The following lecture was delivered on 12 November 2018 by mr. Kyriakos Kofteros, during the ”Vernacular shipbuilding in Cyprus” photo exhibition.
Honourable Mrs. Fachouri, Representative of the Movement of Ecologists — Citizens’ Cooperation,
Honourable Mrs. Pilides, Shipping Deputy Minister to the President,
Honourable Municipal Counsellors,
Honourable Mr. Antoniou, President of the Tourist Development of Limassol,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Morphou Bay and the sea at Karavostasi, are the areas where many of us have seen ships and the sea for the first time. It is a great pleasure to talk about our sea tonight despite being far from there, at another city.
In the years leading to 1974, the shipbuilder Vasilis Shiakallis had his shipyard at Karavostasi. He originally came from Morphou, son to Christos Shiakallis and Eleni Chirodontí. Vasilis was born in 1922, and was a primary school graduate like most of the craftsmen of his time. He showed his love to carpentry from very early but vernacular shipbuilding was his true calling. He studied under craftsmen at Larnaca, who worked mostly on fishing vessels. He later worked in Greece, across seven east Aegean islands, including Samos and Chios, as he often mentioned. The east Aegean shipyards provided the necessary environment to Vasilis to nurture and hone his skills, learning from local craftsmen, although his later career demonstrating a man of exceptional talent, makes us assume that he also taught secrets of the art to craftsmen of the islands. Samos, one of the islands he worked at, is well-known for its quality timber, especially pine, used in shipbuilding since antiquity in vessels such as the Kyrenia ship. Cypriot shipbuilders retained strong contacts with their colleagues in the east Aegean and Asia Minor, the latter being the area of origin for some Cypriot craftsmen. In 1946-47, shipbuilders were constructing two wooden vessels at Xeros, at the area by the police station. Vasilis had the opportunity to work with them, while sometime later he set up his own shipyard at nearby Karavostasi, under the big eucalyptus trees along the Pyrgos-Nicosia road.
The village of Karavostasi has a withstanding relationship with vessels and seamen, as seen in its name (karavi means ship in Greek). The nearby remains of the harbour, of the ancient kingdom of Soloi, remained in use during the early Byzantine period until its destruction by the Saracens connecting people and merchants with Asia Minor, even vessels travelling to and fro Smyrna. In modern times, its importance diminished significantly particularly after 1922 and the destruction of Smyrna. However, Karavostasi regained its former position as mineral cargo terminal of the local mining industry, offering jobs to great numbers of workforce.
Vasilis usually constructed vessels for local fishermen, and travelled often to other regions of the island: fishermen from across Cyprus would call him to construct new fishing boats at their place of residence. As a result, he worked at Vasilia, Lapithos, Kyrenia, Ayios Amvrosios, Davlos, Famagusta, Mansoura, Polis Chrysochous, and Limassol, which actually corresponds to the localities with active fishermen. His clientele included Muslims, and a carte-postal from Karavas depicts one of his fishing boats.
He usually worked alone, and rarely had assistants. The fishermen who would ask for a boat construction or repair would also serve as assistants. Vasilis had no power tools at his shipyard: everything was done by hand using an adze, a chisel, a saw, a drill and a plane. He was a fast and skilled craftsman, who was excited each time he would work on a vessel. He was ambidextrous and could work without previously drawing the vessel.
Palladios Nikolaou from Karavostasi was one of Vasilis’ close friends, and remained one until the very end. Palladios, his brother Theseas Nikolaou Zervos, and Andreas Georgiades, requested master-Vasilis to construct a vessel for them, thus fulfilling one of their old dreams. Their request of a 50 feet (ca. 17 metres) vessel with a deck had the form of a karavoskaro, a well-known vessel with ellipsoid bow. Vasilis used mulberry for the keel and frames, as it is considered to be of exceptional quality. He used pinewood for the planks, from Ayia locality in Paphos forest, and supervised the selection and cutting of the trees based on their suitability.
Vasilis collaborated with Savvakis Georgiou, a sawmill owner at Kampos, for forming the selected timber into the necessary shapes and scantlings. He worked alone, yet diligently, in building Argo I for three whole years, and once the vessel was ready, Manolis Kranidiotis installed the propulsion engine. The vessel owners used it for touristic, sailing excursions starting from Famagusta harbour with intermediate stops along the coastline. This was quite avant-garde for its time: a week-long journey overseen by captain Solomis from Ormidia along with his sailor, which unfortunately stopped abruptly in July 1974 as the Turkish invasion occurred.
