“Odysseia is a state of mind.
When you cross that walkway you have the distinct feeling that you are standing on something you don’t see every day.
Ancient spirits inhabit those timbers.”
Captain Gerasimos started working at a very early age.
At the age of eight, he procured a few drachma at the port of Nidri by taking mooring lines from the boats of fishermen returning from their trips between the still pristine islands of Scorpio and Madouri.
When he was only 15 years old, he asked to board one of those tiny fishing boats as a deckhand, but he was not yet old enough, ‘you need your father’s signature,’ the captain of the small fishing boat told him.
Little Gerasimos threatened his father to run away from home if he did not sign that piece of paper in ink.
Thus began the career of one of Lefkada’s most famous sailors.
An island that was not so different from the Sicily of the Malavoglia narrated by the Italian writer Giovanni Verga.
To help his brothers and family, he first started working on tankers and then when Onassis became what made him a demigod in the eyes of the locals, he had the honour of serving on the splendid Christina. At the time the largest and most luxurious yacht in the world.
When Gerry tells you about his life and his story you get the impression that you are talking to an immortal man, who does not have a single regret in life.
His family’s first boat, a small 8-metre, was called Odysseia.
“Like the King of Lefkada.”
Because let’s be clear, the real Itaka on board Odysseia is Lefkada.
And after years, when with the brothers they all became shipowners Gerry chose the smallest of the fleet and went his own way.
Although different and larger than the old 8-metre from her he inherited her name,
“because the spirit of Odysseus is still here Fabio! He has never left the island.”
The one with Odysseia is more than a boat trip.
On board you have fun like teenagers.
I have personally seen old mens dive from the stern pulpit and once back on board dive again, only to ask the crew where the courage of the youngsters had gone.
Gerry is the messiest, the craziest, the one who makes you a child again with his contagious smile.
A leprechaun from another era who likes to joke with people and climb on the riggings as if he were twenty years old, but when he talks to you about history you realise that you are dealing with a person with the experience of a bicentenarian.
On board you have fun while breathing in culture.
It is a continuous fairytale among the history of the islands that surround you.
…While Odysseia remains silent wrapped in its planking…
The day begins with the sound of the shell.
Odysseia casts off her moorings and sails safely through the channel between Lefkada and Meganissi until she reaches the cave of Papanikolis where… needless to say. Gerry is the first to dive in.
It doesn’t matter if the water is 11 or 15 degrees, he measures the temperature, communicates it to the crew and whatever number is indicated next to the mercury column he dives anyway.
At the helm is Dimitris: son, first mate and future captain of Odysseia.
He turns the boat around in a handkerchief.
As I have written several times before, Greeks are born to be put in command of a boat.
Dimitri is no exception.
The water at that hour is a kaleidoscope of greenish reflections.
The crew tries to follow the captain’s example and dives in exploring the blue interior of the cave.
You can’t enter it with Odysseia, the tree is too high.
But Gerry leans out of the gunwale at one point and while keeping his eye on the tip of the mast he manoeuvres the throttle and rudder with… his feet!
When the mast is a few centimetres from the rock Gerry picks up the conch and blows his horn in the cave. The echo is one to remember.
After the first swim and explanations in several languages from Caterina, the very good guide who by the way is the wife of our house owner, the navigation continues to Meganissi.
There Dimitri makes another mooring where everything seems easy and with Caterina we climb 150 steps through the vegetation of Meganissi up to the village of Spartochori.
Those who just want to rest have a beautiful beach at their disposal.
Meganissi is a gem and Spartochori is the most classic of Ionian Greek villages.
The village priest opens a beautiful little church for us, where in addition to depictions of St George, to whom it is dedicated, there are splendid icons of St Nicholas, who has left his mark in these parts.
The next stop is the beach of Glimaki where Vassili is already setting up a barbecue well before Odysseia arrives.
During the trip the crew involves the guests, it is like being on an eighth-grade trip where the teachers serve you ouzo from an amphora. Only one of them has a bandana on his head and a perpetual smile on his face.
