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Veteran boat builder prepares to sail
SINCE October last year, 62-year-old Antonakis Gregoris, aided by his son and wife, have been toiling day and night, re-building one of his tourist vessels that was destroyed by fire last summer.
Friends said he was nothing if not optimistic in his determination to rebuild it by this summer season. And, I admit, when I first interviewed him last December, I thought the same. Was it really possible to complete a 60 tonne vessel with just the help of a few friends and family?
For months curious locals have driven past Antonakis’ vessel often taking far more than just a passing glance. What they saw was a real Phoenix rising from the ashes, as the carpenter-builder worked 16-hour days to make his dream a reality.
Now as summer approaches, what was just a skeleton of ribs crafted from Troodos Mountain wood is now almost ready to set sail. Standing amongst fibreglass sheets, plywood and pots of paint, Antonakis is clearly delighted with the progress he has made.
“It has been hard and at times very frustrating, but I can see the light now and she will be in the water by early June,” he says. “Thank God for my friends and my family, because without them this would not be here.”
Despite the hardships faced after the blaze last year, Antonakis immediately set out on the gruelling task of towing what remained of the ship, which really was only a small part from the rear end, to a plot of land overlooking the town.
His new vessel the ‘Napa King 2’ is a giant construction of 90-metres in length. She has a rounded, and her solidity and the grace of her curves shows an honest and skilled craftsman's work.
The boat boasts a large deck, with refreshments area, a lower deck with glass bottom and enough room for over 150 tourists to enjoy full day trips along the Protaras and Ayia Napa coastline.
While scraping fibreglass on to the stern, Antonakis, who is credited as the last remaining traditional boat builder in Cyprus, says he prides himself on his traditional construction techniques applied with old fashioned care.
Antonakis started working with boats at just 10 years with his father in the port of Famagusta, where the British government had their boat yard. When he began work as an apprentice in late the 1950s, little could he know that he would be one of the very last men to practise this ancient craft.
“She is beautiful. We salvaged the engines from the old boat, installed the electrics, she will need extensive interior work and will have fish tanks plus a small glass bottom, so tourists can see the fish underneath us,” he said.
For engines that were subjected to a blazing inferno they were in remarkably good shape and just needed cleaning and minor repairs before being hoisted on board.
Just like the last time I was here, our interview is interrupted by phone calls from suppliers, but this time he is much more relaxed, that stems from the security that he will meet the long-anticipated deadline of June and catch the tourist trade.
Drawbacks aside, Antonakis has been overwhelmed by support from friends, family and the municipality, who have literally ‘pushed the boat out’ to help him.
Even when the boat is completely finished, one mammoth task lies ahead – getting it to Ayia Napa harbour.
“It could take 24-hours as cars must be cleared from the streets, the police will block roads - it will be difficult, but worth it,” he smiles.
Once again, Antonikis invites both me and President Demetris Christofias back in June to see the launching of the boat.
“The president can see the toil of a working man,” he grins.