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A magnificent wreck from the 17th century was discovered in the Baltic Sea - video

Another unusual wreck has been discovered in the waters of the Baltic Sea! The Finnish technical diving group Badewanne located a sunken merchant ship dating from the 17th century. The find, although made by accident, brilliantly illustrates the changing history of the region and the control of maritime trade routes. It is said that often
Published: August 23, 2020 - 09:00
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 20:51
A magnificent wreck from the 17th century was discovered in the Baltic Sea – video

Another unusual wreck has been discovered in the waters of the Baltic Sea! The Finnish technical diving group Badewanne located a sunken merchant ship dating from the 17th century. The find, although made by accident, brilliantly illustrates the changing history of the region and the control of maritime trade routes.

It is said that often the best things happen to us unexpectedly, and I guess that is exactly what happened this time. The Badewanne dive team was conducting a dive to document the WWI and WWII wrecks at the entrance to the Gulf of Finland. Going down to the bottom, to a depth of 85 metres, it turned out, however, that there is also a much older and very rare wreck of a Dutch merchant ship from the 17th century.

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Wreck of the Dutch fluite Gulf of Finland divers24.pl
Wreck of a Dutch fluite from the 17th century photo: Badewanne

Since medieval times, the Baltic Sea has been an important trade route. All because of the enormous demand of the Dutch and English fleets for the endless supplies of wood, tar and hemp that were available in the countries bordering the Baltic. From the 13th century onwards the trade was controlled by the Hanseatic League, but in the 17th century a very efficient Dutch fleet took control of the region. And it grew significantly in importance and profitability after Tsar Peter the Great established his new capital, St Petersburg, at the mouth of the Neva River in the easternmost part of the Gulf of Finland.

During this time, one type of ship rises above the others and becomes the leading vessel in the entire industry. This is the fluita (fleuta), a Dutch three-masted vessel built in the 1690s with a very capacious hull design, no cannons and a very high cargo capacity.

Exploration of a wooden wreck Baltic Sea divers24.pl
Main cabin located aft fot Badewanne

In addition, the flukes had very innovative and advanced rigging, using cleverly designed systems of blocks and hooks to hoist and control the sails. These advanced technical features made it possible to sail the ship with a much smaller crew than in earlier types of similar vessels. This made trade even more profitable.

Another completely innovative feature of the fluit design was that the entire crew lived behind the main mast – captain, officers, petty officer, cook and sailors all occupied the same space between decks and ate at the same table. This was highly unusual in the society of the time, let alone the highly hierarchical maritime world. Fluits dominated Baltic trade from the late 16th to the mid-18th century. However, very few of these once extremely popular vessels have survived to our times. Even as wrecks.

The group was all the more surprised when, descending to the wreck and expecting to see a minesweeper or schooner sunk during World War I or II, they found an almost completely preserved wooden Dutch sailing ship from the 17th century!

The wreck rests flush on its keel, with most of the rigging scattered around the vessel. Fishing nets have caused only minor damage. A trawl appears to have passed from the bow towards the stern, damaging the stern deck and the topmost part of the vessel slightly. Apart from this damage, the wreck is intact, with all planks firmly in place and the holds full! Even damaged parts and pieces of transom decoration such as “Hoekmen” or “Strongmen” can be found on the bottom just aft. Fortunately, only very small fragments of nets remain on the wreck.

Stern of a 17th-century wreck Baltic divers24.pl
The decorated stern has survived very well photo Badewanne

In very few places in the world, including the Baltic Sea, wooden wrecks can survive for centuries without suffering damage from chemical, biochemical and biological processes. Due to low salinity, absolute darkness and very low temperatures, these processes occur very slowly in the Baltic Sea.

And, perhaps most importantly, organisms that are lethal to wooden wrecks, such as the shipworm(Teredo navalis), are not found in such an environment. Even in temperate seas, all wooden wrecks disappear after only decades, unless they are previously covered by sediments and sands on the seabed.

Diver at the wreck in the Gulf of Finland divers24.pl
The wreck resting at a depth of 85m was found by chance fot Badewanne

The finding of the virtually intact and almost complete wreck of the Dutch fluita, the queen of Baltic trade almost 400 years ago, is a great example of the importance of the Baltic Sea, especially its eastern part and the waters of the Gulf of Finland, as a true treasure trove of history. The Baltic waters like a time capsule hide wrecks, of which there are many, because over the centuries the basin has been a very important trade route and a battlefield in many wars.

Close-up of a 17th century wreck Baltic divers24.pl
Few fluites have survived to our times even as wrecks fot Badewanne

We are fortunate to live in times when all these wrecks are within the limits available for advanced technical diving. This makes their discovery, exploration and documentation possible. This in turn allows us to write many white pages in the history of the Baltic Sea region and the countries lining its shores.

The Badewanne team will continue to document and investigate this highly significant discovery in collaboration with the Finnish Heritage Agency and other partners, including Associate Professor Dr Niklas Eriksson, a marine archaeologist at Stockholm University.

Wreck of a merchant ship from the 17th century divers24.pl
The wreck will be the subject of further research fot Badewanne

The wreck exhibits many of the characteristics of a fluite, but also some unique features, particularly when looking at the design of the stern. It is possible that this is an early example of the design of this vessel. The discovery therefore provides a unique opportunity to study the development of this type of vessel, which sailed around the world and became a tool that laid the foundations for early modern globalisation, Dr Eriksson said.

The Badewanne Diving Team is a group of volunteer divers who specialise in documenting WWI and WWII wrecks in the waters of the Gulf of Finland. Their work has resulted in several documentary films and publications in the form of books and newspaper articles, including the National Geographic documentary “Sunken Nazi sub”. In recent years, the Badewanne Team has also become increasingly involved in conducting research on the environmental threats posed by submerged wrecks. Among these, the two biggest are the remaining fuel oil in the wrecks and the accumulated broken fishing nets on them. The group cooperates with the authorities and military of Finland and Estonia. Although the Badewanne Team is a Finnish group, the divers who make up the team come from many countries.

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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