Vasilis Shiakallis knew the coastline at Xeros-Limnitis region very well and participated in 1964 in the defence efforts to prevent a potential Turkish invasion at that area. He was acquainted with Andis Philetas, a Morphou resident who served as a civilian volunteer on board the Navy Command patrol boat Phaethon. Vasilis had just returned from the boat, having finished with wood repairs, before her bombing by Turkish Air Force on 8 August 1964. Philetas lost his life along with the 5 of the crew and the Executive Officer.
Shiakallis wife Terpsichore Christodoulou came from Kampos. Life was hard to them. They lost one of their daughters, who had been only 10 years old. Shiakallis loved fishing and enjoying his wine by the beach. He had been a very practical man, a philosopher, genuine and extremely humane. Older Karavostasi locals remember him entering the flames engulfing Tsouloupas bakery to assist with the rescue.
After the 1974 Turkish invasion, he took refuge with his family at Kampos, his wife’s village, leaving behind his small shipyard and tools. In 1975, his three old friends Palladios, Theseas and Andreas sought him in building another karavoskaro at Nicosia, to replace the captured Argo I. The boat building yard was next to the sawmill of Elias Loizou, also from Kampos, where they cut the timber members for Argo II, twin to Argo I. Argo II was initially used as a fishing vessel for swordfish at Paphos, and later on as a coastal passenger vessel in Limassol. Vasilis also constructed a decked vessel at Kampos and worked briefly at Limassol before his passing in 1983. In 2003, shortly after the opening of crossing points, Argo I was spotted at Kyrenia harbour, along with other small boats Shiakallis had constructed, judging from their characteristics.
One should note that shipbuilding timber in Cyprus usually came from the pine forests near Kampos, cut by local woodcutters. A well-known example built with Kampos pinewood is the Kyrenia-Eleftheria experimental ship, built in 2003, by the late vernacular shipbuilder Charalambos Avgoustis and his sons in the lines of the Kyrenia ship. Kampos community took steps in guarding that part of their heritage: the local Forest Museum displays woodcutting tools and machinery, relics of an era that has passed.
Speaking tonight about Vasilis Shiakallis makes us remember his colleagues. Here at Limassol, Famagusta, Larnaca and Paphos. The boatbuilding families of Avgoustis and Parpour, the master shipbuilders Eracles, Kokos Panteli, Patroklos, Skeparnides, Chalkites, Mpillis and so many more who have to be recorded scientifically. It is hoped that the much-awaited nautical museum will be founded and include their work. And it is also hoped that their vessels will be rescued; we have only rescued sporadically some of them. A European Directive leads to the destruction of unique vernacular vessels in order to purchase new ones made of plastic. Yet wooden vessels can continue being built if vernacular shipbuilders are supported. By helping them we are actually helping our country and tradition.
Speaking about Shiakallis, a Morphou local, cannot help one but remember Morphou coastline. The ancient harbour at Karavostasi and the anchorage at Xeros. The customs office. The fishermen. The divers. The liveliness of the region which had a developed agriculture and mining industry. The almost in ruins Cyprus Mining Company pier, which could have been restored and become a landmark by now, at it happened with its Limassol counterparts. The vapor boats (the “vaporakia”) of the mining corporation. The KEM buses and the “baths” at Shiachouros, Giannis and Chambis with their jukebox machines.
There were several individuals who gave information on Vasilis, such as his wife Terpsichore, his daughter Elli, Palladios Nikolaou from Karavostasi, the shipbuilder Nikos Mpillis from Famagusta and now at Limassol carnayo. Vasilis had estimated towards the end of his career, that he had built around 300 vessels, mainly fishing boats. The Cypriot fishermen and shipbuilders remember Vasilis being a good man and exceptional craftsman. His boats are immortal as they still sail and can be seen at fishing shelters along the coastline. If a book is ever written on vernacular boatbuilding in Cyprus, Vasos Shiakallis should be included as one of the finest craftsmen. He was free and independent as a man, and could have easily been a character in one of Papadiamantis’ novels with ships, coasts, and seamen having ragged faces from life’s hardships. Vasilis must have seen a “Dream on a Wave” for sure, or could have been the builder of “Ipiretra”, whose shipbuilding technology knew very well.
May his remembrance be eternal. May the shipbuilders who have passed away rest in peace.
Morphou beaches including Karavostasi and Xeros. Their development ceased after the population forced to leave in 1974.
KEM: Cyprus Transport Company