It’s no secret that the sea transfixes me. When I decided to incorporate a new segment into my blog where I interview people with jobs that embody adventure, I knew landing an interview with a ship captain* named Niko Economides naturally had to be my first post. *(Niko insisted he shouldn’t be called a ship captain, just a captain, as those who were captains of ships were equivalent to surgeons in their training, but as far as I could tell, he was as much of a ship captain as I’d ever seen).
Niko invited me out onto his fine vessel for the interview. I am not even going to pretend I was cool and collected about it. I was basically salivating as I sat on a ledge in the harbor waiting for Niko to get back from a sail and once he did and spotted me, he hollered for me to climb aboard. I scrambled to get on his ship that looked like it deserved a role in a real-life Peter Pan movie.
Niko was still busy talking to those who just went out on the sail with him, as his boat is used for that exact reason: ventures near and far into Superior. Niko paused to tell me to have a look around the boat. Immediately I pulled out my camera and began investigating every knot, rope and clasp in breathless awe. I don’t know where this complete adherence to all things that touch the sea came from, but it’s been with me as long as I can recall. I cannot help but quip that I must’ve been a mermaid in another life for I yearn for the sea as if it were mine to begin with. As if I’ve merely been plucked from it so am therefore always working my way back somehow. Back to the sea, back from whence I came.
After touring the boat while my heart thrummed with its devotion to being on this ship—the Coaster II—I sat down near the wooden steering wheel and compass, to wait for Niko. When he made his way over, he summoned the two young chaps that were his crew to come have a look at my ship tattoo. This must’ve convinced everyone aboard that perhaps I belonged there. Then Niko told me we were going to go on a quick sail to do a pump out. I had no idea what this entailed, but the mere mention of moving out into open waters had me so twitterpated that I forgot to ask what exactly a pump out was.
I held my legs down to stop them from jumping and running around in unrestrained delight. My ship tattoo may have convinced these men that I was legit, but running around squealing over the prospect of setting sail would have been most uncouth.
When we set sail, Niko looked over and said I could start asking questions. I pulled out my notebook and began. Niko told me about how he’d been sailing for a long, long time; about how he did wilderness guiding, backpacking trips and built boats for a living before his sons (one of which was among us on the crew—21-year old Thanos who looked like he’d been born at sea) had expressed interest in a family business involving a large boat such as the one we were on. So Niko and his family began to look into purchasing such a ship.
Niko maintained that they needed a fixer upper and after finding the Coaster II, he and his son sailed it back from Maine where the Economides family then spent two years restoring the ship.
While Niko sailed and spoke, I noted that he, like his son, looked as if he were born at sea too. His full beard, sheath at his hip and natural ease while steering the ship bespoke of someone with the confident air of a true sailor.
When I asked Niko about different trips people could take aboard his ship, he rattled off a list of islands in Lake Superior and various day trips ranging from 2-8 hour sails. When he mentioned Granite Island and I asked where that was, he responded,
“About 14 miles due North.”
I asked what exactly due North meant, but loved hearing it intensely as it was clearly sea speak.
“Like to Canada,” he responded.
Once on the subject of direction, Niko began talk of navigation and ancient sea kings telling me that riddles were used for sailors to remember where the stars would rise if they were at different places in the world at different times.
“The sun’s important,” he noted, “but the stars will tell you more.”
He asked me my astrological sign and I told him Gemini. Niko informed me that Gemini was the sign of the navigator and I sat rapt, thinking, it all makes sense now. I am a navigator. It’s in the stars. Then he told me it really is in the stars, telling me about the twins, which represent Gemini.
According to mythencyclopedia.com in Greek and Roman Mythology Castor and Pollux were twin brothers. When Castor died, Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together and they were transformed into the constellation Gemini. The pair were regarded as the patrons of sailors and were also associated with horsemanship (fancy that—horses—only my other favorite thing in life). Earthsky.org said that “in China they were associated with Yin and Yang, the contrasts and complements of life.”
Niko told me that Marquette was built upon its shipping history: schooners, sailing vessels, birchbark canoes.
“There was more happening here before there were any roads,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of roads.”
When I asked Thanos who moved gracefully and fluidly about the ship to tell me about his greatest adventure to date involving the ship, he spoke reverently about his time sailing back from Maine where the ship was purchased: traveling 26 hours down from Portland, sailing down the East Coast, cruising up the East River, then the Hudson, followed by the Eerie Canal. Once in Detroit, the rest of the Economides clan joined the boys and they sailed the Great Lakes home.
He told me that his family buying this boat was life changing.
“I was either going to be a rock star or a cook,” he told me before settling in at 14 years old that a life aboard a ship would be much more meaningful.
“Right after we left New York I awakened and became more alive… [I] embraced this future,” Thanos said.
As we sailed back into the harbor, I noted that the air smelled exactly like the sea, fishy and crisp. And while the day had been bordering on scorching until now, suddenly I felt the wind change, cooling off my cheeks that were warm from excitement.
All my life I had been yearning to sail, especially on a boat such as this, one that bespoke of history and resilience, magnitude and adventure. And alas, the stars had aligned in my favor when Niko walked into my work one day (who I was then introduced to by a coworker who I’d confided in that I was looking to interview men of the sea).
But hey, I am not the only one who could experience such a thing. The Coaster II is available for sails nearly every day of the week. And Captain Niko surely will not disappoint as even going on a brief stint around the harbor while he regaled me with his knowledge both of boats and seafarers alike was a trip worth taking.
If you’re anything like me, you will take to the sea and understand there’s something worth fulfilling in your soul out there.
“The sea pronounces something, over and over in a hoarse whisper; I cannot make it out. But God knows I’ve tried.”