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The steamship Portland was the lost in a huge storm that struck New England on November 26-27, 1898, sinking over 140 ships and boats.  The storm subsequently became known as the Portland Gale.  The Portland measured 291 feet in total length with a beam of 68 feet. It was built in 1889 by the New England Shipbuilding Company of Bath, Maine, and was one of New England's largest and most luxurious side paddle wheel steamships.



The SS Portland under way



The Portland left India Wharf the night of November 26th for Portland ME with approximately 190 passengers and crew, and sailed directly into the incoming storm. Unconfirmed sightings reported the Portland well south of Boston during the night, but the ship was never seen again.  Over the next several days, 38 bodies from the wreck washed up along the Cape Cod shore along with parts of the ship’s bridge.


And as she is today resting on the sea bottom in 460FSW


The remains of the Portland were discovered in 1989 by John Fish and Arnold Carr in the deep northern section of what is now Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.  An ROV survey by the Sanctuary confirmed the identity of the wreck in 2002. 

I located the wreck in the summer of 2007 but we were diving the Palmer/Crary at the time and at 460FSW the Portland required some serious thinking.  I've always viewed this as one of the crown jewels of NE wrecks, but the depth (twice the Andrea Doria) will always make it accessible to only a few. But on August 13, 2008 weather and preparation all came together and a team of 5 divers became the first to visit this historic wreck.  Slav Mlch, Dave Faye, Don Morse, Paul Blanchette and myself - supported by Marcie Bilinski and Ricky Simon - dropped down a weighted line we dragged near the wreck and landed between the twin boiler intake stacks and the walking beam.  My first view of the wreck was the stacks on my left, and then the walking beam which rises approximately 20ft. above the deck.  Visibility was approximately 30ft. with no ambient light.  A large dragger net covers the port paddle wheel and extends partway over the deck and about 10ft. above.  I was reminded of the depth when one of the UK lights I was using with my video housing imploded at about 400ft. The 500ft. rating is obviously a bit generous! 

Dishes spill across the deck in the area of the galley




There was a significant current across the wreck that prevented us from making a lot of headway, but artifacts littered the deck around the base of the walking beam.  Large pitchers, stacked dishes, and small brass-framed glass windows were easily identifiable.



While the upper decks are completely gone (likely due to the sinking) the main decking is still fairly intact.

First on the Portland: Don Morse, Capt. Doug Currier, Ricky Simon, Dave Faye, Paul Blanchette, Bob Foster, Slav Mlch, and Marcie Bilinski


Dave noticed no markings on the plates we saw, but they were also encrusted a great deal.  ROV footage from NOAA showed stacks of plates as well, but to me these seemed thicker suggesting they were not the finer china.  Don reported seeing a very large cod inside a hatchway that he estimated at 50-60 lbs.

More photos of these first dives are available here.

  A second dive in the same general area showed a large collection of serving plates clustered around a copper-covered shelf that appeared to be a warming tray.  The top had a number of impressions of various shapes, and a heavy crock still rested inside one of the depressions.  Nearby, at the foot of the starboard paddle wheel, a copper-covered board caught my attention and as I swam over it I realized that it was an embossed plate with an impression of a paddle-wheel logo with the name Portland stamped across. 

A third dive near the stern showed a large expanse of flat silt-covered area upon which the upper decks had once stood.  Tubeworms appeared among scattered artifacts such as sinks, toilets and other items that suggested that staterooms once stood here.  Slav reported a great many scattered items such as pitchers, plates and other serving items off the stern of the wreck near the rudder.  What a phenomenal experience!



This copper plaque mounted on a board shows a paddlewheel logo and the name Portland embossed along its length







A starfish holds a large mug or stein - note the small circular items in the foreground that I only noticed in the video - napkin rings?





A soap dish lies on the stern in an area of the ship that appears to be where cabins once stood.






An early marine head?  From the cabin area, and within a few yards of the scalloped sink below.