink curtains, vinyl banquettes and spherical tables inlaid with nautical motifs. A fellow passenger recollects making this journey in very tough seas: “Everybody was being violently sick. The primary mate burst in, appeared round and mentioned: ‘Come on, individuals! You pay good cash for this on the funfair.’”

Because the Skopelitis manoeuvres into the dinky port of Iraklia, locals rush to the quayside to see what she has introduced. A ginger cat referred to as Patata (Potato) is a part of the welcoming commotion. The crew, as a lot social employees as seamen, change parcels and banter with the residents. With gasoline costs persevering with to rise, I’m wondering how this non-profit enterprise will keep afloat. “I’ve been making this crossing since I used to be a schoolboy,” says Dimitris Skopelitis. “It’s a lifestyle.”

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