Each month in the Modelers Central free monthly email newsletter we take a look at a shipwreck from around the world.
Waters have for many millennia separated but also connected civilizations. They have been the carrier of many human adventures. Some of the traces of the travellers, warriors or merchants have found their last resting place on the bottom of the sea, rivers and lakes.
It can be estimated that over 3 million shipwrecks are spread across ocean floors around the planet. While this is of course only an estimate and while the preservation of their remains depends much on the environment, some of these wrecks are thousands of years old. They can provide precious historical information. A shipwreck by nature is testimony to trade and cultural dialogue between peoples. It also functions, however, as a time capsule, providing a complete snapshot of the life on board at the time of sinking. Each month we will take a look at a shipwreck from around the world.
Torrent was an American three-masted wooden sail ship that shipwrecked near the coast of Alaska on 15 July 1868.
Torrentwas built in Bath, Maine in 1852. It was made of wood, weighed 576 tons and measured probably 50 meters in length. It consisted of two decks.
In October 1867, the United States and Russia signed the Alaska Treaty with the US acquiring the territories now belonging to the state of the same name. To protect the American interests, the Army decided to construct a fort near the mouth of the Kenai River on Cook Inlet. The fort would complement the existing forts at Sitka and Kodiak.
Battery F of the Army’s Second Infantry Division was chosen to man the fort, under the command of Lt. John McGilvray. Torrent was one of two sailing ships destined to carry the men of the Division, ammunition, supplies and building materials to the new fort at Cook Inlet. The transported goods were intended to last six months. A second ship, Milan, commanded by Captain Joseph Snow, would follow carrying 267,000 board feet (630 m3) of lumber and 300 tons of coal.
Torrentwould be commanded by Captain Richard Carlton. The ship carried a crew of 15 men, five Army officers, 125 enlisted men, four laundresses, two servants, and 11 children. It finally set sail for Alaska on 11 June 1868.
Torrentsailed north for almost a month, reaching Kodiak Island on 7 July. The following day she headed to Cook Inlet through the Chugachnik Gulf (now known as Kachemak Bay). It is unclear why she followed this route since the orders were to proceed to the Russian settlement of St. Nicholas near the mouth of the Kenai River.
As the ship approached, lookouts were able to see Kenai and what is now called as Homer Spit. The next morning, Lt. McGilvray dispatched a small reconnaissance party in one of the ship’s boats. Upon inspecting the terrain, McGilvray was convinced that it would be impossible to establish even a temporary post at that place.
After conferring with the captain and others knowledgeable about the area, McGilvray decided to establish a temporary fort at Port Graham, about 20 miles (32 km) south. Torrent set sail on the morning of 12 July, encountering a storm in the area. The storm was so strong that she returned to Kenai Harbor to wait until the next day. On 13 July, she set sail again, entering Cook Inlet. However, the storm covered them again as she made her way along the coastline. On 14 July, the men were able to see Port Graham at the distance and decided to wait until the next day to land.
On the morning of 15 July, the mate sailed Torrent to the harbor but couldn’t avoid a long, rocky reef that extends from the shore about a 1 1⁄2 miles (2.4 km). With a strong current estimated at 7 knots (13 km/h; 8.1 mph), Torrent struck the reef hard. The strong current spun her 180 degrees, carrying her onto the rocks. The hull timbers broke and she began taking-on water.
Quickly, the passengers and crew headed to the ship’s six lifeboats and abandoned the ship, without having time to salvage provisions or personal belongings. Shortly after, the ship sank. All of the passengers reached shore safely. An army officer and some of the sailors attempted to reach Fort Kodiak in one of the lifeboats, but were forced to return.
The castaways were rescued two weeks later by Captain Snow, of Milan, and by Captain Erskine, of the steamer Fidelater, who spotted the Torrentâ€Š’â€‹s floating in the sea.
The soldiers of Battery F spent the winter of 1868 to 1869 at Kodiak. They later arrived at the Russian settlement of St. Nicholas, aboard the steamer Constantine on 17 April 1869, finally establishing what would be Fort Kenai. The garrison would remain active for less than two years, when the Army headquarters ordered its abandonment in August 1870.
In 2006, a team of four investigators started an expedition to find remains of the Torrent shipwreck.
On 9 October 2007, it was announced that the team had found the remnants of the ship. Divers found the wreckage off the south-central Alaska coast. It is believed to be the oldest American shipwreck ever found in Alaskan waters.
Discovered on the wreck were guns, cannons, shoes and plates, as well as brass, copper and bronze objects. Divers also located a toilet, two anchors, sections of hull and heavy bronze rudder hinges weighing at least 100 pounds (45 kg). One anchor measured 10 feet (3.0 m) tall with a stem 2 1⁄2 feet (0.76 m) in circumference.
Torrentis now being considered for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. State or federal archaeologists are expected to study the wreck if they can secure enough funding.