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  • Writer's pictureAlexandros Vrailas

Passenger Ships in Santorini on 11 July 2015

Santorini is perhaps the most famous island in Greece, along with Mykonos. Both Cyclades islands are known worldwide for their beautiful architecture, landscape, beaches and natural treasures, and are the two most visited islands in the country, with thousands of tourists arriving every year, especially during the summer. Santorini is the Southernmost island on the Cyclades, and belongs to the Santorini Archipelago, which is a group of islands that were all part of an island known as Strongili during the Cycladic civilisation era, before volcanic eruptions separated them constantly throughout the years. The islands that are part of that archipelago are (obviously) Santorini (the largest and the most important; the island is also known as Thira or Fyra, which is the name of its capital city), Thirassia (the only inhabited island along with Santorini), Palaia Kameni and Nea Kameni (where the volcano is located) and Aspronisi. All islands are very frequently visited by tourists, and the volcanic islands (Palaia Kameni and Nea Kameni) are subject to daily tours. All these tours are only reachable through ship transportation, and this post is based on most the ships I was able to see that do all the daily work so that the tourists get to see the gifted nature of the archipelago.

Shipping has been a very important tradition in Santorini ever since Greece became independent in 1830. It is the island which operates the biggest maritime traffic in the country, as it operates the local ships going to the neighbouring islands, and is also the top destination for cruise ships from all around the world (especially during the summer). Many residents operate shipping companies that have become very important to the connection of the island with Crete, Piraeus, the rest of the Cyclades and the rest of the world through airports (Nomicos, Panagiotopoulos), and the island is always a favourite place for Hellenic Seaways, ANEK Lines, Blue Star Ferries, Sea Jets and many other Greek coastal service companies.

I will now talk about the trip I had with my family during my visit in Santorini (in which I arrived with the BLUE STAR PATMOS of Blue Star Ferries). It was an organised guided tour, held on 11 July 2015, which began from the port of Ammoudi in Oia (the Northernmost-and the most beautiful-village of Santorini) to Nea Kameni, Palaia Kameni, Thirassia, and directly back to Oia. We made the trip with the wooden sailing ships of the company Santorini Boatmen Union. This company operates the largest fleet of tour ships on the Santorini Archipelago (20 ships as of 2016), and is owned, as its name indicates it, by local boatmen from Santorini. It has been operating since 1945, so I boarded one of their ships during the seventieth anniversary of the historic shipping enterprise. The fleet consists of three wooden traditional sailing ships, nine small passenger rafts, and eight modern small high speed ships. In this case, I traveled with the traditional sailing ship AFRODITI, which is the largest and youngest amongst the three ships of the company. She was built in 2004 in Greece, and has spent her entire career with the Santorini Boatmen Union.

Breakfast in Oia: From the restaurant I saw the SUPER JET of Sea Jets, which had made her morning arrival in Santorini, and was now returning to Ios.

The super speedy SUPER JET. She was spending her third consecutive summer on the Rafina-Tinos-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line, where she had successfully been deployed back in 2013.

The SUPER JET seen leaving Santorini. She has been owned by Sea Jets since 2004, when she became their first-ever ship. Before that, she operated as the SEA JET 1 for Strintzis Lines (1995-2000), Blue Star Ferries under the Blue Star Jets division (2000-2002) and as the JET ONE for Aegean Jet Maritime (2002-2004). Her entire career has been spent on the Cyclades so far, except for the 2004 season (her debut season under Sea Jets), when she operated on the Northeast Aegean Sea and the Dodecanese while serving the Rafina-Samos-Ikaria-Patmos-Leipsoi-Leros line.

One of the modern high speed ships of Santorini Boatmen Union, the CAPTAIN KOULIS, leaving Oia for the small volcanic islands.

A beautiful sailing ship seen from Oia.

Leaving Oia, onboard the AFRODITI.

Crossing the CAPTAIN KIOULIS, on her way to Oia, after having boarded the passengers from Nea Kameni. She was built in 2007, being one of the first small high speed boats ordered by her company. She was also the first of four small sister ships built between 2007 and 2009. The ships that followed were the YPAPANTI in 2007, the NEFELI in 2008 and the ORPHEAS in 2009.