The barbecue on the beach restores the spirits, between a swim and a souvlaki we fraternise with everyone and get back on board more friends than before.
In the boat the mood is festive and when we reach Scorpio the captain’s eyes light up.
He knows that island well, he knows the family that bought it. Everything is different now and you can see it in his face even though the smile never fades.
The navigation continues past Sparti, the island that was once Alexandros‘.
On board there are several albums with old photographs of the islands. Some recounting the life of the Onassis family, others telling the story of the boat, black-and-white photos where a young sailor identical to Dimitris was at the forefront putting his hands among the planking of Odysseia under construction. It was young Gerasimos… who at one point gives an order and the course is reversed.
The sailors run to the halyards of the sail and suddenly Odysseus’ eye opens wide, the engine falls silent and the timber moves forward.
I am near the wheelhouse, Dimitri is at the wheel and a thought enters my head involuntarily like a gust of Mistral.
I have never had the pleasure of manoeuvring a square-sailed boat. As a sailor this is something unforgivable.
One glance and Dimitri reads my mind, smiles at me and points to the rudder.
I touch that timber and a mental jolt occurs.
..Odysseia is no longer silent..
A shiver rises from my hands on my arms and awakens ancient instincts.
The prow is responsive and after a few seconds I am able to anticipate its rejects.
I no longer hear a single extraneous sound on board, as if I were lost in an infinite silence inside a bubble.
Only the roar of the water on the hull, the wind in the rigging, the strain of the sail and the pivots of the rudder when I correct my course.
Now I know the secret of Gerasimos’ eternal youth.
Being at the helm of Odysseia under sail is something beyond alchemy.
Ancient spirits inhabit those timbers, souls that hover at sea playing with us miserable mortals.
Sailors from other eras intrigued by the shape of that hull known to them and named after their ancient king.
When it all fades away, I realise that the crew has just tightened sail.
Odysseus’ eye closes and his spirit returns to Hades.
I detach myself with a caress from the helm and my heart resumes its rhythm.
I look at Dimitri who ripples his lips in a half smile and nods his head. He knows, he has lived it many years before.
He is the predestined one who will carry with him for many years to come the legacy of his father, collected in turn by his grandfather, to whom someone whispered in a dream or in a breath of wind, to name that ancient little eight-metre timber after the king of Lefkada, as if to preserve his Spirit at Sea.
I inhale deeply and Gerry approaches me.
He always smiles but has a deep look. Almost inquiring. He looks at Dimitri who nods, then looks at me again. He passes an arm around my neck and shakes me amicably.
I don’t know what to say… so as I always do in these cases I shoot the first thing that comes to mind:
“what’s better than making your passions your work?” I ask him.
“You’ve got it all figured out about life Fabio” he replies.
When the excited and happy crew has left Gerry tells me his personal version of the Iliad and the Odyssey, showing me the illustrations carved into the wooden around the counter that serves as a bar.
He does so with a transport that takes you into history, into his places, into those times. You almost smell the scents of the earth and seaweed on the beaches, of the wood warmed by the sun, you feel the anxiety of the men who lived it.
At the front, traced on a map, are the two theories of Ulysses’ route. One stops in the Mediterranean, the other crosses the Pillars of Hercules and continues to the Caribbean and beyond.
“because even swimming it would have taken a man less than 20 years to get back to Itaka Fabio!” he says.
“But not everything is written in school books you know…” and here he gets serious.
“After all, if you think about it… who was Homer?” he says with eyes twinkling.
“How could a blind man tell in such detail what happened at Troy and what Odysseus lived through afterwards.”
“Eh Fabio… that’s another story…” he said with a sigh.
“I will tell it to you another time..”
I remain silent, like a grandchild in front of his grandfather who has just finished telling him his favourite fairy tale.
Between greetings and hugs I enter the gangway, the rope-covered walkways showing me the way.
I look at the sleek line of the stern and caress its timbers with my fingers.
A final shiver runs up my body.
” Another time..” Odysseia whispers to me.