Petros Arapakis wagered that Greeks were the best sailors in the world. That bet cost him his life but made him both a local and international legend.
Born and raised in a castle in the Mani region in the 19th century, today the Arapakis estate is a four star hotel in Charia, just six miles from Aeropolis, the prefecture’s capital.
And perhaps it was the very landscape of Arapakis’ home that encouraged his wanderlust for the open sea and adventure. Although raised on mainland Greece, he may as well have been on an island.
The 50-mile long peninsula is washed by the waters of the Messinian and the Laconian gulfs, which are crystal clear and free of pollution. It begins north of the Taygetos mountain range, the western spine of the Peloponnese which separates East Mani from West Mani, and ends at Cape Tainaron, the southernmost tip. Areopolis, its capital, literally translates in Greek to mean “city of war.”
The people of Mani, known as Maniotes, have the reputation of being the fiercest people of Greece.The landscape reflects the character of its people, rugged and barren, bathed in merciless sunlight and dominated by stone. However, it is also framed by beautiful cypress and olive trees and all sorts of wild flowers. Over the centuries, it has shaped its own history and government, which is unique in Greece.
Once a base for pirates, impregnable to all types of raids, this land has been inhabited from prehistoric times until today, populated by proud and independent people.
The landscape is filled with old houses, numerous caves, isolated fortified towers, tower houses, huts, fountains, bridges and a multitude of narrow roads stretching from the most inaccessible mountains to its beaches, connecting the different parts of the region. These structures point out the unique history, social organization and lifestyle that developed in Mani.
Katie Arapakis, a civil engineer who is also the wife of Nikolas Arapakis, a third generation descendant of the legendary seafarer, spoke to Greek Reporter recently about her family and the business they have developed out of their family history.
Arapakis is descendant of Greek War of Independence Fighter
Petros Arapakis was born in Charia, Mani in 1879. He was the grandson of an independence fighter from 1821, Ilias Arapakis.
From a very young age he showed his love for the sea. At 16, in a tiny 16-foot sailboat, he traveled 1,500 miles around the shores of the Mediterranean to meet his friends, defying danger and hardship. In 1903, at 24, he was the first to enter the unexplored cave of Vlychada, one of the caves of Diros.
According to Katie Arapakis, the legends were that Petros Arapakis carved his name on the cave wall 4,000 feet inside its interior. Ioannis Petrochilos, a Greek speleologist, confirmed this when he explored Vlychada in 1949.
Sailing Chosen Over Medical Career
Petros Alapakis attended Kalamata High School and then enrolled in the University of Athens Medical School, following in the footsteps of both his father and independence fighter grandfather, who were both doctors. His love for the sea prevailed, however, and after a year, he abandoned medical school.
Arapakis went to England and enrolled in the Merchant Mariners School in London.
Upon his graduation he created an impressive nautical chart. He then traveled to New York where he worked in the shop of a fellow Maniotes.
After saving some money, Arapakis journeyed to Australia in 1908. In Sydney he met a wealthy young woman named Cecilia Adams. She hired Arapakis to captain her yacht and it wasn’t long before the two fell in love.
While in Sydney, with two friends, a German man named Friedrich and an Englishman, George Blythe, both men of the sea, Arapakis got into a heated discussion about which nationality had the best sailors. Each of the men claimed their own countrymen to be superior. To prove his point, Arapakis said he would travel around the world by boat to demonstrate that the Greeks are the best sailors in the world.
Wager: Greeks Are the World’s Best Sailors
Adams offered her yacht, the Pandora, 130-foot sloop of nine tons, to Arapakis for the challenge, as well as 60 pounds a week to anyone who would accompany the sailor on his daring venture. Blythe agreed to join Arapakis as his first mate.
Adams and Arapakis were engaged before he departed on the journey. According to Katie, Blythe used the journey of American Joshua Slocum, who in 1895 had crossed the Atlantic alone from Boston to Gibraltar, as a guide for the journey with Arapakis on the Pandora.
They set sail from Western Australia on May 3, 1910. On May 29, after a dangerous 2,000-mile sail, they arrived in Melbourne, where they stayed for a few weeks. They arrived in Sydney on August 16. The following day they departed for New Zealand. On October 2, 1910, the Pandora left New Zealand to venture across the Pacific aiming for Cape Horn, on the southern tip of South America.
The Horn is the point where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. The waves in the area are some of the largest on Earth, and navigating through the area is exceedingly dangerous.
On January 22, 1911, after coming to the Horn, while they were only three miles off the coast, a huge wave overturned the Pandora — but another miraculously brought it upright again. A Norwegian whaler in the area towed them in to where Petros and Blythe were able to repair the Pandora’s damage. They were then able to continue their journey north to America. Eventually, the two daring seafarers managed to reach New York.
