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USF Libraries Exhibits

The Sponge Industry: Related Maritime Traditions

Related Maritime Banner: Nick Toth Exhibit Side Banner 3

Boats

During the first half of the 20th century, hundreds of boats based on the achtarmas style sponge boat (a sub-type of the trechantiri) common in the Dodecanese islands were built by Greeks from Tarpon Springs to Apalachicola.  Third generation master sponge boat builder George Saroukos last builder of traditional Greek sponge boats in this hemisphere.  In his native Kalymnos, Saroukos learned to build boats without using printed plans, and he continued after arriving in Tarpon Springs in the late 1970s. He also made 17 dinghies in the style of sponge hooking boats that are used for the cross-diving competition during Epiphany. 

Diving Helmets

Until the late 1950s to early 1960s, sponge divers wore a heavy canvas and rubber suit topped with a helmet made from copper, brass and plate glass.  Helmet makers, such as Antonios Avgerinos and Antonios Lerios, supplied the needs of the divers.  As a child, Nicholas Toth visited the machine shop of his grandfather Lerios, and gradually absorbed his knowledge about helmet making and other maritime hardware.  Today he is the sole practitioner of this tradition, and received a National Heritage Fellowship for his exceptional work. 

Model Boats

In their leisure time, the men who built or worked on the sponge boats sometimes make elaborate model boats to delight their families or friends.  Most models are exact replicas, produced in much the same way as real boats.  The artists create almost everything on board, including blocks, brackets, lanterns, and many other items, because there are few such miniature parts.  They often paint the models like working sponge boats: white with a few red, black and/or yellow horizontal stripes along the sides, or with a black base and Greek blue trim.