Trip: 8 September 2020. From Koufonisi to Naxos, via Schoinousa and Irakleia, with the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS of Small Cyclades Lines.
The legendary small ferry EXPRESS SKOPELITIS, known as the 'Little Hero of the Lesser Cyclades Islands', was built in 1986 in Greece, as the ERESSOS II of Baïraktaris Shipping. The latter had started service back in 1981, back when they deployed the newly-built passenger ship ERESSOS on the Mytilene-Ayvalık line, which connects Greece with Turkey via the Northeast Aegean Sea and the Mytilene Strait. Five years later, they doubled their services on the line by introducing the ERESSOS II. In 1998, the company ceased operations, selling the ERESSOS to the Mykonos-based company Delos Tours (for whom she has since been sailing as the MARGARITA CH), while the ERESSOS II was sold to Amorgos-based company Small Cyclades Lines, owned by the Skopelitis family. She was renamed EXPRESS SKOPELITIS and was deployed on the Naxos-Irakleia-Schoinousa-Koufinisi-Donousa-Amorgos-Ios-Santorini line, replacing the older ship SKOPELITIS, which was retired. She has remained on this service ever since.
For over two decades, the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS has been one of the most appreciated and acclaimed ferries of the Cyclades. She has been the main source of transportation for the Lesser Cyclades residents, and she plays a vital role in maintaining the daily connection of all islands between them. Notably, she has been praised for being the main supplier of goods and for never leaving the passengers of all these small islands behind. She sails throughout the entire year, including during the demanding (in terms of weather) winter season, and only misses 20 days per year, during which she performs her annual refit in Salamina in order to return fully-upgraded and in anticipation of the summer season. The Skopelitis family has widely been venerated by the residents of Irakleia, Schoinousa, Koufonisi and Donousa for providing constant and professional service for so many decades. They were notably honoured for their contribution to the Greek coastal service by winning the prestigious 'Passenger Line of the Year' award given by Lloyd's List Greek Shipping Awards in 2013. But even such an award is not enough to define the importance of this ferry on the Lesser Cyclades. She symbolises the tradition and warmth of the Lesser Cyclades residents, and their connection with the rest of Greece through larger Cyclades islands like Naxos and Amorgos. She operates daily on the Lesser Cyclades, with the only other ship supporting her being the much larger BLUE STAR NAXOS of Blue Star Ferries which sails from Piraeus. She only serves Ios and Santorini during the summer, whereas all the other islands are served throughout the entire year.
A view of the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS in Naxos, just five days before I traveled onboard her for the first time ever.
Having a trip onboard the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS was a lifelong dream which became a reality on 8 September 2020. Indeed, just five days earlier, I went to Koufonisi for the first time alongside my two best friends from my university, by traveling onboard the BLUE STAR NAXOS. After visiting this precious island for five days, it was the time for us to head back to Piraeus. As the BLUE STAR NAXOS had shifted to her winter season schedule, the timetables did not satisfy our needs, and therefore we decided to make our return to Piraeus under two trips: the first one would be from Koufonisi to Naxos with the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS, and the second one would be from Naxos to Piraeus with the BLUE STAR DELOS of Blue Star Ferries. Thus, I would now be able to experience a trip onboard this unique ferry, as she would sail from Koufonisi to Naxos via Schoinousa and Irakleia. This was obviously my first-ever trip between the Lesser Cyclades, and my fourth-ever inter-Cyclades trip.
A view of the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS in the port of Koufonisi, just before we embarked onboard her. As it was in the early morning, the sunlight clearly imposed itself over the ship.
A view of the small garage of the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS, which is able to transport many vehicles that travel along the Lesser Cyclades on a daily basis. It is also said that sometimes donkeys travel onboard the ship, something which you rarely find in a ferry! On top of the door leading to the indoor deck of the ship is the company's logo. The 'S' serves as the initial for the Skopelitis family.
The EXPRESS SKOPELITIS has three main decks. The bottom deck is for the garage and the indoor area, whereas the middle deck features the ship's outdoor alleys, sun decks, bar, as well as the bridge. The upper deck is an open deck featuring seats for passengers. Here is the port side outdoor alley in the middle deck, which leads from the ship's stern to the front section. On the left side is one of her two funnels.
A view of the outdoor sun deck located in the front section of the ship. It features many white benches looking towards the wooden door located right behind the ship's bridge. It serves as the small room leading from the indoor area of the bottom deck to the outdoor area of the middle deck.
