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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
Interview with Harry Xynides, builder of Greek (Wooden) Shrimp Trawlers.
S Interviewers: Joanna Eceles, Chris Spencer, and Kim Gier.
(Joanna): Hi, we're here today, today is November the eighth. And, we're here with
Harry Xynides, and we're going to talk to him about ship building, and what was
involved with it, and what he's done with his time in ship building. We'll start off talking
about what got you involved in the ship building business to begin with.
(Mr. Xynides): Sense a young boy, I was, you know I was born in another country, in
Greece, on the Island of (?). I'd go to school, and at summer time I'd go to the trades.
By the time I was fourteen years old I built my first sail boat, a round bottom boat. And
out there on the Islands without automobiles and things like that you've got to have a
boat to go from one place to another. The transportation is by the boat, not by the land.
And when I come to this country and we had a hard time up there on the time when we
had the Depression. We were washing dishes and things like that.
(Joanna): How old were you when you moved here?
(Mr. Xynides): At the time of the Depression I was about seventeen years old. I'd
always got my mind that I was going to start building boats. The first thing was at the
time I tried looking for a job up there on Long Island, and then on Staten Island, and on
Staten Island I couldn't get no job up there. You've got to be the kind of nationality that
is Norwegian. They can't give me no job because I'm a Greek. Then I come to Florida,
I have a sister living over here. My brother in law was'a boat builder. And I learned
the trade from his dad ..t was always my mind to come to Florida. I left New York in
nineteen thirty-nine. And sense that time I've been successful at building boats. And I
think, not because I say so, the people say so that I build them, the best boats on the
water front. Because I build them by myself, for myself. I don't have no mass
production. Every keel that I have put on a boat I know what place it was in,
everything. A few years back I would give up and Nicky came back from the school,
and I make the decision to go to the repairing job. And sense that time, we do the
repairing job, that's all we do, we don't build no more boats. I got the inclination and
decided to build another boat, I built one for a customer named Duran(?) Harring(?). I
built them seven boats, and I think it was number seven or number eight, that's all I
remember. I got the keel inside and I stopped building because the materials, we can't
find no more materials. We buy the cypress, and I'm ashamed to shop for the
customer, who have to pay for the Cypress. We have to pay, I think it is four dollars a
foot. You know you figure out, you got the boat, we used to sell the boat, seventy-five
feet for twenty-five thousand dollars. Now you can make it for a hundred thousand
(Joanna): How long did you build ships for, before you started going to repairing?
(Mr. Xynides): It was about ten years ago that we stopped building boats, ten, fifteen
years, I think.
(Joanna): What were all the types of boats that you made?
(Mr. Xynides): I built some shrimp boats. Then I built one shrimp boat type on (?)
about seventy feet, but we make it a pleasure boat. And I built another one in Orlando
to a doctor who asked me. And he used it for himself, I mean, a party boat, pleasure
boat. And then I had a customer come over here and we built him a sail boat. A forty-
eight feet sailboat. The man he was spoiled, he began to take over the boat. I let the
customers, I don't mind, to come and see the boat, and things like that. But we had a
little difficulty. I sell the boats to different people, not the same kind.
(Joanna): So you just made all sorts of different kinds of boats and sold them to
whoever needed it?
(Mr. Xynides): If you bring me the blue prints of the boat, you see I'm no (?), or
anything like that, to make the blue prints. If you give me the blue prints I'll follow you.
(Joanna): Was there any boat in particular that you really enjoyed building?
(Mr. Xynides): Every boat I've built I enjoyed. That's it. This is before, I said to another
gentlemen he come over here. 'I love my boat and I love my family. I spend more time
in the boat then with my family. And now I feel sorry because I made a great mistake. I
was supposed to enjoy myself with my family first. But I got my mind on the boat.'
(Joanna): What all is involved in making the boat? What all do you have to do?
(Mr. Xynides): .. .If you have the blue prints, I enlarge them and I make it according to
size of what the blue prints say. And we build the boat. Now some customers have,
Sovel(?), he take over and he explained to me that he wants to do this and he wants to
do that, and what kind of materials he wants. I have to obey because we make an
agreement .1 have some people thinking about themselves, who are making money.
