On the wooded slopes of an island mountain sits the unmistakable form of a traditional Greek boat. It’s called a caique, or kaiki, the likes of which have sailed the seas surrounding Greece for many hundreds of years. One man alone, a boat builder, fells, trims, and shapes every single wooden plank on the boat. He uses techniques handed down through generations, from father to son, uncle to nephew. Sadly, the current generation of Greek boat builders might be the last.
Fewer people are ordering wooden boats. Plastic and fiberglass vessels are cheaper to maintain. And fewer people are building wooden boats. Many young adults don’t want to pursue a profession that requires years of apprenticeship, is physically and mentally draining, and has an uncertain future.
“Unfortunately, I see the profession slowly dying,” says Giorgos Kiassos, one of the last remaining boat builders on Samos. The island of Samos is known for its caiques. People recognize Samos’ boats for their fine workmanship and durability. Currently, Kiassos is working on two different boats in his mountain boatyard. One is a 45-foot pleasure craft. The other is a 30-foot fishing boat. Both boats are being made to order.
“Yes, it’s an art, but it’s also heavy work. It’s tough work. It’s manual labor that’s tiring, and now the young people—none of them are following,” laments Kiassos.
Giorgos Tsinidelos started working at age 12 at his grandfather’s boatyard on Samos. Now the retired boat builder is 75. He spent many years as an apprentice. “You don’t learn this job in a year or two. It takes many years,” he explains. “Don’t forget that you take wood, and you create a masterpiece, a boat.”
There is no boat-building school for Greece’s boat builders, and apprenticeships take a long time. That’s time that most young people today don’t want to commit.
Pages of the New Testament are filled with stories that revolve around boats. Jesus taught from them. His disciples worked out of them. Paul traveled in them—in the seas around Greece. Greece’s boats today are reminiscent of the boats of ancient biblical history that navigated the same waters.
Andreas Karamanolis is a 45-year-old boat builder on Samos. He holds out hope that the boat-building tradition will not die. “I believe that people will return to the wooden boat. I want to believe it. Because the truth is, no other boat has the durability of the wooden boat. Not the plastic ones, not any of them,” he says.