Thucydides describes the harbour, of which the promontory Coryphasium formed the northern termination, as fronted and protected by the island Sphacteria, which stretched along the coast, leaving only two narrow entrances to the harbour, - the one at the northern end, opposite to Coryphasium, being only wide enough to admit two triremes abreast, and the other at the southern end wide enough for eight or nine triremes. The island was about 15 stadia in width, covered with wood, uninhabited and untrodden, (Thuc. iv. 8.) Pausanias also says that the island Sphacteria lies before the harbour of Pylus like Rheneia before the anchorage of Delos (v. 36. § 6)
(William Smith, 1854).
Here's what it looks like now, time having wrought some changes to the harbour, essentially increasing it in size by creating a lagoon to the North.
'One of the regular debates that my wargaming chums and I seem to have is the one about “whose role are we taking when we play a wargame?” Are we playing ship’s captains or fleet admirals? In general naval wargamers tend to assume the role of admirals whilst demanding a level of detail more appropriate to games set at the lower level. For most cases this is isn’t too much of a problem as the numbers of ships tends to be relatively small, and there are fleet level rules with appropriate levels of abstraction available for most periods. However, the ancient period seems to one where all available rules operate at the ship level. Obviously this makes battles such as Salamis, with hundreds of ships involved, difficult to handle. I wanted a set of rules that could be used to recreate these enormous battles whilst placing the players truly in the roles of admirals and squadron commanders. At this level the fate of individual ships is unimportant. Hence, “Greek Fire and Roman Fury” was born.
The basis for these rules is a theory that the naval battles of antiquity were fought in a similar style to land actions. Therefore, in these rules, the respective fleets are represented by squadrons rather than individual ships, which are manoeuvred around the “battlefield” in a similar manner to armies. After a few false starts I decided to use “Fire and Fury” as the basis for the system, hence the name I finally selected..'.
The Spartans did not lack courage: they came on immediately.. Out we went into single line to face theirs:
And some tough melees ensued. At first it did seem that the larger Athenian squadrons would have the advantage, despite the fact that a significant proportion of my force was still trapped in the entrance, undoubtedly the right thing for the Spartans to do:
But as the fight began to break up into squadron actions, the numerical advantage of the Athenians was not available to their best advantage.
At the height of the battle, the forces were still struggling around the harbour entrance, a quite different state of affairs than in history, where by this time the Spartans had fled.
The Athenian formation had not played to their advantage, and their losses became heavy - two squadrons in a single move, in fact, and even a couple of ships lost to collision. By the end of the battle, ten moves in total, all their remaining ships could do was to decide to turn tail and flee, leaving the harbour to the Spartans, no doubt a significant number of Athenian prisoners from those who had escaped sinking ships and swum to shore, and most importantly - no ransomed Spartan army. What misplaced confidence on my part!