Kapsali, Kythira – This picture postcard twin-harbour village at the western edge of the Greek Islands and famed as the birthplace of the goddesses Aphrodite, has always played a major role in the country’s nautical history. But a small group of adventurers and researchers, armed with stone tools and surrounded by piles of the local cane ‘kalamia’ and dried-out lengths of the island’s majestic Cypress saplings, are about to dramatically enhance its maritime reputation by 125,000 years.
The six adventurers are building an 11 metre raft, driven by long paddles and a split cane sail, to sail to Crete on a voyage to repeat what they believe is the first sea voyage made by humans in Europe. If successful, the expedition would claim that Europe’s first sailors set out to make maritime history from Kythira.
Unlike every other Greek island, Crete has in human times never been joined to another island or to the mainland. Until 2010 when stone tools were found at Plakias, southwestern Crete, and on the island of Gavdos, it was thought that humans had been on Crete for 12,000 years. One person who had serious doubts was the late, renowned Dutch palaeontologist Paul Sondaar who theorised that Crete’s unique dwarfed animals – hippos and elephants and other exotic creatures – became extinct about 125,000 years ago and that man was largely responsible. All scientists knew that at that time both Kythiran islands formed a single landmass with the Peloponnese and that meant that the southern tip of Antikythira was as far as our land-bound ancestors could go. Temperatures had plunged, food animals and edible vegetation died. Man was hungry. And Crete was always there – lush, green enticingly visible but isolated by the sea in between.
It was time for European man to become amphibious, to become the first mariner in his determination to reach the island of Crete.
The foreign team came to Kythira late in 2014 to cut and store 5,000 stalks of ‘kalamia’ and returned at the beginning of May to begin the raft construction, and crew training before departing for Antikythira, Crete and then Gavdos before the end of July. The crew includes four young Kytherians.