Divers reveal pristine wreck in the Baltic

A Finnish wreck-diving team has announced results of a six-year project to document the wonderfully preserved remains of an 18th-century shipwreck off Helsinki, in the Baltic Sea’s Gulf of Finland. The Badewanne team, made up of amateur technical divers, has been researching and surveying wrecks in the Gulf of Finland for the past 15 years. It located the Helsinki wreck in 2003, and started work on it the following year. The divers have put together a comprehensive report on the wreck, backed by strong video and photographic stock, but they have drawn a blank in identifying the ship. They have decided to go public with their information in the hope that it will “ring a bell among marine historians and researchers in Sweden, Russia, the United Kingdom andother countries active in the area some 200 years ago”. Lying in 60m of water, the 30m-long wreck is that of an armed merchantman, its fine state of preservation due to the sea’s low temperature, low salinity and darkness. The hull is intact and the main deck planking still supports guns on their carriages. Wood carvings, including the ship’s figurehead of a male figure, remain clearly defined. A possible lead has developed in Sweden regarding the figurehead. The ship’s main bell amazingly still hangs in its mount, while remains of ropes, barrels and other paraphernalia lie both on deck and visible through open deck hatches. Raising and cleaning the bell would almost certainly solve the identity riddle, but at the moment this cannot be done. Wrecks more than 100 years old are automatically protected under Finnish law, with diving allowed on a look-don’t-touch basis. Any disturbance would require permission from the Finnish National Board of Antiquities, and it has not been granted for this wreck. Badewanne says its survey work has been entirely non-invasive. The board selects a relatively small number of wrecks, regarded as of particular historical or cultural importance, for further measures, including outright diving bans and licenced archaeological work. The Badewanne divers have an interesting method of diving wrecks that must not be disturbed. “We cannot drop an anchor with shotline into these wrecks, so instead we deploy a thin line with lead weight, protected in a very thick woollen sock,” team-member Jussi Kaasinen told Diver. “This is possible because we have no current in the Baltic. The divers can descend down the line without needing to hold onto it, and when we decompress we can do so in open water and still surface not more than 200-300m from our boat.” www.badewanne.fi This item appears in the June issue of Diver. Download the Diver Magazine App from iTunes. It costs £1.79, including a free issue of the magazine.

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