While approaching Nea Kameni, we crossed another high speed tour ship, the IOANNIS D, which is owned by the Santorini Boatmen Union's main competitors, Dakoutros Shipping.

Just like the Santorini Boatmen Union, Dakoutros Shipping operates tour excursions in the volcanic islands of the Santorini Archipelago. They also operate their ships by having them transport the cruise ships' passengers to the island, as, due to infrastructural constraints, none of Santorini's ports are able to fit any of the gigantic cruise ships that arrive on the island everyday. The company was on the news for the past three years, as it built three small high speed boats in 2013 and 2014. The one built in 2013 is the small IOANNIS D (bearing the name of the company's patriarch, Ioannis Dakoutros) photographed above, and the two sister ships that were built in 2014 are the FANTASIA and the PRESTIGE, which are slightly bigger than the IOANNIS D. All three operate under Dakoutros Speed, which a subsidiary of the entire Dakoutros Shipping company (also known as Santorini Boatmen Services). This means that the company (Dakoutros Speed) had, on the day of my visit, a fleet average age of only 1.3 years, which was the youngest one in all of the Greek coastal service. These three high speed boats therefore represent the rise of the local touring industry and their company's continued and traditional success in the region. One thing that I forgot to point out is that all ships were built in Greece, and therefore are a representation of the country's pride in building tour boats. Moreover, three small high speed boats have been ordered by the company for service during the summer of 2016. One of them, due to operate as the PELAGOS, is a sister ship of the FANTASIA and of the PRESTIGE, while the other two (whose names have not yet been announced) are sister ships of the smaller IOANNIS D. Besides Dakoutros Speed, Dakoutros Shipping operates Dakoutros Brothers Cruises, which consists of five traditional sailing boats operating on the Santorini-Nea Kameni-Palaia Kameni-Thirassia line: the SANTA IRINI, the POSEIDONAS, the ODYSSEAS, the AGIOS NIKOLAOS and the JASON. Furthermore, it also operates on the same line with the small passenger ship CALYPSO, which operates under Dakoutros Glass Bottom Boat Cruises.

Based on all the information I have give to you so far, you can see that the Santorini Boatmen Union and Dakoutros Shipping are two main tour operators on the Santorini Archipelago, as they have the biggest and most modern ships in the area. There are also two other notable local operators, which have also been present on the Santorini Archipelago for many years. The first company is Santorini Sea Excursions, which operates four traditional wooden sailing ships (the ALCYON, the CAPTAIN LEFTERIS, the CAPTAIN GIANNIS and the AGIOS NIKOLAOS), while the second company is Kamari Tours, which owns one traditional sailing boat (the KING THIRAS) and one regular passenger boat (the MANOLIOS, formerly a fishing boat). All of them operate on the Santorini-Nea Kameni-Palaia Kameni-Thirassia line as well.

All three Dakoutros Speed ships seen together in Nea Kameni (from left to right): the IOANNIS D, the FANTASIA and the PRESTIGE.

The bows of the two smallest in age but bigger in size ships of Dakoutros Speed, the FANTASIA and the PRESTIGE.

The IOANNIS D seen in Nea Kameni.

The stern of the IOANNIS D mentioning the ship's name in Greek, along with the port of registry, Piraeus, in a stylish font.

The AFRODITI and another sailing ship, the PEGASUS of Santorini Excursions, anchored in Nea Kameni.

The two sailing ships, the PEGASUS and the AFRODITI, seen together in Nea Kameni. Behind them is the small passenger boat MANOLIOS of Kamari Tours, which looks like a former fishing boat.

From Nea Kameni, I got to see the HIGHSPEED 4 of Hellenic Seaways, which operated on the Heraklion-Santorini-Ios-Paros-Mykonos line for the summer instead of the HIGHSPEED 5, which had suffered a fire while undergoing conversion. The latter will return to the line in 2016 under the name HIGHSPEED 7, fully rebuilt and renovated.

From far away I saw the flagship of Sea Jets, the TERA JET, competing against the HIGHSPEED 4 on the Heraklion-Santorini-Ios-Naxos-Mykonos line in a fierce rivalry between the two companies. The ship here leaves Santorini for Ios.

