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Utö / Park Victory – Wrecks, Fortifications and Toads

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Last weekend I and a number of people from our diving club went for a two day trip to Utö to check out the Park Victory shipwreck. Utö is the southernmost inhabited island in Finland, it has some military presence and a population of 50 or so. The island has been inhabited from the 16th century and in addition to a lighthouse, a radar station and a military watchtower there are some old fortifications in the southern tip of the place.

(The Full Flickr Photoset)

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The main event of the trip was to go diving on Park Victory, a massive steam ship that sank in 1947. It’s the largest wreck in the Finnish national waters and a popular, although challenging dive location weatherwise. Additional challenge is provided by the fact that the ship is in military waters, so you need a permission for every person who dives there.

The history of the Park Victory’s sinking is quite a melancholy one. On the Christmas Eve of 1947 the 9000 ton ship was approaching Finland in a severe snowstorm. The ship’s crew had skipped the Christmas party, because the captain Zepp had arranged a money collection amongst the crew, and the money was to be used to buy socks filled with candy for twenty Finnish children (this was after the war and times were very lean). The children and their parents were expected to board the ship when it docked and join the crew for a Christmas dinner.

The winds were high, so the ship docked to wait for the weather to calm down. The anchors didn’t hold, and quarter to one in the night the ship drifted to underwater rocks. The crew managed to free it using the ship’s engines, but it drifted back on the rocks at 2:15 and got caught on the midship. The structure didn’t hold, so the ship broke in half and sank in twenty minutes. The rescue ships got on location in the morning, when out of the 48 crew members 10 had died.

For more information in Finnish, check out Hylyt.net.

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As it happened, on Saturday the wind was too high to even think of diving. The waves were over two meters high and the wind was calming down, but not fast enough. I hadn’t been feeling that well during the morning and the day, so I went to sleep off the achy feelings. After we met at the boat in the late afternoon to decide that an evening dive was out of the question too, I went to explore the island.

All in all Utö is ridiculously idyllic. There are small red and white houses, boathouses all along the waterline, an old lighthouse and so on. In addition to that you have a couple of military structures, which break up the idyll a bit.

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I had a fun afternoon jumping from boulder to boulder and photographing stuff. Of course my camera battery started running out right when I found the abandoned fortifications on the southern end of the island, and I didn’t have my flashlight with me. After a dinner and a sauna I simply had to go back properly equipped.

Yes. A stormy dark night on an island with an history of shipwrecks and drowned people, me alone exploring abandoned fortifications with the sea pounding the rocky shore nearby. No, I have never seen a horror movie, why?

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On the next morning we got up before six and by the time the sun was rising, we were already on top of Park Victory wreck. The waves were still quite high and the only sensible way to get to the buyoy and the rope leading down to the wreck was to pull ourselves there with an another rope – swimming was too difficult. I almost fucked up and forgot to set my dive computer for nitrox (again). Luckily I caught the error when me and my two dive buddies were only five meters deep, so I could come back up to fix the situation. Unfortunately trying to set the computer with the waves rolling over me and my brain still foggy from too little sleep was too difficult, so I had to drag myself to the stern of the ship and back again, before diving down. How’s that for a morning exercise.

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We did three dives around the wreck that day and it was worth every dime. The visibility was 10-15 meters, which was excellent because the sheer size of the ship is one of the attractions of the place. Lying on the sea floor, looking up at the bow of the ship you could only imagine the racket it made when it slid down the rock wall. You can still see the gouges it made.

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All in all, an excellent weekend. There was good food, sea air, sauna, geocaching, light urban exploration and obviously diving. Right now that makes up at least 3/4 of my favourite activities in one weekend, so not bad at all!

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(The Full Flickr Photoset)

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for making this post. I happen to be the grandson of the captain of the ill fated Park Victory. Some of my family and I are planning to take a trip to dive the site, probably in 2014 when a cousin will be old enough. I would very much appreciate talking to in more detail about your experience and how to get the necessary authorization to dive the site.

  2. Hello, and I’m happy that you enjoyed the post. In retrospect I’ve thought I should have written more about the rather melancholy history of the wreck in this entry, because I find it quite touching and worth telling. Maybe I will correct that omission right away.

    I’m personally not familiar with all the bureaucracy needed to dive on the wreck, but it’s apparently not terribly strict: the dive operator has to tell the military beforehand when the diving will start and end, and give the information of all the divers. I know two dive operators that make trips to Park Victory: Oxygene Helsinki (http://www.oxygenediving.com/helsinki) and Hanko Diving (http://hankodiving.fi/). The site is challenging and quite often the rough waters prevent diving – I’ve heard rumours of someone going there seven times and not getting in to the water. I’ve been lucky and dived Park Victory twice.

    In any case, I recommend that you contact those dive centers well ahead of time and ask whether and when they are planning on a trip to the shipwreck. Good luck, and if you need more assistance, I’m happy to help!

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