Stories from the sea

Meet the larger than life characters from the islands of the Hellenic Republic in the new Australian doco Greek Seadogs

The expression ‘if these walls could talk’ is used regularly to understand the story behind a place, the tales of an era. But what if you replaced ‘walls’ with ‘sea’? How many times have we looked at the Aegean on a holiday in Greece, or the Ionian Sea from the beach of Zakynthos, and wondered about the stories of Greek maritime past and present? Greece is surrounded by some of the world’s most beautiful waters; made up of some of the world’s most beautiful islands. All this we know. We’ve travelled to the land, swam in the azure Aegean sea and eaten fresh fish, squid and octopus in a tavern by the ocean shore.
What we don’t know are the stories of the maritime world, the people of the sea, the larger than life characters that grace this existence and the challenges they face.
Sydney businessman and self-confessed Hellenophile Peter Pentz has visited Greece well over 30 times in 30 years. During his trips he had one dream – to sail the Greek islands. Seven years ago, Peter got himself a boat and did just that, and has spent every year since sailing in the Aegean and the Ionian discovering a life that is rich and vast in the Greek seas. The characters he has met along the way have inspired him, the people of the Greek sea – that he aptly refers to as ‘seadogs’ – have welcomed him into their lives and onto their boats.
And now he wants to welcome them into your world through the documentary Greek Seadogs. The documentary will centre around the true stories of the Greeks of the sea – the fishermen, sailors, ferry captains, the men who unload cargo off ferries. The Greek Seadogs will speak openly and honestly about their life on the water, the challenges they face and most importantly, their adventures. Packed to the Rafters star George Houvardas is on board to host the documentary that will begin filming in June this year.
The idea behind Greek Seadogs was Peter’s fascination with marine life in Greece and the different characters and larger than life people he was meeting on his travels.
“It’s an absolute marine paradise,” Peter tells Neos Kosmos of the Greek sea, “it’s almost like it’s made by God, ‘I’ll put an island here and one 20 nautical miles away and another’, they are spaced so beautifully.”
Each year, Peter travels around a section of the islands getting to know an area of the Greek sea better.
“In Greece you make a passage between the islands and in the morning you start out on one island that has a character and feel about it and you get to the next one and it’s different but it’s just as good and it’s got its own aspects,” he explains. And each year when he travels, friends and family come along to experience the marine world. However, lately, Peter has been noticing that folk are wary of travelling alongside the adventurer.
“Over the past few years – through the bad news in the media – fellow travellers have become wary,” he explains, “but it’s such a fantastic destination for tourists.”
“What we want to show – and that’s our real motivation here – is that Greece, the islands they still have a beating heart, they are still alive, still have a warm welcoming smiles and open arms for tourists.
“And when you get there nothing has changed. The restaurants and bars and cafes are still open, flights are still going and ferries are still travelling there, and the food is as good as ever.”
One of the people Peter met through his sailing was Phil Kiely. Together, they’ve decided to be the executive producers of a project with the intention of telling the stories of the sea, but will ultimately assist the nation in getting back its much-needed tourism. The two friends have gotten a crew together and with George at the helm as host, are about to embark on telling the sea stories of Greece and, as Peter says, tell the tales of “the big characters who take up the helm on the boats, sail them or navigate them”.
“Greece is a highly accomplished marine nation, and has been for 11,000 years, our research is telling us,” Peter begins in explaining the importance of Greece’s marine tales.
“Greece is not the easiest place to grow things – olives and tomatoes grow well, but at the end of the day it’s a very hard land to live off and so the Greeks have been living of the sea and have made the sea part of their lives.
“And the Greeks love their water; they are always swimming and are always on boats, they live on boats. Boats and Greeks go together like ham and cheese,” or ouzo and meze I suggest, “or ouzo and meze,” mimics Peter with a chuckle.
Adding to that, Greece has built a fortune on the maritime industry and some of the richest Greeks are shipping tycoons – names like Onassis who have built fleets of boats that have travelled the world. All up, Peter says that 17 per cent of the world’s cargo is sailed using Greek-owned boats, and as far as he knows, it’s the largest in the world.
But the stories aren’t about the tycoons, it’s about the real people, the ones behind the scenes, the Greeks.
“Greek Seadogs came out from looking at all the different boating that goes on there, the challenges they have and how they get over the challenges.
“Those who bring ferry boats in the port and swing them around is just amazing. How they are three feet away from the wharf in a great big boat and no sooner has the boat anchored in, the tailgate comes down and trucks roll off and cars roll off and then people come off, and then people come on and cars and trucks go on and then whistles are blown and it’s gone again fifteen minutes later. It’s just spectacular – they are great mariners.
“We are going to discover new stories, not revisit, we are going to have a live documentary,” sums up Peter.
Throughout the five episode series, the host George will live on ferries and jump aboard boats as diverse as super ferries, Navy patrol vessels and traditional fishing boats to uncover the rich, vibrant and innovative maritime history and culture of Greece. And for the documentary, Peter says that George was the obvious choice.
“George has a warmth on camera,” starts Peter, “he’s an adventurer who has youth on his side and it’s nice to have someone young going out there and trying to stir things up.
“He has an excellent connection with people and he can draw stories out of them. And really a lot of his role is going to be listening as he has to get people talking and he has to try and draw more out of them to evolve their story. And he’s a good looking guy with a great sense of humour!” exclaims Peter.
George’s family come from the island of Lesvos so there is instant connection to the people of the Greek sea before the project even kicks off. The presenter is a history buff with a passion for the Hellenic Republic. And as the host George is going to let the Greek Seadogs speak freely from their hearts and tell their tales uncensored and without scripts; the real stories about the people of the Greek sea from the mariners, the seafarers, to the ones that stay home and the ones that operate the boats, even to the people who have to get cargo off the boat in a blink of an eye. This is their story. This is their spirit. The spirit of the maritime world.
For more information on Greek Seadogs, visit