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
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
More photos of these first dives are available
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
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
A starfish holds a large mug or stein - note the small
circular items in the foreground that I only noticed in the video - napkin
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.