5/7: A touch obsessed . . .

from John: Lovely boats Bill, they all seem to be double enders, is that cos they are the most common or are you touch obsessed?”

The answer is yes and no – yes, I am a touch obsessed, but not about canoe sterns. As you say, canoe sterns are common to these boats.

My ‘obsession’, such that it is, is for the individual boat builders, the fisherman and all those who work these boats.

I became fascinated by small boat design when I read Edgar March’s book ‘Inshore Craft of Britain in the days of sail and oar’, published in 1970.

“. . . before the days of marine engines, scores of picturesquely-named craft, worked out of tiny harbours and off open beaches around the coasts of Britain.” It was the differences in the boats that I found so interesting.

For example, these were all designed to be fishing boats. Why did this one evolve like this?

(Click image to enlarge)

. . . .when, only 150 miles east as the crow flies, this one evolved like this?

. . .  and some 300 miles north this one like this?

Obviously, the differences came about to suit the the needs of the people who worked them. Therefore the design of working boats tells us  a great deal about the coasts they are found in and the  knowledge, skills and attitudes of the people who live there.

But local boat design is disappearing. Fishing is being discouraged, fewer people work in the industry, boat production has moved to the factories. There is no a need for the local boat-builders who were found all along the coasts in the days Edgar March was describing. There are fewer and fewer true examples of local working boats in the UK.

Similarly in Crete and mainland Greece. The local fishing boats are disappearing.  Apparently, the average working life of these wooden fishing boats is 26 years. They come, they go – they are no longer replaced. Tourism is taking over (and, yes, I am obviously part of that).

The real tragedy is the loss of the local knowledge behind the boats. If the boats are no longer needed in this form, certainly the knowledge, skills and attitudes behind them are. The local population, not the tourist, lies at the heart of  a coastal community. However important tourism may be  for a local economy, it’s influence is negative if it takes away the character of the area it occupies.


John, that’s a long way for canoe sterns. I will come back to them, I promise.

There are at least two more in the short series of fishing boats in Crete.

For Love of a Boat.

3/7: Eight fishing boats – no longer fishing

These are beautiful boats. If I  lived in the Mediterranean I would be proud to own one. But, as I mentioned before, there is something missing.

They were surely built for fishing. Where’s all the fishing gear?

(Click image to enlarge)

It isn’t that they don’t give pleasure to their owners – or to those of us looking on. What is missing is the original purpose – the drive that created them in the first place.

Perhaps they have been saved the fate mentioned in my last post, but I can’t help thinking that Captain George would have thought the same thing.

In the For Love of a Boat series.

2/7: Nine bow posts

I don’t know the Greek for bow post.

They are very distinctive to the small inshore boats in Crete and throughout Greece.

(Click image to enlarge)

“Greek island fishing boats destroyed”.  The website is Greek Island Travel and there is an understandable slant  towards preserving these boats for people to enjoy their holidays in Greece. OK, if that what it takes. But these are essentially work boats.

I have plenty of images of boats that are no longer used for fishing, many of them fine-looking craft in their own right.

But it is the fishermen himself that gives life to his boat – gives it its unique character.  Lose the fisherman, you lose the character.

I will try and demonstrate this in later posts.

in the For Love of  a Boat series.

1/7: Four tillers

This is a continuation of the For Love of a Boat series.

From my last post, you can see I have been thinking about Crete.

Here – and in a number of posts to come (I don’t know how many yet), I am putting together groups of ‘boat pictures’ taken in Crete over the past ten years.

Time goes on. Political, economic and social pressures mean that some (many?) boats will end up like this:

This boat happened to be in Crete, but there are boats like this all over the world. They become neglected, then irreparable – and then they disappear. Whatever the reasons for it – and there are reasons aplenty, most of us would prefer to see boats maintained and cared for. There follows a record of some of these :


Four tillers (click on an image to enlarge it)


Thank you

We went to Crete at the end of May. We have been there several times, We like it a lot – the island, the people, the food, the climate.

We go with friends and we walk – on the rather relaxed principle that to get to know a place you walk in it rather than drive over it.

