Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Who Pays The Ferryman?

Image: Newly built and extended Evthilos harbor

There is something very reassuring about watching the arrival of the daily ferry from Piraeus. Depending on the direction of the wind, you can often hear – and even feel – the steady pulse of its motors long before it appears around the headland that obscures the ferry’s approach into Evthilos harbour (one of two ferry stops on the Aegean island of Ikaria).

This feeling of reassurance, and the sense of security the ferry engenders has to do with the dependence islanders have on this vital link to mainland Greece. Not just because it is the most efficient and cost effective way of transporting large numbers of people between Athens and Ikaria (and the other islands along its route), but also because of the other benefits the ferry brings.

Greek island ferries don’t just transport people, they carry all the daily essentials that modern societies take for granted. From fresh fruit and vegetables, to all manner of groceries; from building materials and feed for livestock to white goods and computer systems. All these and much more depend on a vast ferry system to reach their destinations on far flung islands across the Aegean, the Cyclades, Dodecanese, Saronic and Ionian islands, and other regions.

Some three dozen companies, large and small, provided thousands of ferry sailings each month. Not only are all the major Greek islands and dozens of smaller islands serviced by these companies, but some ferries will even get you as far as Venice, Italy; Port Said, Egypt; Haifa, Israel; Limassol, Cyprus; and Bodrum, Marmaris and other ports along the Turkish coast.

Image: Loading ramp of the Blue Star Line’s Ithaki about to berth in Mykonos

The main ferry servicing Ikaria is the Nissos Mykonos, a 28 knot vessel capable of carrying 1,900 passengers and up to 418 vehicles. The seven hour journey to Evthilos also includes stops at the islands of Syros and Mykonos. From Evthilos the ferry continues around to Agios Kyrikos, the capital of Ikaria, and from there on to the island of Samos before making a night trip back to Piraeus. Travellers who like a bit of luxury on their overnight journeys can relax and sleep in one of 31 cabins provided for the purpose.

Built in Greece in 2005, the Nissos Mykonos is a far cry from the old ferries that Greece was known for 20 or 30 years ago. Owned and operated by Hellenic Seaways, this award winning vessel, like many other modern ferries provides passengers with a level of comfort, speed and regular itineraries that comes as a something of a shock to those of us who sailed on the old rust buckets that masqueraded as Greek ferries in the past. The Nissos Mykonos, even provides free WiFi for the plugged in traveler to make use of on long voyages.
Gone too, are the days when passengers and baggage had to be off-loaded from the decks of ferries into pitching rowing boats, for the final hundred yard ‘splash and dash’ to the safety of the harbor-side. Now ferries moor inside fine harbors, and reverse up against wharves which allow passengers and vehicles to pour off (and on) them quickly, efficiently, and safely.

Image: The EKO 1 fuel transporter in Evthilos harbor. Note the No Smoking sign on superstructure

Some types of vehicles seem to be absent from the decks of the Nissos Mykonos, and presumably similar vessels. These are fuel laden trucks and trailers that clearly pose a major hazard on the pitching decks of an island bound ferry. To prevent this type of accident, small, specially designed ships visit the islands on a regular basis to off-load fuel into trucks which carry their precious (and dangerous) loads to service stations across each island.

While Ikaria is reachable via a regular ferry service, the island is also large enough – and busy enough – to have its own airport. Those visitors not wishing to spend seven or eight hours on a ferry, can fly between Athens and the island in a couple of hours or so. But for me, one of the joys of travel, is the pleasure I get from journeying on waterborne craft of any size (see previous entries: Up A Lazy River…, and Brooklyn Hidden Harbor Tour…).

One of the best online sites to begin your research on Greek ferries is Matt Barrett’s Athens Guide, where you will find a wealth of information about ferry services, and a mass of information about Athens and other parts of Greece.

1 comment:

  1. Nissos Mykonos is a top-level ship, great accomodation features and very fast!


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