Traditional ship-building

The island of Spetses is small, less than 8 km long. off the coast of the Peloponnese, with a pine forest and a large natural harbour. Since antiquity, these resources helped its people to develop a local ship-building industry.

In the early 18th century, Spetses started building large merchant vessels for long-distance trade. These ships were financed by wealthy landowners of the Peloponnese, to carry their products to the ports of France, Spain and England. The archives of Malta show that the first merchantman to arrive from the Aegean (in 1744) was from Spetses, where a new class of captains, shipowners and shipbuilders had started to flourish.

From then on, the local shipyards learnt how to optimise the ships for capacity (to carry bulk freight), shallow draft (to load cargoes up-river) and speed (to outrun pirates). Thanks to these features, the Spetses shipowners made fortunes during the Napoleonic Wars, when they ran the British naval blockade to land supplies on the continent. By then, according to an 1808 report by the French consul in Constantinople, Spetses had a fleet of 90 ships, mainly 2-masted brigs, ranging from 200 to 400 tons with 5.000 crewmen and over 1.000 cannon. This fleet was a key factor in the Greek Revolution of 1821.

The Spetses merchant fleet started to decline after the Crimean War (1843) and with it the need for long-distance brigs. By the mid-19th century, Spetses was building about 15 brigs a year and about 40 “trehandiria” for fishing and coastal shipping. Production of “trechandiria” continued well into the 20th century, at the same shipyards and with the same methods as two centuries earlier, until the invasion of low-cost fiberglass boats turned them into collectioner’s items for boat-lovers.