From the volcano's rocks I also saw one of the many cruise ships berthed near Santorini. This one is the FREEDOM OF THE SEAS of American cruise giants Royal Caribbean International.

A lineup of four Santorini excursion sailing ships. These are the ODYSSEAS of Dakoutros Brothers Cruises (the main company of the Dakoutros family), the CAPTAIN GIANNIS of Santorini Sea Excursions, the PRINCESS and the AFRODITI (both owned by the Santorini Boatmen Union).

The FANTASIA leaving Nea Kameni in order to board the passengers from the cruise ship AEGEAN PARADISE of Etstur and to take them to Santorini.

The PRESTIGE following her sister ship in order to carry-out the same assignment.

The FREEDOM OF THE SEAS, one of the many Royal Caribbean International ships operating on the Mediterranean Sea.

Another view of the FREEDOM OF THE SEAS.

A view of the cruise ship AEGEAN PARADISE of Turkish company Etstur, built in Japan in 1990, and operating on the Aegean Sea for many years. She previously did so as the DELPHIN VOYAGER of Delphin Kreuzfahrten, before she was sold to Etstur in 2012.

The AEGEAN PARADISE in what was her last summer on the Aegean Sea, as she was sold to Indonesian company New Century Cruise Line in December of 2015, thus returning to Asia, the continent where she was built.

Another ship owned by the Dakoutros family, the CALYPSO, which is better known as the 'Glass Bottom Boat' (operating for Dakoutros Glass Bottom Boat Cruises), since she has a glass area underneath her hull for passengers to have a view underwater.

On the way to Palaia Kameni, we saw the sailing ship CAPTAIN LEFTERIS, which is owned by Santorini Sea Excursions.

After swimming in the volcanic muddy waters of Palaia Kameni, we left for Thirassia, the other inhabited island of the Santorini Archipelago. On the way we crossed the sister ship of the SUPER JET, the SEA JET 2, also owned by Sea Jets, which was leaving Santorini for Amorgos, Koufonisi, Naxos, Paros and Mykonos.

The SEA JET 2 then set up a few waves that lightly shook the AFRODITI. In 2015, she operated on the Piraeus-Sifnos-Milos-Folegandros-Ios-Santorini-Amorgos-Koufonisi-Naxos-Paros-Mykonos line.

While arriving in Thirassia, I had the chance to see a local ferry that is hardly unnoticeable. Indeed, that was the legendary landing craft NISSOS THIRASSIA of Thirassia Lines, which makes daily crossings on the Santorini-Thirassia line, and was the only ferry serving the island since the departure of the AQUA SPIRIT of NEL Lines earlier in the spring of 2015.

Arriving at the same time as AFRODITI was the small high speed boat THIRASSIA II of Thirassia Shipping, which also makes daily crossings on the Santorini-Thirassia line, although she stops by the port of Ammoudi in Santorini.

The NISSOS THIRASSIA seen resting in her namesake island.

The NISSOS THIRASSIA, which has been operating since 1995, seen resting in her namesake island.

The NISSOS THIRASSIA spotted in Thirassia, where she was resting.

One last view of the NISSOS THIRASSIA in Thirassia.

We returned from Thirassia directly back to Ammoudi in Oia, where I was able to get a picture of the BLUE STAR DELOS of Blue Star Ferries, the sister ship of the BLUE STAR PATMOS, as she was leaving the strait between Santorini and Thirassia to go to Naxos.

The fantastic BLUE STAR DELOS returning to Piraeus. She has been on the Piraeus-Paros-Naxos-Santorini line since she began service in 2011.

I was very excited with this trip, as I was able to see many ships of all kinds, and was happy to see them since I knew already a lot of historical information on these particular local companies, and I was finally very pleased to see new islands that are very frequently visited by tourists. I learned also a lot about Santorini's tradition and the companies working non-stop to transport passengers all around the Santorini Archipelago. The hard work continued three days after this trip (and two days after my departure from Santorini), as the Santorini Boatmen Union launched and executed the maiden voyage of a newly-built big and speedy passenger ship, the SANTORINI, sister ship of the then-flagship GARBIS (built in 2013) which is extremely modern and impressive, while Dakoutros Speed is due to introduce the newly-built PELAGOS and two future sister ships of the IOANNIS D in 2016.

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