Then I don't agree with them. .(Mr. Xynides goes on to discuss details about the
various customers he worked for, it was difficult to understand all that he expressed).
(Joanna): When you made the boats.. .what all is involved in the process of it?
(Mr. Xynides): You've got to find the materials to put in it, to satisfy the owner.
(Joanna): Where do you find the wood from?
(Mr. Xynides): Cypress we got from Florida. Oak, we get from Tennessee, up there in
* the Smoky Mountains, North Carolina, South Carolina, up through the mountains up
there, they've got nice. Pine, we get them right here, the long leaf pine from here in St.
(Joanna): Are some types of wood easier to build with than others? .. .What kind of
wood is the best?
(Mr. Xynides): The best for the blanketing on it? Cypress, or fur, what ever you like.
Now, if we're living in Oregon, we're not going to go to Florida to get cypress, we'll
build the boat up there with the fur. Over here, the same thing. If we don't have no fur,
we use cypress, because cypress is better than fur. Cypresses grow on the swamp, in
the water. That take so long to dry. They take one year to stand up, and dry one inch.
(Joanna): What kinds of woods are good for different types of waters?
(Mr. Xynides): Pine, we make that (?), the boat up from end to side to end, you put
pine on there. The blanketing of the sides we say is cypress. And the ribs is oak, you
bend it. You can see, we have a pot over here. And you have a fire, and you boil it, to
have form. And you bend the ribs the way you want.
(Joanna): You can bend the wood?
(Mr. Xynides): Yeah, do you want to see it?
(Mr. Xynides): We can walk up here. You see the pot? Its a long pot.. .Before we use
what is scrap wood we got here. We burn them up and boil the ribs. Now, they don't
allow us to do things like that. We have to use butane.
(Joanna): What do you do with the scrap wood now?
(Mr. Xynides): Now, (laughs), we have to throw them in the (?).
(Joanna): Oh, that works. So, is this one of the first thing you do when you build a
ship? Do you have to bend the wood first?
(Mr. Xynides): Yes. You see the mold up there? There's the mold here, you put the
ribs around in it.
(Joanna): So, is that what you do first, you start soaking the wood, so you can bend it?
(Mr. Xynides): No, no soaking. You have to boil it. And you boil it in it. And to help the
ribs on there, you put a strap, about that much wide in it. That way the splint, it don't let
it broke. The ribs are protected, don't brake it.
(Joanna): That goings underneath the ribs?
(Mr. Xynides): That's the shape of the boat. You see that over here, it takes more
bend, on this end of the boat. Up there in the front, its just a little bent, not bad at all. .
.If you take a chicken, its like the blue prints of a boat, exactly. Its like the stern, the
ribs. The time you take a skeleton of a chicken, that's exactly what it is. I think maybe,
some people, a long time ago, they take a chicken, and they washed it, and they build
the boats, from a chicken. Maybe, I don't know. Sometimes I see a chicken, my wife
cooking it, its makes me think of the blue prints of a boat.
(Joanna): So, you make the ribs, and you just build out and around from the ribs?
(Mr. Xynides): You see this boat right here? Okay, this is the bow stem. That"s the
keel. This over here, that's the dead wood, that's where the propeller can bring you
the degree, of two and half, three, degree, leaning on the propeller out the shaft. Now,
the ribs, we'll go inside and I'll show you what's in it. We make a form, that's called a
station. So, many stations, you put eight stations. I used to put, with the blue prints the
architect would give me, I put, according to how many he needs. Now, if I build a
shrimp boat, I would put five, five stations. Because its too much for me to take the
stations out. Because after you put the ribs, you see, the stations they bring the shape
of the boat. Let's go inside and look... You see, that's what they call the station, that's
the front of the boat, after the bow, you bring that thing in. That way you bring the
shape of the boat, you see, and then you put the ribs after that. After you put the shape
on it, you can tell what kind of shape, how much you bend them. Now, you take the
keel here, you come put it in... Now, these pieces over here, are the ones they call the
dead wood, the ones that bring the shape of the shaft, to come out, to connect the
engine with the shaft. That has the propeller on it. Now I'm going to show you
pictures, and you can understand better... Now, you see here, we take the station out,
and we let the ribs on. You see the ribs in it? That's the (?), I was telling you, the pine.
