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ELISSA: The Purchase of a Ship By Peter Throckmorton

In the spring of 1961 I was delivering a motor launch to Beirut from Athens. We stopped in the commercial port to see the agent, and there saw the motor ship Christophoros. It was pretty clear that she was an old sailing ship. I made friends with the skipper and he showed me the saloon, all mahogany, nicely kept up and the bronze hanging lamp still swinging. The plate on the ventilator reading ALEXANDER HALL ABERDEEN No.294-1877 was polished nicely, and I took note of it. The gangs of chainplates which had been necessary when she was a sailing ship were still there, and there were many of them, which made it seem likely that she had been a square rigged ship . But I had no time, even to take a picture, since I was fully engaged with the piece of junk I was responsible for. Then, that fall, I sailed a schooner into Piraeus. Lo, alongside, when we came in, was Christophoros. The skipper remembered me from Rhodes, and showed us all over the ship. I wrote her builders, Alexander Hall, still in business in Aberdeen, and learned that Christophoros had been built as the bark Elissa, but I drew a complete blank on other inquiries about the vessel. While going about Greece, I occasionally pointed her out to friends, who inevitably said, "Oh, that's interesting .. . " Then, in 1968 or so, I met Peter Stanford, president of the year-old South Street Seaport Museum, on the phone, through a friend. I told him about the Elissa and said she should be saved. He suggested I write Waldo Johnston at the older, better-established Mystic Seaport, which I did. But we found no-one interested in acquiring the Christophoros ex-Elissa. I had more or less given up on Stanford and the Elissa, when a letter came out of the blue, asking about Elissa. Dated March 4, 1969, it was from Karl Kortum of the San Francisco Maritime Museum. It began: "Peter Stan/ord has passed along your letter of Feb. 1 on the Christophoros. This vessel has engaged a great deal of our attention over the past couple of years. Peter suggests that because of our mutual interest in seeing her somehow come to a good end that you might be willing to act as a local unpaid agent for us. We would feel very privileged if you 12

Throckmorton in the Falkland Islands, 1976.

would consent to do this. We are most respectful of your marine archaeological experience in that part of the world. " I had already tried to buy the Christophoros. In 1967, I had heard she was for sale. A friend of mine, Malcolm Douglas, wanted to fix up a contract for loading upepe wood pilings for the Persian Gulf out of Nigeria. Christophoros might do for that. Mac Douglas and I boarded her at Perama. I thought the old skipper, my friend, was still the skipper-owner, but not so. A guy turned up and threw us both the hell off the ship. She had been sold. To whom? A bunch of people I had never heard of-a rather nasty bunch. When I made inquiries about buying her, I was told that there was no possibility there would be a sale. In January 1969 I heard that Elissa was in trouble. The Italian government had complained to the Greeks and Yugoslavs about her activities. The change of name and appearance in 1967 had been played out and she was known again in her new configuration. The owners were shopping for a new ship . I wrote to Peter Stanford to say that Elissa matters were coming to a head and something should be done. Stanford informed Kortum, who, in turn, wrote to me. I agreed to serve as agent for the

ship's acquisition, but there was no buyer. Before I left, that summer of 1969, after launching my schooner Stormie Seas, I called Stratos Yerodemos, the schooner's agent, and asked him to keep a good eye on Achaios-E/issa. On the turnaround, sometime in July, I stopped by his office and found that Stratos had acquired some interesting information. Elissa was not insured. She was undoubtedly smuggling. He thought that she had probably been hauled out in Yugoslavia. My next news of the ship was indirect. Through smuggling connections I heard fantastic stories about a Greek boat working out of Vada, Yugoslavia, running bonded American cigarettes into Italy. (When I had first come to the Med in 1947, as an ignorant and romantic punk, I had spent a couple of months in a launch in the smuggling trade. It was all very glamouous then with swashbuckling ex-service types running fast boats. The original bunch had been crowded out, however, by a tougher breed, who eliminated the early competition by betraying them to the police or, sometimes, simply bumping them off at sea.) Then we lost Elissa. All that winter, I watched for her to appear in the stream, and she never did. This was an interesting dilemma: I did not want to telegraph my intentions by making too many inquiries about the ship. Yet I wanted to be certain that Elissa did not get scrapped out from under us. Stratos was not very helpful, because he saw Achaios as a motorship, not as the fabled bark Elissa. All that winter, whenever I asked about Elissa, Stratos kept trying to sell me other ships, cheaper, newer, with better cargo gear, and I kept finding excuses to persuade him that Elissa was the ship I wanted -without coming off as a nut. Elissa had disappeared, and I could.not find her without risking the whole possibility of purchasing her. Except for having a good look everytime I passed scrap yard row, and occasional calls to Stratos, Elissa was forgotten in the business of preparing Stormie Seas for her archaeological work. We started the season on March 25, 1970. It was a long summer, and I was worried SEA HISTORY, FALL 1979

Sea History 015 - Autumn 1979  

9 THE ELISSA: THE LONG SEA CAREER, Peter Stanford • 12 THE PURCHASE OF A SHIP, Peter Throckmorton • 15 THE DREAM, Michael Creamer • 16 THE R...

Sea History 015 - Autumn 1979  

9 THE ELISSA: THE LONG SEA CAREER, Peter Stanford • 12 THE PURCHASE OF A SHIP, Peter Throckmorton • 15 THE DREAM, Michael Creamer • 16 THE R...