It seems that we have not done with you yet Syros! We need your city’s expertise. Thanasis the Harbour Manager phoned a diver for us and he came to us first thing in the morning. First I just have to describe the latest outfit, a pale blue shirt with a wide strip of gold embroidery around the collar and down the front paired with white shorts and espadrilles of pale blue and gold to match – wonderful.
Nikos the diver, round as a seal, came and looked underneath but said it would be best if we could move over to the Marina. Marina is a grand word, it has never been commissioned, there is no charge and no one in charge. He dived under again and concluded that it was not the rope cutter.
He thought the noise was coming from inside the boat so he called the engineers. Stamatis and his son Georgios came and identified a problem to be the universal joint between the gear box and the propeller shaft. They are the nicest people, Georgios who speaks little English is tall and very smiley, Stamatis, his father, speaks English and with slow, gentle and measured tones, translated. It is Friday of course. There is a law somewhere that says crises happen on a Friday, not that this is a crisis. The part will be ordered from Athens and will arrive with the lunchtime ferry on Tuesday. There is never any doubt that this is an island, the blast of the arrival horn resonates around the whole city. It seems wherever you are you will always hear it and can mark the time by it. No worries, we are relaxed and decide to explore more of Ermoupolis.
We go for a walk and meet an American ex serviceman and his Romanian wife who have a house here and also an American M151/82 Jeep circa 1958. He is very insistent that we come for a spin in it, that we actually drive it! I volunteer to be the photographer and sit in the back. Boys love this! We return to the boat in the dark and tied onto a line in our cockpit is a present, a gift from Stamatis of local Syros specialities, nougat and masticha – how kind. Tomorrow I will bake a batch of biscuits to give him.
We had supper that night in the fishing port at a great little local restaurant called Luse Dese. The food was so tasty that we have been back two or three times. The welcome, the service and the super view combine to enhance the experience. By day and by night the vista here is interesting. The huge Neorion shipyard works and cranes form a backdrop to the fishing boats with enormous bulk carriers in the dry dock towering over a hotchpotch of vessels large and small, traditional and custom made all of them colourful individuals.
The backdrop to our berth is the remains of the spinning and weaving mill. In its heyday this area was also home to energetic and prosperous industry including textile factories, tanneries, and silk works, a paint and colour factory and flour mill.
The harbour ‘north wall’ where we usually go is full of cafes, shops and restaurants geared more for tourists, who in the main are Greek, so not many international visitors apart from the yachts. The marina is situated in a more local area and close to the fisherman’s harbour.
The marina itself has some local sailing boats, little weekend pleasure craft and some sad vessels that have been abandoned and will slowly rot and sink. There are always people about working on their boats or fishing off the pier. It is dusty and run down, backed by two red and white striped towers of a decommissioned power station. Cats jump out of rubbish skips, I am glad to see them; the once handsome double lamp posts lining the pontoons have parts missing, the electric stands don’t work and some have been vandalised or cannibalised, there is no water supply or toilet. Interesting smells waft our way. I’m sure there are pigs being kept nearby but I kept forgetting to ask. We are woken by cockerels. We cross a small culvert just at the exit where ducks and geese quack and scrape about in the mud. Further on there is a little shanty shack selling car wiper blades, shoes, carpets, I suspect anything that they find. The women wear long skirts common to the Roma people and the men sit around on chairs while the former do the work. They throw vegetable scraps over the wire fence to their handsome hens. They always have a cheery greeting.
I had spied a handsome looking church surrounded by cypress trees and greenery so we decided to try and find it. This was easier said than done and to cut a long story short it is within the boundary of a military barracks area. We found the big gates and as I peered in I could see behind that there was an armed guard and on the outside fierce notices forbidding photographs. So, discretion being the better part of valour we called off the search. The barracks area was huge, as we could see from our walk, and most of the buildings were falling apart. The red roofs undulated with unstable tiles; windows were missing and nature was definitely in the ascendant. However there must have been one building serviceable because Nikos, the diver, told us that his son is doing his national service there. They don’t DO anything but sit around playing cards and getting bored. What a waste! At least you could go to a different area of Greece, learn something useful or do community service.
There was a football match going on too, we could hear whistles and occasional cheers and then we spotted the fans, the starlings on a roof.
On the Sunday we daundered slowly into the city and visited the very small Archaeological Museum in the town. It is housed in the rather grand town hall built during Syros’ prosperous 19th century when it was on a par with Athens and was home to the industries mentioned above. It looks out onto a very elegant, spacious square, a great place for coffee and people watching.
As I mentioned in another blog there are early Bronze Age settlements in the north of the island and some of the finds from these places were there along with finds from other islands. I think we’ve visited enough of these museums! There were some rather intriguing figures though – is one of them pregnant?