And you're boiling all of this. Over here, that's the bow, we put the knees, it goes
farther down in there. That's the architect. That's me, and that's the doctor, that's the
(Joanna): The doctor that you built that pleasure boat for?
(Mr. Xynides): Yeah. You see the way it goes now, the shaft? I don't how to explain it
to you. This is the dead wood. The follow the shaft to get in here. Then the propeller
goes down in there, the rotor. Now this is, you see the station? It brings the shape of
(Chris): Holds it together.
(Mr. Xynides): Yeah. This is one out. After we put the ribs on it, we take them all out.
You see the hole of the ship, that goes in it? You have to drill a hole over here, to get
in it. The hole is already on the end, here.
(Joanna): And once you drill the hole, how far do you have to go down?
(Mr. Xynides): That's it right here, its eighteen inches in it. And over here its already,
you have to make the hole before you put the dead wood in it. Now, here's where I
told you, you put the knees up, that's oak knees. That's in the bow.
(Joanna): And that's to keep it steady.
(Mr. Xynides): Anything you're doing good, on the boat, reinforcement.
(Joanna): What is this here?
(Mr. Xynides): This is the way used to tie up the (?), you put next to the ribs, and you
(Joanna): And that is more pictures of the ribs, and the siding.
(Mr. Xynides): Yes, this is the siding, you start blanketing the boat.
(Joanna): Its called blanketing the boat, when you put the boards on the side?
(Mr. Xynides): On the ribs, yeah. I build all of these boats in here.
(Joanna): The Manatee, and, how do you pronounce that? The Nereid(?). What are
these boats used for
(Mr. Xynides): Shrimp Boats. I built him seven, I think, for these people. I build a
shrimp boat, and he make a yacht out of it. .Now, what do you do after that, you put
the blanketing on it. And that's the decking.
(Chris): What kind of wood is the blanketing?
(Mr. Xynides): Cypress, or fur, it don't matter.
(Joanna): And that's the decking?
(Mr. Xynides): That's the decking. That's fur. (?).. .This is the (?). The architect he
wanted me to lean the (?) inside according to the level.
(Joanna): There's a lot that goes that's involved, isn't there?
(Mr. Xynides): Yeah. There's the boat now, when its finished.
(Joanna): That's the boat when its finished?
(Mr. Xynides): Yeah. Now, you bring the boat outside, and the wife will break the
champagne, before it goes in the water.
(Joanna): How long does it take to make on of those boats?
(Mr. Xynides): The architect he draw me that one, and then after he draw me the
frames, and everything, I make it according to the size. Hew has to give me the blue
prints, first. The architect he give a picture like this one, to show what the boat will
show what it looks like after I finish. It gives me an idea of what I'm going to do.
(Joanna): Do you have this boat done?
(Mr. Xynides): Yeah.. .This is (?), its my island, where I come from. And the owner he
give me, you see, I don't have no other way. At the time I bought this property here, I
put the boat in the water the way we do it in Europe, by rollers. We put the boat in the
water by rollers. We don't have no other way.
(Joanna): And there's another picture of it. Noah's Ark? Who did you build Noah's
(Mr. Xynides): That, ah, I fished in that boat for four years before I sold it.
(Chris): You fished in it?
(Joanna): Did you take a break from building boats for a while before you fished?
(Mr. Xynides): No, I don't give up the building, I hired a captain and crew, and they
fished a boat that belonged to me...
S (Joanna): So you just roll it down the dock, and roll it on the rollers and all of that to
get it out there?
* (Mr. Xynides): Let me show you this. There's a boat in the water. Over here, this is the
view I think. Now, you see, I rig them, and then I roll them, roll them, up to the railway.
That's the time people by them self push off. And over here you've got to work to take
them outside. With the system like that, you take the dollies, bring them inside, and set
them in the bottom of the boat, and after the ceremony, you let them go out.
(Joanna): Oh, that's much more convenient. How long did that take to get those out,
(Mr. Xynides): We bring, me and my son, we bring the dollies inside, from the morning
to the night, we close the place again... You see the rails over here, you have the rails
up there. We bring the dollies from outside, and bring them inside, and where there's
the boat, we put them on the bottom of the boat. After we ceremony, we let them go
out. This is open, all of this opens to let the boat go out. And then we close, and then
we go home and sleep.
