Divers find Finnish shipwreck from 1924 off French coast
The wreck of the Finnish sailing ship Port Caledonia, which sank with all hands in 1924, has been discovered on the bottom of the Bay of Biscay off France.
The four-masted vessel, more than 90 metres long stem to stern, was hit by a violent storm and sank 87 years ago. The home harbour of Port Caledonia was the city of Uusikaupunki in Southwestern Finland.
The shipwreck was discovered by French divers, and the French newspaper Sud-Ouest was the first to report the news on its webpage.
The Port Caledonia had started her fatal last voyage from Mejillones in Chile, carrying 4,000 tonnes of saltpetre.
She had sailed around Cape Horn and was approaching its destination, the harbour of La Pallice in the Bay of Biscay off the city of La Rochelle, when she crashed into rocks in a heavy storm.
The sailors who had climbed up the masts fought for their lives in the storm, but gradually they all lost their strength. The dramatic fight against the raging sea lasted as many as 10 hours, and the storm washed the sailors away one after another.
All 25 crew members as well as the ship's master Alfred Karlsson perished that day.
”Local people had to follow the disaster at sea from the shores and cliffs. The storm was raging and at that time there were no lifesaving vessels to come to the rescue”, says Matti Jussila, the chairman of the Maritime History Association of Uusikaupunki.
In France, the memory of the Port Caledonia has been much cherished.
Jussila believes that the dramatic disaster sank into the collective memory of the local people.
The Port Caledonia was built by Russell & Co. in Glasgow in 1892 and was bought by the Uusikaupunki-based shipping company J. A. Zachariassen in 1914. The vessel continues to be the largest sailing ship ever in Uusikaupunki’s register of ships.
The 2,400-tonne steel barque used to sail all over the world, carrying for example saltpetre from South America and grain from Australia to England.
In France, the local marine research association started to study archives in order to find out the fate of thePort Caledonia. Eventually it put together a group of divers who found the wreck.
”I was especially touched by the fate of the Finnish crew, as I had an opportunity to discuss with their descendants”, Sud-Ouest quotes Pierre-Emmanuel Augé as saying.
Descendants of Finnish sailors visited the place in June.
Apparently eight or nine crew members were Finnish nationals, while others came from Germany, the UK, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. In Finland, the news of the discovery of the shipwreck was first reported by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE).
Images of the Port Caledonia on Wikipedia Commons