Nick Cayafas, age 90.
At his annual sprucing up and rigging,
atop his 47-ft mast, 1987.
Photo by George Carkonen
From the archives of the S. P. H. S.
For 25 years, the ketch-rigged, white sailboat has been home to Nicholas Cayafas, a mustachioed Greek fisherman who, at 89, still climbs to the top of the 47-ft mast, and sails the 36-ft ketch single-handed.
The elderly bachelor and his neatly kept boat are almost an anachronism in today’s jet age, virtually the last vestige of Seattle’s once colorful colony of Greek-born fishermen.
The PERPETUA, for instance, has a miniature chapel in the forward compartment, complete with votive lights and Greek icons, an old-world custom that was commonplace in the days when the city’s Greek fishing fleet included 30 or so boats.
For many years a Greek crucifix also adorned the PERPETUA’s topmast, but the cross was lost when hoodlums stole the boat several years ago and apparently knocked off the crucifix while going under the Spokane Street Bridge.
Nick Cayafas is a Seattle old-timer. He came here from Astoria, OR, in 1908. For many years, he and his brother, Chris, who died five years ago, were partners in a long series of fish boats, mostly purse seiners with names such as IKAROS and IKAROS II, NICK C and NICK C II, TWO BROTHERS, CHRIS C––12 boats in all, and they fished from Alaska to the Golden Gate.
|TWO BROTHERS, Seattle, 1977.|
From the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
The colorful old-timer with his sweeping mustache and immaculate boat lead an old-world touch to the Harbor Avenue Southwest waterfront.
George Carkonen, a Seattle Times photographer, whose family has known Nick more than 50 years, recalled when he was a youngster and Nick and other Greek fishermen would take families from Seattle’s Greek community aboard their flag-bedecked boats for Sunday outings to Port Madison, Blake Island, and other places on Puget Sound.
“Spiro Koutinas, whom we call ‘Sam’, has a Columbia River double-ender and still fishes for salmon, mostly around Blaine. And as for me, I manage to catch a few rock cod but I haven’t done much serious fishing since the government took over my big boat, the Nick C II, an 80-footer, shortly after the outbreak of WWII”, said Nick. Today, Nick is one of the last of the Greek fishermen.
“I got her back, after the war and did some sardine fishing, also halibut, but by then I had bought the PERPETUA and she has been my home ever since.”
During recent years, however, Nick makes his home during the winter in a small brick bungalow he owns on 49th Ave S. W. On cold winter mornings, he grins, “it’s more comfortable than the boat.”
Nick has rigged his boat so that he can sail it by himself, seldom leaving the tiller or cockpit. Mostly he makes short trips, seldom venturing beyond the San Juan Islands.
“Nick is very self-sufficient,” said Carkonen. “Why should he buy food when there are so many clams, oysters, cod, and red snapper right in our own backyard? He makes a real good clam chowder.”
“Are you a pretty fair cook?” I asked the elderly bachelor.
“I manage not to burn the pots,” he replied modestly.
Most persons, meeting Nick for the first time, are astonished by his happy disposition and almost youthful enthusiasm. Probably because of his stern visage, impressive mustache, and big, work-calloused hands, they mistakenly figure the grizzled, old fisherman as a gruff or crotchety man.
Actually, Nick is a jolly oldster––an old Nick full of “the old Nick.”
Above text by Glen Carter for The Seattle Times, October 1966
“The families would bring picnic baskets of food, jugs of wine, mandolins, and other musical instruments, and we would barbecue a whole lamb on the beach,” Carkonen said. “The kids would swim all afternoon, while the older folks gossiped, talked politics, argued, and otherwise enjoyed themselves. For the trip home, the fishermen would lash their boats together side-by-side. Sleepy children were put to bed in bunks out of harm’s way, and the older folks would dance Greek dances on the afterdeck or sing the old Greek songs.
I can still remember the music and laughter drifting over Elliott Bay on a summer night as the boats made their way across the Sound to their home port in the Duwamish Waterway. It was great fun, the unsophisticated era before automobiles became popular and changed people’s habits and customs…”The next year:
"The PERPETUA, with an unusual rigging of wishbone-type gaffs which carry her triangular canvas inverted with the wide base at the top of her two masts. She wears no booms. Before Nick was hoisted aloft by Melvin Miller, close friend, West Seattle automobile salesman and sailing enthusiast, Cayafas said:
"I've been sailing since I was 11. Last night when I went to bed I knew I'd have to decide when I woke up whether I was going to get out of bed and sit in a rocking chair or come over here to the moorage and swing in a bos'n's chair. So here I go."
Watching with admiration was Curtis Hitchings, operator of the Riverside Marina.
"That's Nick for you, Hitchings said. Everybody loves him. He's a wonderful, gentle, thoughtful man who loves to sail and loves his independence.
I've been trying to buy the PERPETUA for six years from him. It'd be easier to buy a man's right arm.
He's always said he was going to give her up and quit sailing next year. But he's never been very definite about which next year, and here he goes again."
Once Nick was aloft and out of earshot, Miller added:
"He's the kindest, sailingest, hardiest man I've ever known. He's lost none of his admirable Greek heritage.
There are no mattresses aboard. He sleeps on a bear skin and wraps up in a couple of goat skins. His lights are all kerosene.
He has her rigged up so he can handle the jib, the staysail, the mainsail, and the spanker all by himself from the cockpit.
He's a real sailor."
Bottom text by Robert A. Barr for The Seattle Times, 5 May 1967.