A view of the starboard side in the middle deck, which features some benches as well as some lifeboats.
One of the most distinguishable features of the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS: the open deck located in the upper deck. It is a small area, but it features several chairs that enable passengers to have a large view on the Cyclades. In front of the open deck is the ship's foremast.
At around 08:40 we left Koufonisi in order to head towards Naxos.
The Greek flag seen sailing proudly over the stern of the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS.
After just 40 minutes, the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS had arrived in Schoinousa, which was the first port at which we stopped following our departure from Koufonisi.
A view of the small port of Schoinousa, an island which has hugely benefitted from the services offered by the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS.
After just 10 minutes, the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS was already in Irakleia. It is noteworthy to state that the distance between Irakleia and Schoinousa is one of the shortest on the Cyclades. This was the last island of the Lesser Cyclades in which the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS docked, before heading towards her final destination: Naxos.
For the next two hours, the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS was heading towards Naxos, where she would be resting before making her return trip to Amorgos via the Lesser Cyclades. On the way to Naxos, we passed by the small passenger sailing boat IASON of Cycladic Cruises. Built in 1997, she has been owned by Cycladic Cruises since 2007. She has spent her entire career on the Naxos-Paros line, although the 2020 season saw her operating on the Naxos-Paros-Koufonisi line for the first time. Her fleetmate is perhaps more famous. Indeed, it is the small high speed catamaran ALEXANDER, which operates on the Naxos-Paros-Delos-Mykonos-Irakleia-Koufonisi-Ios-Santorini line.
A few moments later, I saw another small passenger boat, namely the small high speed boat KYRIARCHOS II of Kerras Cruises. She was built in 2011, and was the second ship to be delivered to Kerras Cruises, following the KYRIARCHOS. She operates on the Naxos-Irakleia-Schoinousa-Koufonisi line, operating in small cruises and private trips. She additionally sails around different parts of Naxos, including between the port and the famous beach of Agia Anna.
A view of the KYRIARCHOS II, as she is seen sailing on the Cyclades after having left the port of Naxos.
Another view of the KYRIARCHOS II, in what was her tenth summer under Kerras Cruises.
At around 11:10, hence two-and-a-half hours after having left Koufonisi, the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS had arrived in Naxos, thus completing her morning service along the Lesser Cyclades.
Next to her, I spotted the high speed catamaran SEA JET 2 of Sea Jets departing the port.
As the SEA JET 2 was leaving, her fleetmate, the WORLDCHAMPION JET, was seen arriving in Naxos as well.
A view of the SEA JET 2 as she is seen leaving Naxos, while the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS carries-out her maneuvering procedure.
The WORLDCHAMPION JET seen arriving in Naxos. Built in 2000 and owned by Sea Jets since 2018, she was spending her second summer under the latter. After a massively successful first season on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Naxos-Santorini line, the high speed ferry was spending her second summer on the Piraeus-Syros-Mykonos-Paros-Naxos-Ios-Santorini line.
The SEA JET 2 seen leaving Naxos, while the WORLDCHAMPION JET prepares to dock.
The WORLDCHAMPION JET preparing to undergo her maneuvering procedure in Naxos. In addition to becoming the fastest ferry in the Greek coastal service, she also won the prestigious 'Ship of the Year' award given by Lloyd's List Greek Shipping Awards for the year 2019. This was the same organisation which had rewarded Small Cyclades Lines back in 2013.
A view of the WORLDCHAMPION JET as she is about to undergo her maneuvering procedure.
The WORLDCHAMPION JET seen docking in Naxos. In the meantime, the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS had also docked.
A view of the EXPRESS SKOPELITIS in the port of Naxos, shortly after we had disembarked.
As such, the first part of our trip from Koufonisi to Piraeus had ended, following our arrival in Naxos. I was fortunate enough to have done it with such a unique ferry, which is the much-acclaimed local ferry of the Lesser Cyclades. The EXPRESS SKOPELITIS might no longer be one of the youngest ferries in Greece, but she certainly provides a demanding service that few ships in the Greek coastal service are able to perform. She is a vital part of these small yet beautiful islands, and she never misses a single port while performing her long itinerary. I was impressed with her outdoor amenities, and was very happy to had finally experienced them in-person, after having only known them previously through pictures and videos. Her crew, the true heroes of the Lesser Cyclades, continues to maintain her up to the highest standards, and this will certainly continue to be the case for many years to come. I will remember this trip forever, as I was able to witness history and tradition within two-and-a-half hours.