Stamatis had mentioned the theatre being worth a visit so we went there too. Apollon Theatre was a lovely surprise, the architecture inspired by La Scala Milan and other notable Italian theatres. We found it a little treasure. It is sad, we would have loved to have attended a production. During the war it was used by Italians and then Germans as a cinema and upstairs there was a small display of posters, costumes and artefacts and starlets from that era. No buses ran on Sunday so we walked back.
The next day, Monday, we were free to roam as the part was not expected until Tuesday and work not going to be done until Wednesday. There was an influx of sailing boats as a strong southerly wind was expected and the ‘north wall’ is not a safe place but ‘our’ marina is. We counted 25 extra boats, which was amazing.
Syros’ serious industrial heritage is recorded in the Industrial Museum which we duly visited. Before getting to the official site we had noticed another building declaring itself open and thinking it was a branch of the museum went in. It turned out to be a University Library but it did house some artefacts and modern art installations and we were welcomed to look around. Andy’s cup of tea.
On Tuesday with Andy working on the anchor rode, I took myself off to walk to the cemeteries. McGilchrist describes the Orthodox one as having ‘the most evocative assemblages of funerary sculptures in Greece…………comparable to Glasgow’s Western Necropolis’ – I must put that on my ‘to do’ list! I walked up a narrow cobbled street; there are always clues to the position of a cemetery in the flower and plant shops. There were two on this road, the first opposite the Orthodox Cemetery which indeed was very impressive, the monumental marble and stonework a reflection of the wealthy 19th Century industrialist families of Syros. All these were beautifully tended under green trees. The only worrying thing was the realisation that a lot of the dead people were my age! Also there was the Ossuary, the building that houses the bones of the deceased, traditionally dug up and washed with wine, four years after burial. I’m not sure if this still happens.
Next up was the British Cemetery which is a Commonwealth War Graves site from the 1914/18 war. As ever poignant with the inscriptions on so many ‘A soldier/sailor known unto God’ also a grave of an Eliza Bunn of Plymouth who died here ‘on her way to fetch her daughter from school in England’ one would love to know more about that.
My final visit was to the Catholics under the dominant gaze of Ano Syros, the medieval and catholic area. It was similar to the Orthodox area.
Staying in one place for longer than normal and forging connections with locals is a privilege, getting to the point where you are recognised excites me! I walked home with supermarket shopping in my rucksack, Georgios saw me and beckoned me over. I was invited in to see their workshop. They are working on the engine of the tender from the super yacht Maltese Falcon, a tender of a mere 7 metres!!!
Our part had arrived on time and Nikos had texted to arrange the work for the following day. True to their word the team arrived. Nikos had to dive to stuff something up the propeller shaft so that the sea would not enter the boat – pretty important. Georgios and Stamatis worked quietly for an hour. When all was done I started the engine and tested it forward and back straining on our tied lines. They were satisfied, were we? we think we were. Hurray, all done by about 1030 so we packed up the laundry and took the free bus into town. We had coffee in the square and nosed around the town hall building. We walked back to the fisherman’s harbour and took lunch – so delicious. We are all ready to go pick up the laundry tomorrow, fill with water and GO!
Our hearts stopped and spirits plummeted when, 2 minutes after our departure our horrible noise started up again. A 180’ turn and a phone call to Stamatis and Georgios who arrived pronto, puzzled, we took them out to sea, the Shaman stood on deck, arms loosely at his side, palms open wide, inclining his head gently this way and that as if invoking the Gods for an answer……….. It has to be from outside the boat, a quick call later to Stavros at the appropriately named ATLAS yard and we are motoring into a cradle, driving forward, full power up what seemed to me to be an angle of 45’! Suddenly I felt a bite, I stopped the engine and felt us secure and being pulled now by the tractor into the yard. First look and it IS the ****** rope cutter after all, grinding and rattling having lost some of its plastic washers or some such. By the afternoon the whole assembly had been removed, the underside of the boat inspected and we could go; only there was a problem. One of the wheels was missing from the trolley cradle. We stayed the night aloft high and dry and the next morning, a new tyre fitted, we were trundling back into the sea when everything suddenly stopped and like a VIP visit, a ladder was produced and none other than Stamatis comes springing up – he must be over 75. “I will come with you, I will listen” Yay! No noise! So, satisfied, we were now to come up alongside a barge and he would leap off ‘like a mountain goat’ I said and he chuckled, probably at my bad Greek! As we approached, we couldn’t understand why the usually friendly people were waving and shouting – Oh No! the barge was newly painted and probably still wet, unhindered and unflurried, Stamatis leapt across and, with everyone now pushing us away and some skilful helmswomanship, we were off without a smear on either barge or Selkie Dancer.
PS – We have spent a shed load of money on the little Kraken under the boat however we’ll add it to our ever growing bag of experience and hope we remember. We wouldn’t have missed our extra time and our encounters with the varied characters of the last week for the world. Our time has been rich indeed………and the greatest accolade from Stamatis to me “Bravo Captain, the next time you come we will drink coffee together”