Admiral Miaoulis

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Admiral Miaoulis

Here my thoughts while reading Ο Ναύαρχος Μιαούλης (Admiral Miaoulis) by Spyros Melas (Σπύρος Μελάς):

During the Napoleonic wars the famous English admiral Horatio Nelson blockaded France and Spain. The Greeks predominantly from the islands of Hydra, Spetses, and Psara, and also from Galaxidi and Kasos made large fortunes braking this blockade and selling goods at very large profits. They were able to do so building progressively larger ships reaching the size of small frigates. These they armed to defend themselves and their cargos from the North African pirates. These Greek ships were faster and more manueverable than the British naval ships because they had much larger sail plans. They could sail these top heavy and unstable ships and also fight the pirates because of their crews.

I am a great fan of the books by Patric O’ Brian, Alexander Kent, etc. When you read these books you see that the British navy was a segregated society. They were maned by a relatively small number of educated, in navigation, officers who commanded their large uneducated crews. These crews were collected by the infamous “press gangs” and were kept by their officers under the harsh discipline enforced by the “cat with nine tails.”

The Greek crews were very different. Most of them were from the same island or town, many of them were related to each other. The profits from a ship’s cruise were split into 2 parts. Half went to the ship’s owners and the rest was divided among the crew in equal shares. Cabin boys were trained by the captain, like the British midshipmen, and learned all the skills: sail handling, navigation, and gunnery. As they grew up they became regular members of the crew. The captain was selected by the owners by being the best seaman on the ship but the rest of the crew had a voice on this selection. Any seaman could potentially become a captain and buy shares of a ship. By being so integrated and skilled they could handle sail plans way beyond the size of what the British crews could manage.