Tarpon Springs was the destination of our Gulf Crossing trip earlier this week. We rested a couple of days at Turtle Cove Marina, just off of the Anclote River and near the Sponge Docks on Dodecanese Boulevard.
In the early 1900s when sea sponge diving began in the Gulf of Mexico near Tarpon Springs, locals recruited experienced sponge divers and crew from the Greek islands, where sponge diving has been practiced for centuries. Sponging became the most important business in Tarpon Springs. Other Greeks came to the city for work and retirement. Tarpon Springs now has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the United States. It is famous for Greek restaurants, Greek bakeries, and Greek sponge diving. It flies Greek flags along the tourist streets and has many small souvenir shops selling sponges, olive oil, and Greek-themed merch.
The city’s Greek-Americans celebrate their Greek heritage. A significant portion of the city’s population still speaks Greek at home. On January 6 each year, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church hosts an Epiphany celebation including the blessing of the water and the boats. The festival attracts Greek Americans from across the country, tripling the city’s normal population of around 23,000.
Tarpon Springs sponge boats harvest sponges either by hooks or by divers. The fishy-smelling live sponges are then washed repeatedly to remove the live organisms and leave only the sponge material. The cleaned and dried sponges are then packed and sold by local sponge packing plants.
Fellow Looper Connie from Simpatico and her first mate Bob had endured a 20+ hour overnight Gulf crossing on their trawler. Bob is Greek and worked in the restaurant business for many years. After they rested up after their crossing, Bob recommended a Greek restaurant off the beaten path, and six of us walked there for dinner. We shared some tasty appetizers including “OPA” flaming cheese and char-grilled octopus.
We enjoyed excellent local food and the good company of other travelers in this unique Greek/American city!