We linger – enjoying the stony paths, the smell of herbs in the air, the depth of the gorges, the occasional eagle (and the vultures), the warmth of the sea at the end of the day.

One of us lingers a lot around quays and harbours and fishing boats.

We usually find a taverna at certain points in the day. We talk about this and that.

This year we did it all  . . .

except . . .

in the second week, a broken ankle changed the routine.

And something kicked in that most people only experience occasionally – the kindness of strangers.


I approve of the guidelines for the Jester Azores Challenge:

  • no regulations: skippers will be entirely responsible for the equipment they take, based on their own experience
  • only hint of bureaucracy will be the signing of a form of indemnity accepting the skipper’s full duty of care for himself, his dependants and his fellow seafarers during his participation in the JAC.

To travel on land or sea is to accept responsibility for yourself, your own safety and, if accompanied, the safety of those with you.

If you get into trouble, you may not be able to deal with it all yourself, then you turn to others for help, but that help is at their disecretion, it is not your right.


So, one morning in June, on Gramvousa Island off north west Crete, on a long descent of sometimes uneven steps, an ankle turned and, by the angle of the foot, it was obvious bones were broken.

Peggy, Chris, Mike and I looked at Peggy’s ankle, then at each other, then at the tourist boat some distance away. All with the same thoughts: what should we do immediately, how should we get her to the boat, and how were we going to get the medical help she so obviously needed?

From that moment on, people appeared:

  • French ladies who insisted Mike and I carried her ‘correctly’ – (messieurs!), and insisted on taking our gear;
  • the young French rep who made two splints out of driftwood  and carefully bandaged the ankle;
  • the boats crew who made ice packs;
  • the many fellow passengers who came to express their sympathy and talk to her;
  • Manolis, our hotel manager, who, after a phone call from the boat,organised the taxi driver;
  • the taxi driver himself, who took us to the local hospital in Kastelli and insisted on finding a wheelchair and looking for the doctor;
  • the doctor, her assistant and the nurse who examined and properly splinted the ankle;
  • the radiologist the following morning who promptly provided the x-rays that showed the extent of the injury and the need to go to the regional hospital in Chania;
  • the taxi driver who came to our aid once again and delivered us to the Accident and Emergency Department at Chania General Hospital, where the x-rays were viewed, the ankle examined, the bones manipulated gently into a better position, the ankle resplinted and more x-rays taken;
  • the orthopaedic surgeon who did all this and explained the problem.

There followed a week in hospital, including an operation to place plates and screws on the day we were supposed to fly back to the UK.

And more people:

  • the clinical nursing staff;
  • the nursing care staff who helped us when they could despite being assigned to particular patients;
  • the elderly lady in the same ward
  • the Belgian couple, she run down by a motorbike, he shocked at what had happened;
  • Stelios and Costas of the Cellar Tavern in Kastelli-Kissamos. We ate there most nights, enjoying the stunning view of the sea and the excellent food. Valuing our independence, we didn’t go on Stelios’ walking tours – perhaps it would have been sensible if we had done. However, every evening we saw those that had walked with him  and were impressed by the way they had so obviously enjoyed the experience.
  • But above all, Manolis, manager of the Galini Beach Hotel, who went far beyond the call of duty to make sure that we were managing in the hospital ok and were as happy as possible in that situation. He found a wheelchair for us, organised a car for me to drive to Chania, taxis when we needed them. Hotels are as much about the management as they are about anything else. He was superb. We will stay there again.

Greece, of which Crete is a part, has had difficult time over the past years. A lot has been said, and politics has taken its toll. The national self-interest of many countries have led to sometimes misleading comments, designed to satisfy a home audience rather than allowing a balanced view. But we were reminded of something important in the week that we were sorting out the ankle problem: the deep well of humanity in Crete – a willingness to help each other on a person-to-person level.

Throughout Europe we are buying into regulation, as if this is ‘the answer’.  The very existence of the regulatory bodies  allows them to regulate more and more. This is what they do, with the tendency to depersonalise the organisations that they are intended to monitor. It is not that regulation itself is wrong. It is that it has been overdone and, in doing so, diminished those involved.

The values they espouse are shorter-term economic ones. But where are the longer-term values of  trust, goodwill, generosity of spirit – vital ingredients in the complex range of values that drive people forward? Where will they be in ten years time?

