“The sea needs to be respected otherwise you will end up a loser. I’m not afraid of the sea because I respect it. The sea and I always communicate well together,” says Koufonisi native Captain Kostas Prasinos of a lifetime spent at sea. Now 76, he has no thoughts of retiring. Prasinos, or “the pirate,” as he is affectionately known, is also fully aware that paralyzing fear can be deadly when facing wind speeds of up to 9 Beaufort.
“The boat and the sea are my life,” the old salt remarked as he launched into a description of feats that have established him as the most renowned living skipper of the Small Cyclades region.
“I was born on Koufonisi in 1941, during the German occupation. My family was poor – 13 children – and our parents had trouble raising us. I left school early. I wanted to travel from a young age,” Prasinos noted.
He got his first job at sea at the age of 15. Having acquired a sailor’s diploma, the teenager was hired to work on a cargo ship and ended up traveling around the world. A decade later, he returned to Koufonisi, where he married and went about settling down. Soon after bought his first boat.
“When I returned to the island in 1966, there were no boats to cater for locals’ transport needs. I found out that a boat had been put up for sale on [nearby] Naxos, so I decided to buy it. I paid 500 drachmas for it and brought it back to Koufonisi. But it turned out to be a leaky old boat. My wife soon grew tired of helping me pump out the water so she asked a carpenter to come and repair it. The boat was soon as good as new and I started my first short-distance trips,” the captain recalled.
During his 51 years at the helm, Captain Prasinos has often ventured out in bad weather to travel to the surrounding islands and help in emergencies. He has countless stories to tell concerning Amorgos, Schoinousa, Donousa and Irakleia, the Small Cyclades where locals in need of medical treatment have often relied on Prasinos for transport to the hospital on Naxos, the main island in the region.
Recalling one such story from 35 years ago with pride, Prasinos elaborated: “A pregnant woman on Amorgos was in urgent need of a specific medicine because both she and her unborn baby were in danger of losing their lives. It was nighttime, with winds of 8-9 Beaufort, but I didn’t think twice. I sailed all the way to Volakas port on Naxos, bought the medication, and took it back to her. Fortunately, it all turned out well.”
That courageous, lifesaving effort was crowned by a touching reunion just a few years ago on Amorgos. “I was in [seaside] Kalotaritissa and met a young lady who ran a cafe there. She happened to be the girl who was born on that night 35 years ago. She was told that I was the one who took her mother the needed medication, so that turned out to be a very lovely moment that I will never forget,” Prasinos remembered. Prasinos has four children of his own, 10 grandchildren, as well as two great-grandchildren, all based on Koufonisi. When his son turned 8, the captain had the youngster join him at the wheel. “Nowadays, he’s the boss and I’m the guardian,” said the seasoned sailor.
Every summer, for the entire duration of the tourism season, lasting two to three months, father and son cover routes around both Ano Koufonisi and Kato Koufonisi, a virtually uninhabited island, in separate boats. From the early morning until late at night they offer sea transport to beaches including Finikas, Italida, Fanos and Pori, with day tickets costing 5 euros apiece.
Regular and relaxed work aside, Captain Prasinos remains vigilant. Having observed her father’s ways over the years, Katerina, his eldest daughter, remarked: “Before dawn, he’s up making coffee with the VHF switched on to frequency 12 to hear if emergency help of any sort is needed anywhere.”
He has stared death in the face on numerous occasions at sea. “We, his children, have felt concern about his safety many times. But he has never worried about it,” Katerina reflected. “Mum and I always say that my father is a seagull at sea. He is a dignified, pleasant man who places the concerns of others above his own, which is why he is a respected figure throughout the island.”