“Our science was diving…”

By on March 28th    /    Culture, Dodecanese Islands, Islands, People, Tops Culture    /    0 Comments   /   show comments

 

Simi island had stolen my heart long time ago,and is doing it again… For days I walked up and down the narrow streets with the beautifully colored houses.

” You are back here,…again!” … she shouted laughing yesterday, a charming Italian girl strolling around Pitini neighborhood wearing a huge black hat.

“Opps… even foreighners spot me now …” I admitted and decided to go further away.

“You should go to Pedi… there is an old shipyard there and it’s still working with some interesting guys from the “old guard”, “told me the mayor of the island Lefteris Papakalodoukas drinking with me his morning espresso at the harbor. “Okay! mr.Mayor” I said. So, Pedi it is…

Σύμη, Δωδεκάννησα

 

But, hold on a moment…what is ”Pedi”? The map enlightens me before I drive my scooter up the hill. Pedi is a neighboring village to Simi town. Located just adjacent to the main port,this particular bay is perfectly sheltered from the strong northern winds. Most of the sailing boats drop anchor here during the summer, as there is not enough space for all of them in the main cosmopolitan port (many sailboats come to Simi in the summer: roughly estimated at over 10,000!).

Before leaving the port of Simi I had a little talk with the fishermen. When I travel, I always love to speak with the local fishermen, I consider them my very own people. Simi has quite a few of them. They throw their superbly crafted traps in very deep waters and take out the nationwide famous red Simian shrimps, a traditionally culinary landmark of the island.

Is fishing the only old sea profession left in Simi? Oh, no… There is an equally old tradition as well…it’s name?… shipbuilding…But, I have to go to Pedi and find out more on this…
Here is still functioning one of the two remaining small shipyards on the island. Ohh… there it is, I found it!

Located just before the beach. A company of men is having fun in the yard: telling each other jokes, laughing, drinking coffee and sipping ouzo. Half of them are busy building a medium-size fishing boat.

“There were once many shipyards in Simi, located just behind the customs building,” told me George and Panormitis Haskas, both master-shipbuilders. “Here the sponge divers used to build their boats: “trehantiria”, “varkalades”, “achtarmades”.

The names of the old boats sound to me like ancient sea music: literally unknown today, alas!… Those legendary boats work no more…too bad, but what can we do? Times are changing…

“After 1948, the sponge industry was flourishing, and one could see at least 200 boats in Yialos harbor. We had a boat that went to Marsa Matruh and Bigkaza (Benghazi) “says the lawyer George Antoniadis, another good fellow of this charming companionship. “But not many came back. They died there in the sand… “.

Countless are the bitter but proud stories of the Simiot divers. Because, in Simi in the past lived the most famous, the most daring divers in the Mediterranean! The were the greatest. “Our science was diving…” I read yesterday on an old inscription on the small Maritime Museum in Yialos.

Simiot divers discovered the Antikythera ancient shipwreck on May 1900: in a single dive 50 meters deep for sponges Simiot Ilias Lykopantis saw the bottom of the sea studded with ancient Greek statues!

Ναυτικό μουσείο, Σύμη, Δωδεκάννησα

Famous divers for centuries Simiots dived “naked’ (by holding their breath only-no other support system whatsoever-) at inconceivable depths (until 1863, when the first scuba diving system,the legendary “Machine-as they called it-came into use for the first time in Simi).

Did the old ones grow in water? Probably… since their incredible capacity for apnea was totally unrealistic by any human standards then and possibly even till our days. The German traveller Johannes Hayman wrote in 1720 that any Simiot who could not dive 20 fathoms (i.e. 36 meters!) was at least unsuitable for marriage! This is it! Absurd but true! This was a genuine certificate of masculinity!

Earlier at the Museum, I remember how excited I was in front of the black and white portrait of the legendary Ioannis Hatzis: boned cheeks, long mustache and “the kampanelopetra” (the particular round stone used as ballast for a rapid descent into the depths) in his hand.

Hatzis was born in 1876 and died in 1936. He was the first recorded man to dive the deepest by holding his breadth: in 1913 he jumped to 84 meters to tie the anchor of the Italian battleship” Regina Margarita”. The Italian doctor of the ship suffered a surprise-shock when Hatzis surfaced unscathed! He wrote in the logbook of his ship the “miraculous” achievement and thus preserved for posterity the unbelivable record!

 

Ναυτικό μουσείο, Σύμη, Δωδεκάννησα

 

I am now talking with all these extraordinary guys in Pedi about the secrets behind the construction of wooden ships,about old times, the long and dangerous travels to Africa, about the critically injured divers by the diver’s disease, for all kinds of old and new diving equipment, talking about the years of prosperity of the island and the rare “big fluffy blond sponges”.

“Well… I should tell you the story of Captain Dragon ..” shouts a friend who stops his bike under the shade of the large trees to gossip with us, momentarily. Thus begins the story of Captain Dragon, who was not a Simiot but originated from Trikeri (a village in central Greece), intrepid sponge diver (I’m not sure if Captain Dragon ever existed: his story smelled alcohol from miles away).

“And not to mention Benghazi …” he says. I look and feel excited… these men who chain-smoke and remember things that happened a century ago as if it were just yesterday. All around the shipyard smells distinctly of steaming tar mixed with the fresh smell of sour woodchip…

Καρνάγιο, Σύμη, Δωδεκάννησα

 

On the Simi harbor crowds have been brought from Rhodes. They are absorbed into shopping sponges, shells, corals next to the old diving suits –used today as an exquisite attraction! The natural sponge is no longer but a humble folk.

Do all these travellers know from what astonishing depths comes this souvenir that they are sandwiching inside their backpacks? I know, maybe I sound a bit unfair…but I am very moved by the stories I heard about the old divers.

You see…I dive too. I am diving freestyle,respecting the art of knowing how to hold your breath. I feel like a spiritual descendant,myself and all my friends who are serious divers as well. Those old divers will remain our “heroes” for days and years to come…

Sensitivities? Yes, of course. But now I stop writing. I get my gear and go out off the coast of Emporio village for some diving. «Wait for meeee .. … Don’t hurry dude … » cries my American friend Les Meyers. I think I have a mask for him.
I take a deep breath. Go …

Ναυτικό μουσείο, Σύμη, Δωδεκάννησα

 

Where am I?

Simi belongs to the Dodecanese. Pedi village is next to the main town which is also called Simi.

 

 




  



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