In Crete, we felt those values in action and were lifted by them.

Thank you to all those mentioned above. We will come back.

For love of a boat – Trechandiri follow-up

AA comments on my Trechandiri post:

“The word Trehandiri (Τρεχαντήρι) is loosely translated to ‘A fast boat’ which is kind of obvious for the first picture (a long and narrow boat that does not upset the water around it too much, a bit like the rowing skiffs) but not so obvious for the boats in the second picture that look more stable (wide) than fast. So perhaps they were termed ‘Fast Boats’ because they were also powered by motors.

The designers had to strike this balance between speed / stability / useful volume (after all you still need space for all the fish harvest 😀 )…These dimensions and other design elements were defined (or rather homed in) without mathematical models and simulations in different sea states at expensive experimental facilities.

I think that this is a good reason to preserve the boats and relevant pieces of the art from that era…(and of course not only the Greek fishing boats).”


I think AA has got it exactly right – “These dimensions and other design elements were defined without mathematical models and simulations in different sea states at expensive experimental facilities.

Boat-building was an art before it became a science.

Men looked at the sea, applied their common sense and, using tools that they created themselves, turned local materials into craft that had value and beauty by virtue of their function.

Did they get it right first time? Probably not. But they learnt by doing. Shapes and designs evolved . . .  and kept on evolving, handed on from generation to generation.

It is the vessels that are the results of this process that are being lost today. (Yes, there are still people building in this way in some parts of the world. But they are getting fewer and fewer).

Science has created a different process. The generation thing is not necessary any more – at least in the sense of person-to-person. It is more technical advance-to-technical advance. This may be spelt out in days or weeks rather than years. For example, every year new advances in technology create new products which lead to new fashions that can be seen everywhere. This year seems to be the year of the small RIB, the sit-on kayak and some very fast boats – as well as touch-screen monitors and AIS sets.

That’s great. As someone, who taps at a keyboard, posting yet more words on the internet, I like technology – and use it more and more.

But, in posting the ‘love of a boat’ series, I have noticed how technology is occluding this one important aspect of our lives: our respect for the deeper layer of human endeavour born of past generations, that lives in the present and will hopefully be passed on to our children.

It isn’t that we do not have the ability to be creative nor the willingness to gain skills, nor even that we do not care, it is that we are being hurried along a certain path that requires us to follow rather than to lead. We barely have time to assimilate one advance before the next one leapfrogs it. The pace of change is increasing.

The price of this is in many, many small losses that individually can be dismissed but in the end will add up to an impoverished society.

The demise of the ‘traditional’ craft is one of these losses.


becomes this:

by doing nothing.

When AA says “I think this is a good reason to preserve the boats and relevant pieces of the art from that era”, I absolutely agree with him.

For love of a boat – Trechandiri

Paleochora, Crete 2009

I have started reading Mike Smylie’s ‘Fishing the European Coast’.

In 153 pages, he has written a comprehensive series of notes and reminiscences on the very wide range of boats found around the European coast.

It is the perfect overview for someone who enjoys differences in boat design  from port to port, from local conditions to local conditions, from culture to culture . . . as well as for someone interested in the evolution of craft.

For example, over the past year, I have posted many images of Greek trechandiri. Smylie writes:

“The trechandiri is the workhorse of Greek coastal fishers . . . . . The advent of motors in the 1920s simply produced a fatter, fuller body section, while in profile they were unchanged. Once the rig was removed, superstructures were added! They are ubiquitous throughout the Aegean – that sea of thousands of islands, and have one thing in common, a length/beam/depth ratio of round about 9:3:1. There are two schools of thought on their origins. Some say they developed from a particular type of caique, first built in Hydra in 1658, while others suggest they evolved from the trabaccolo, a type of sailing vessel used for trading in the Adriatic.”

Agios Nikolaos, The Mani, Greece 2007

Length/beam/depth ratios have taken on a new meaning :-).

Mr Smylie adds to what I learnt from the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth earlier in the year and from Denham’s book on ‘The Aegean’.

And the images have taken on a new meaning too.

For the origins of this image series, here