According to Katie, Arapakis and Blythe arrived in New York to an incredible reception. Petros moored the Pandora alongside an ocean liner while newspapers devoted many pages to the incredible achievement of the two sailors. A photo that was published was captioned with “The largest and smallest ocean liners in the world.”
Arapakis was courted by many a businessman who wanted to cash in on the sailor’s success — but he refused. And there were even those who incredibly wanted to do harm to the vessel so Arapakis could not continue the journey. Petros slept aboard the Pandora to thwart any potential sabotage.
Before departing New York, an American sailor, T. F. Day, warned Arapakis and Blythe that their habit of tying the rudder and leaving the yacht to sail by itself was very dangerous. Nonetheless, they departed New York with a course charted for London with plans to cross the Mediterranean, arrive in Greece and continue through the Suez Canal to finish their journey back in Australia.
They managed to cross the Atlantic and were spotted off the coast of Spain by an ocean liner — but the Pandora had suffered severe damage from the storms they encountered crossing the Atlantic. The sailors were in tattered clothes, long hair, beards and were red-eyed from insomnia by the time they were found.
They had no water and no food.
They refused to disembark from the Pandora and only asked for water and food from the crew of the ocean liner. Arapakis was adamant about this, stating, “I started on a mission. I will either arrive or I will lose.”
According to Katie that was in March of 1911 and it was the last time the pair was ever seen alive. Either a storm sank the Pandora or they collided with another ship or rocks along the shore because they had kept the rudder tied while they were at sea.
It is estimated that the courageous men had traveled a total of 122,000 nautical miles.
Arapakis and Blythe made world naval history, as the first to sail from Cape Horn from West to East. “A Mariner’s Miscellany” states that they crossed Cape Horn in 1911 in the sloop Pandora.
In 1940, shortly before the WWII, Cecilia Adams, Arapakis’ fiancée, came to Greece. She wanted to see the homeland of her beloved — even three decades after he had tragically given up his life on the water. She stayed in Greece for 15 days. Arapakis’ brother, Giagos-Ioannis Arapakis, a prominent doctor and Mayor of Kallithea from 1933 to 1941, showed Adams Athens and Mani.
Arapakis’ Descendants Preserve Legend and Castle
Today, Arapakis’ descendants are keeping his memory and his legend alive. They created a hotel, open year round, called the Arapakis Castle on the family’s estate in 2010. At the time Katie Arapakis told Greek Reporter that they were doing their best to maintain the structures on the property but it was at great cost. They used a development law to finance preserved heritage buildings by converting the private property into a hotel.
The ownership of the entire property was distributed among eight family members, each holding title to particular buildings. Katie states to Greek Reporter that her family owned the tower and the mill. There were private homes as well, along with an olive press that belonged to other members of the family. They were all in agreement to convert the property to facilitate its preservation. Today, Katie’s family oversees the operation of Arapakis Castle.
Within the tower, there is a collection of historical photographs on display of the legendary Arapakis and his shipmate Blythe, as well as excerpts from the published articles of the New York Times about their travels.
Arapakis Castle seems to be a magnet for love stories and adventure. Currently the Greek television channel MEGA is filming the series “Gei Tis Elias,” Land of the Olives, on the hotel property. Katie told Greek Reporter that rooms within the hotel complex are being used for the filming. The romantic drama takes place in the heart of Mani, during olive picking, an activity that no one and nothing can stop. It is a story of two young lovers and the secrets that emerge.
Just a three-hour road trip from Athens, Mani is a fascinating vacation destination, not only for the summer but also for weekends and holidays year round.
Castle battlements, Byzantine churches, traditional settlements, towers and monuments, cobbled trails and the Diros caves — this is what awaits those who visit Mani.
The masterful use of the stone in each structure, with the characteristic cornerstones, carved stones, domes, turrets, murder-holes, cages, etc., lend a peculiar morphology to the region’s unique and fascinating architecture. It is one the most traditional areas of the Peloponnese with 800 towers and tower houses, more than 1000 Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches, 8 castles, 98 out of 118 traditional settlements of the Peloponnese, and more than 100 caves, including the world-renowned Diros Caves.
The region is home to more than 1000 plant species, over 120 Greek endemic plants of which 32 are locally endemic and unique in the world. The climate is perfect for the growth of olive trees, which produce superior oil. The rich vegetation of herbs and aromatic plants help to produce high quality honey.
Arapakis Castle offers the opportunity to get acquainted with this legendary sailor and to explore the wonders of the Mani countryside — or even get caught on camera as a televised romance is being filmed on its grounds.