Trip Reports

The Battle of Salamis (09-Jul-2002-19-00):
7:00 PM local time, Tuesday, July 9 (1600 July 9 UTC) 37 57 N 023 32 E. Temp. 89, Humidity 38%, Cloud Cover 5%. On the hard at Theo Bekris and Co. shipyard, island of Salamis, Greece.

Warm greetings from the crew of Maverick.

Having assisted with the haulout of Maverick, Mr. Shrode returned to America a couple of days ago to remind Caroline of his existence. Theresa feels her email contacts with the Captain are quite sufficient for her needs, if not providing a bothersome surplus. And so it is that I can selflessly absent myself from contact with those closest to me to the satisfaction of all concerned, with the exception, that is, of myself. Oh, and you, the unfortunate reader, who, however, has the advantage over those who see me in the flesh of possessing a "delete" button.

The Captain, when he is not arranging repairs or scraping bottom paint or grinding fiberglass or smashing his toe quite impressively with the airline-type ladder used to climb up to Maverick's cockpit, causing a dramatic flow of his life's blood, lounges about his modestly commodious bachelor pad and reads books which he flatters himself may have the effect of improving his mind if not his toe, like, for example, Herodotus' Histories. Some minds are more easily improved than others, I fear. There are those who feel that the accumulation of new thoughts is a vain and unwarranted extravagance, when the same threadbare but comfortable concepts they've kept since youth have kept them ticking along without incident. I would like to believe that this is not the wisest course to take, but it beats me how evidence could be provided to the contrary. So perhaps it is the illusion of improving a mind so in need of improvement, according to some of our readers, and not the actuality of it, that serves the day.

From my quarters, which are only ten feet or so from a bay given over to industrial use and ship repair, I have access by ferry to Piraeus, the commercial and historical port of Athens, and from there to Athens itself by bus or train. Unlike the harbor at Delos which has not been developed in centuries, this area is a congested pool of cranes, fuel tanks, wrecks, and pollution. After the workers leave in the afternoon, on the other hand, it is very quiet here. I've made friends with the pack of large junkyard, or rather, boatyard dogs that have the run of the place and at first were a bit intimidating. They take little notice of me now when I cross the yard to visit the head and cold shower, where one might have hoped for just a tiny bit more luxury, but we will make-do. Most yachts never come to this area because the harbor at Piraeus is not available to them and there's little other reason to sail here, as Salamis is no tourist island. There's an anchorage on the west side but to get there you'd go south of the island and miss the nearby strait between the mainland and Salamis, where an important sea battle once took place.

My apartment in the shipyard has a view of a distinguished venue. It was to Salamis that the Athenians fled the Persians under the leadership of Themistocles, one of the most important and, fortunately for us, duplicitous characters in western history. After Darius of Persia failed earlier, amazingly, in his attempt to conquer the outnumbered Greeks, the Athenians felt that they had nothing to fear from another attack. Like Californians thinking about an earthquake, they found the idea too disconcerting to contemplate, and so convinced themselves it wouldn't happen and opposed taking measures to improve their defenses. Themistocles could not persuade them to raise a navy against the Persians, so he focused their attention on the hated Aegineans from an island close by. Whipping up fears of invasion from a nearer and more beatable foe, Themistocles got the Athenians to triple the size of their navy for the real enemy he was wise enough to see was coming. That was his first duplicity, against his own people.

When the Persians under Xerxes, son of Darius, advanced just as Themistocles had predicted, their fleet was diminished in a battle on the coast northeast of Athens. But it became clear that it would be impossible to defend Athens from Xerxes' ground forces. Themistocles knew, however, that the ground troops could not succeed without supplies from the navy, and he had built his own navy specifically to fight theirs. The Greek ships were smaller and more maneuverable and this proved decisive.

As Xerxes approached, the Athenians abandoned their city and fled to the island of Salamis, giving Xerxes the impression that they were terrified and had retreated in complete chaos. Actually, this was pretty much the case, but there was method in it. Themistocles sent, in his second major duplicity, a double agent claiming to be a representative of a Greek general who was willing to desert. He told Xerxes that the Athenians had escaped to Salamis, were divided and demoralized, and that many would join him and fight the others. The Greek fleet was bottled up and helpless in the mile-wide strait between the mainland and the island, and Xerxes' advisors realized that if he would block the escape routes at each end of the strait, the Greeks would be fatally trapped. Relying on this information, Xerxes commanded his navy to attack. With, according to Herodotus, a westerly blowing, the Persians sailed against the Greeks, but soon found that they, and not their foes, were the ones who could not escape. Though the Persians had 800 galleys to the Greeks' 380, the audacity and viciousness of the counterattack, together with the fact that, as Themistocles had hoped, his ships were able to outflank and outmaneuver the larger, slower Persian fleet in the constricted trap he had lured them to, led to the sinking of 300 Persian galleys to the Greeks' 40, and the disabling of many more. Xerxes watched the whole thing from a silver throne set up at an excellent vantage point from the hillside on the mainland, having no satellite dish. With his navy decimated and retreating in disorder and his ground troops dependent on it for support, he realized he had to retire. It was the first naval battle we have a description of and is still considered one of the most brilliant in history. It essentially ended the Persian invasion.

Had Themistocles not succeeded in either of his two duplicities, it's hard to say what would have happened. The battle was in 480 BC and in the next 100 years or so Greece, but largely Athens, produced Pericles, Demosthenes, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Euripides, Aeschylus, Democritus, Protagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Xenophon, and Thucydides, and that's just the A-list. During the same period the Athenians invented democracy, firmly set the foundation of western civilization, and still had time to be almost constantly at war. But never again against Persia.

ADDENDUM: According to the ever-resourceful Theresa, Andy Taylor did end up marrying Helen Crump, the schoolteacher, in the last season. The Captain had of course moved on to more sophisticated entertainments, if there be such, by then, but evidently, Theresa had not.

Next report from this location: Captain's Pep Talk

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