(Joanna): How much time does it take to build one of these boats, normally, just the
(Mr. Xynides): Well, by myself, you know, my son used to go to school, and when I'd
come pick him up from school, he would help me on it. It would me about a year to
build one boat.
(Joanna): When your son wasn't in school, we he could help you, did it take as long?
(Mr. Xynides): Oh, if I had a helper, then it would take about six months. We do a
special job .We don't have no mass production on it. We do it, its like I build for
myself. And after that, I like the customer, I'll sell it to him. I don't just sell them to
(Joanna): You don't just sell them to anybody?
(Mr. Xynides): Oh, no. I have a Mr. Duran(?) Harring(?), and I build them seven boats.
Its a pleasure to work with them, because they are honest people. I would never sign
any contracts, or anything like that. He'd come inside, and see the keel laying up
there, and he say 'Is that my boat?' And I say 'Yes sir,'...
(Tape flipped to side two).
(Joanna): You were telling us about that one man that you built seven boats for. What
kind of boats did you build?
(Mr. Xynides): Shrimp boats.
(Joanna): So, what did you do when you were approached by somebody to build a
boat, and you were already in the process of building another boat?
(Mr. Xynides): They have to wait. At the time I start building boats across the river, I
build a boat, and I have three boats that made a down payment, and they have to wait
for it, that's all. I can't go too fast, by myself. And also, I don't go after the money, I love
to build boats. I love something that is homemade.
(Chris): Did anyone ever reject one of the boats that you built?
(Mr. Xynides): I have a boat after twenty years. I haul them over here on the railway,
and anyone who wants to buy them they can. Twenty years ago, this boat had been
built, you can't even sell it. According to the material, did you buy quality? Its like over
here, now, these nails over here, these are stainless steel nails. Now, If you buy
galvanized nails, from the United States, and you buy galvanized nails, from Europe,
there's a difference in it. The material is different. And the price is different.
(Joanna): You've always got to make sure that you've got good materials.
(Mr. Xynides): Oh, yeah. Of course, I love the trade, I make a living, I don't work for nothing, I make a
living, but I don't do it for the money. I can hire Nick and Harry over here, and they can drive the nails
steady to go through the ribs, she goes free, and don't take nothing. They got a lot of things. You can see,
the boat knows if you're working with cheap material...
(Kim): Do you know of anybody else who still builds wooden boats?
(Mr. Xynides): Out here? No, we got some people, they build yachts, but they are fiberglass. No wood.
(Joanna): Now going back a little bit, you were talking to us earlier about how you learned to build ships
from your sisters husbands father. Did you learn that while you were in the United States or where you
(Mr. Xynides): No, before I come here to the United States, I go to school, and I go to the trade school.
(Joanna): And the trade school was taught by him?
(Mr. Xynides): Yeah. My father was no carpenter. That's a funny thing. My father was a diver.
(Joanna): What interested you in ship building to begin with, when you were over there?
(Mr. Xynides): In the beginning, I'd go visit my sister's father in law. I began to stay with them for a while.
And I fell in love wit the trade.
(Joanna): When did you start building ships if you moved over here when you were seventeen? How long
did you go to trade school over there- How long did you work on the ships over there?
(Mr. Xynides): How many years, I don't remember. So many years. I'm close to ninety now.
(Joanna): So, you worked here for a long time. But, you learned it entirely over there.
(Mr. Xynides): You go to school now, and they just don't put it on your ears, or your brain. You have to
study yourself, and experience the time. And like my son, I didn't buy the trade or give it to him. He had
to learn it by the experience. You have to love it. If you don't love it, you don't make no success. It's like
your school, if you don't love it, you go for nothing.
(Joanna): I understand exactly what your saying. So you went over to your sister's house and met her
father in law and just fell in love with it?
(Mr. Xynides): Yeah, he built boats in front of the house in our country.
(Joanna): They built them in front of the house?
(Mr. Xynides): In the yard. Now they don't let you do it. You've got to have licenses, you have to have
all these things.
(Joanna): And he let you help him and all of that?
