Early Greek sailing
Because Greece was so mountainous, and every place in Greece was so close to the sea, a lot of people in Greece used boats to get from one place to another, even starting as early as the Stone Age, when people sailed to the islands to get obsidian, and also went out in boats to catch tuna fish.
Fishing, trade, and piracy
Greek people used boats to fish, and to trade with other places, and also to sail to other cities and fight them and take their stuff. Sometimes the Greeks hired out their ships to fight for other countries, too. Sometimes they fought as pirates, capturing other people’s trading ships.
Greek stories about sailing
Because the Greeks spent a lot of time sailing, they told a lot of stories about sailing and the dangers of being out in boats. The Greek poet Homer told the story of Odysseus, who was shipwrecked on his way home from Troy.
Greek people told the story of Pythias, who was shipwrecked on his way to save his friend Damon. They told the story of Arion, who was attacked by pirates and saved by dolphins. They told about Dionysos, who turned the pirates themselves into dolphins.
Sails and enslaved rowers
Like other people at this time, Greek ship-builders built their ships from the outside in, first the hull and then the insides. They used only one big square sail, made of coarse linen cloth.
There were some improvements in sails by the time of Aristotle in the 300s BC. Aristotle seems to say that sometimes sailors squeezed down one side of the sail, the way you can squeeze one end of your window blinds, in order to catch the wind.
Invention of the astrolabe: better navigation
Even though the classical Greeks were great sailors, they didn’t like to go out of sight of land if they could help it. That’s because they didn’t have compasses or astrolabes or any way to tell where they were if they couldn’t see land. Mostly they sailed near land, following the coast around the Mediterranean. That was a long way to go, and it took a long time.