Intact 17th c. shipwreck found in Gulf of Finland

Divers have discovered the nearly intact wreck of 17th century merchant ship at the mouth of the Gulf of Finland. A team of volunteer divers from Badewanne, a non-profit organization dedicated to documenting shipwrecks from World War I and World War II in the Gulf of Finland, spotted the wreck on the sea floor at a depth of 280 feet. The area was extremely active during the world wars and is replete with the remains of minesweepers, U-boats and other casualties of naval conflict, so on the descent the team assumed it was one a relic from the first half of the 20th century. They were shocked to find it was a wood sailing vessel from the 17th century.

The cold, dark, shipworm-free waters of the Eastern Baltic preserved the vessel in extraordinary condition. It has taken some small damage from a pelagic trawl that swept over the deck bow to aft, pulling out the masts, some deck timbers and the transom between the hoekman (statues of prosperous Dutch merchants flanking the stern). Some of the damaged parts of the transom and hoekmen are still in situ on the bottom of the ship behind the stern. There is no damage to the hull so the ship cannot have been dashed onto shoals. The ship probably capsized in a storm.

Its pear-shaped stern identifies it as a cargo vessel of Dutch manufacture called a fluyt. With their shallow draft, ample cargo space, narrow deck and absence of armament, the three-masted ships were fast, capacious, able to sail inland waterways and, thanks to an innovative pulley and tackle system operating the sails, they were easily manned by a small crew. They were the cheap, efficient workhorses of the Dutch East India Company in the 17th and 18th centuries and dominated the Baltic trade routes.

Badewanne team will continue documenting and investigating this significant wreck in co-operation with Finnish Heritage Agency of Antiquities and other partners, Including Associate Professor Dr. Niklas Eriksson, Maritime Archaeologist, Univ. of Stockholm, Sweden:

“The wreck reveals many of the characteristics of the fluit but also some unique features, not least the construction of the stern. It might be that this is an early example of the design. The wreck thus offers a unique opportunity to investigate the development of a ship type that sailed all over the world and became the tool that laid the foundation for early modern globalization,” says Dr. Eriksson.

You can see a brief but crystal clear video of the shipwreck here.