(Mr. Xynides): Yeah, I worked four or five before he gave me the wages. He buy me five years time, you
buy the materials to make a ship. That's all, I didn't get no pay. Now over here, if men come over here,
you have to pay him according to minimum wages. You have to pay him, when he don't know how to
drive a nail.
(Joanna): So you fell in love with it, What made you like it at first?
(Mr. Xynides): Day by day year by year, you learn more. You have the feeling. Every time you touch the
materials, you feel like you touch something, you go to the stare and buy fabric, you love to touch the
fabric. It's the same thing with boat building. I can't explain it to you, it's a feeling you get. Some people
go out to make time. You are never successful like that.
(Joanna): Who helped you get started building boats down here?
(Mr. Xynides): Two Italian brothers, they have a fish house. They wanted to build a boat. I told them 'I'll
build you the boat, every week you pay me a salary. Give me the money and I'll buy the material'. If they
were honest with me I'll be honest with them. And I finished the boat and put it in the water.
(Joanna): So, you built your first boat.
(Mr. Xynides): The first boat I built, I built by time, material, all of them. And if I wanted to make money, I
could have made money. I could tell the lumberyard to put double the price on the material. I don't want
to do things like that. I'd be honest, because the first people helped me, and I helped them.
(Joanna): So, after that you just found people that need boats?
(Mr. Xynides): Yeah. The timing, people came up saying 'Can you build me a boat?' by the time I
finished that boat, I got three boats a head.
(Joanna): They realized you were a good boat builder, and they came to you.
(Mr. Xynides): Yeah, I was always building. I didn't go looking for the customers.
(Christopher): Do you see any of the boats that you built, after you built them?
(Mr. Xynides): Oh yeah. I don't drive, I don't go nowhere else, I don't know what's happening now. I
used to have a lot of boats up there in Fort Meyers. The Noah's Ark. I sold it in Mississippi. And the boat
sunk there in Key West, somebody hit them I think. And they got him out. He was a smart boy, I
remember. But, I didn't see the boats anymore.
(Chris): Do you miss the boats that you built?
(Mr. Xynides): Oh yeah. I miss them. .We have a boat, they sold it six months ago, we helped them.
They built it next door. He's a Greek fellow. Its a seventy feet boat. We took care of the boat. And believe
it or not, after all these years, that's twenty or so many years, he obeys me with the material and everything
on it. We haul the boat over here, and you have the same propeller, the same rotor. There's nothing wrong
with the boat, or the wood, or nothing like that, because we take care of the boat. Now, we got so many
places we got there to haul the boat on the railway. We know how to do corking, we know how to do the
painting. This is the paint we used over her. That's one of the best paint, I found out.
(Joanna): Interlux paint?
(Mr. Xynides): Yeah. And corking, corking is a trade. Its like if you take a pencil and you write, you know,
some people write beautifully. Its according to the way you write. I've seen so many doctors, I can't even
tell what they write.
(Joanna): What is corking again?
(Mr. Xynides): Corking, that's what my son is doing right now. You put the cotton between the seems,
and it stops the leaking...
(Kim): So what's going to become of all of this, all of the keels and eases, if you're not building boats
(Mr. Xynides): I save them for memories (laughs). Every time I see them, I feel like I see you, young.
Most of the time when I built them, I was a young man, too...
(Joanna): So, do you have an approximate number of how many boats you've built?
(Mr. Xynides): No. Some time my wife tried to figure it out for me. But, you know, after so many years,
you lose count. .Now, this boat over here, was built by my nephew. My nephew, he goes in the business
to make the money. His granddaddy is the one I learned the trade from. .That's their family tradition, to
build boats. It goes back to their great, great grandfather. His granddaddy, in those days to build a boat,
you have to make it different, because you got a sailboat. You don't have no engines on there, no power.
You had to build about that obeyed the sail...
(Christopher): So what happens now? Do you have any plans?
(Mr. Xynides): Everyday is the same life, I've got to work. .1 don't know. Sometimes my mind is, well, I
don't know. But, I always thank the good Lord, because, I go to the hospital and visit some people. They
don't even know who I am. They don't know their family. I thank the good Lord, I know my family.
That's a blessing.
(Joanna): Well, we thank you for your time with us today, you've been such a big help.
(Mr. Xynides): You're welcome. I don't know if I helped you or not, but, you're welcome.