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F + 23 : Greek Pirates loved Aeolus

Aeolus, the Greek God of winds, must be angry. Yesterday was supposed to be the peak of the storm but high winds continue unabated. Aeolus releases violent winds upon instructions of the highest Greek Gods. Did we offend Zeus, Hera and Poseidon or Apollo and Artemis with the blog on Delos? Or are the Greek and Turkish Governments with their silly dispute over borders the culprits? Who knows! Wind Finder, my ever-present app for the sea, predicts calmer winds around midnight today. Let's cross fingers!

Aeolus, the Greek God of the Winds, in a Roman Mosaic

With not much else to do, we took care of restocking the Queen of Datca. There is a great open market in Nafplio twice a week – Wednesday and Saturday. More than hundred farmers set up stalls and offer vegetables and fruits – freshly picked the day before.

The Honeycomb Melons here in Nafplio are delicious - juicy, sweet and affordable

It is noticeable that fall is around the corner. Fresh figs, grapes, melon and prunes are on sale at prices which makes you salivate. The farms around Nafplio are so productive. A kilo of grapes was EUR 1.30, honeycomb melons sold at 1.20 a kilo. Our bags were not big enough!

Same holds true for the Grapes which were harvested only yesterday - could not be fresher

Since we are sailing towards Hydra tonight, I did some research on piracy in the Aegean. In our western world, piracy is romanticized. But pirates were first and foremost thieves with no hesitation to maim and kill. When they could they enslaved or ransomed people and ripped families apart. They had no feelings for their victims.

When we get to Hydra tomorrow, have to look at the size of the houses. They are sizeable and their owners were not poor. But nothing grows on Hydra, the island is a giant limestone rock. With fishing alone nobody gets rich. Under Ottoman rule, Hydra’s young men became mariners and worked in the Ottoman-Greek merchant navy. The ones who were successful became ship owners and merchants themselves. A few were always pirates and preyed on Christian and Muslim ships. The activity earned them a sizeable amount of money.

The Houses on Hydra are impressively large - something I noticed already in 1999

The outbreak of open rebellion in Greece in 1821 changed all of that. Greek pirates and merchants joined forces. Ottoman merchant vessels became their prey. The Greek pirates had only small boats equipped with swivel guns. But they were masters in sailing, friends of Aeolus and knew where to best ambush a ship. They also engaged in large smuggling operations, brought in weapons and transported Greek troops to wherever necessary. Whilst fighting for Greek independence, they made good money. Add to this the public adulation of the “maritime heroes” and we understand why life for them was perfect.

The Royal Navy chasing Greek Pirates to they hideouts deep inside Greek territorial Waters

Many of them were not thrilled when Greece won its independence and the new government tried to rule them in. France and the United Kingdom had made it a condition of their support that the a Greek government reined in piracy. As a court ruling from 1829 shows, the British were not amused by their wide spread. 7 Greek pirates had attacked the British ship Alcestis, were captured by the Royal Navy, tried in Malta and sent to five years of prison to New South Wales, England’s penitentiary colony in Australia.

English Sailors boarding a Greek Pirate Ship - the print is from 1836

The new government under Bavarian King Otto was never in full control of its coast though. It did not have the money for a proper a fleet. The Royal Navy took matters in their own hand and pursued Greek pirates whenever they met. If that meant violating Greek territorial waters, so be it. But even the Royal Navy could not completely suppress the piracy in Aegean.

Things went so bad that French and British Troops occupied Athens during the Crimean War (1853 - 1856) because they feared that the Greek government would openly support the pirates and cut their supply through the Aegean Sea. It was an open secret that the Greek government favored Russia in the conflict, hoping for territorial gains. The pirates hoped for a revitalisation of their business - it was not supposed to be..

The ships in Greek Bays pursue more peaceful Goals

Today, these important facts have disappeared and history knows the Greek Pirates only as the Heroes of the War of Independence. But they were one of the reason why England, France and Russia insisted on Greece becoming an absolute monarchy. Sounds a bit contrarian, but the people who view themselves as the liberators of Greece are actually the people who killed the chance of building a democratic republic in Greece.

Time to say Good Bye to Nafplio - we are off to Hydra to visit the Pirates' Nest

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