The sinking of the "Bessel"

The shipwreck in 1912 of the three-masted ship Bessel

Started from Aruba, in the Dutch West Indies, on August 29th, 1912 and moving towards Nantes, the BESSEL approached the point of Brittany, with fi N October, when it was taken in a violent storm of south-wester.

The sinking of the Bessel

Conditions of navigation in 1912
At that time large sailing ships (3 or 4 masts and without engine) coming from America for the north of Europe (France, England, Holland, Scandinavia…) without any average electronics current (radio, radar, GPS…) had to overcome a frightening challenge: to have seen and have recognized the ground “right in front of”, in time, the level of the point of Brittany. The large headlights built in the 2nd part of the previous century had improved this situation singularly. However in the event of fog or of strong gale (many grains) the visibility was reduced even worthless. Moreover these sailing ships, in the very bad weather, were imperatively to reduce the “fabric” i.e. to return most veils. Damage then was not rare: shredded veils, started from mast broken… Their normal capacities of evolution were then reduced to some courses imposed by the direction of the wind. Thus Bessel found itself out of bay of Audierne in difficulty, bay which moreover does not offer any shelter by blow of south-wester. This same year 1912 took place another shipwreck famous with the more dramatic consequences: Titanic which at full speed was broken on an iceberg in North Atlantic.

The sinking of the Bessel

The type of boat
The BESSEL, Norwegian three-masted ship, with the hull metal and armed by 10 men with crew, was in charge of 838 tons of
phosphates, when it was surprised by this violent storm of south-west to broad of Audierne. In the afternoon of October 28th, 1912 it
tried to take refuge in the port.

Shipwreck and rescue
At the beginning of last century, the port of Audierne was attended by merchant ships of this type; its access by bad weather of south-west was very difficult because of the presence of a bar (rollers and breaking waves) to open of the channel. In damages and little operating Bessel cannot take the channel; it is then solved to drop anchor (undoubtedly at least 2) with some miles in the south of Audierne. Ballotté by the beachcombers and the wind, the ship drags its anchors and it is failed, around 2 hours of the morning, 150 meters of the entry of the channel and the mole of Audierne. The sinking of BesselThe customs officers and the lifeboat went as fast as possible to its help with their gun line-throwing apparatus. The speed of their intervention enabled them to save and unload, on the ground, the 10 men of crew with Lervily. But the boat, completely disabled and with the drift is finally carried by the tide towards the entry of the port. Around 3 hours of the morning, its back having run up against the mole, it is failed on the rocks parallel to the mole at the edge of the channel. If this sea accident made little speak about him at the time, the daily newspaper the Western Flash devoted to him, in the regional pages of its N° 5,055 of October 30th, 1912, a small column of hardly 30 lines. It is true that at the time, the every day, the ones of the newspapers concentrated on the events in Balkans which announced already the imminence of the First World War. However, the business was to have some bounces.

The saga of the wreck
As the boat presented an embarrassment to navigation, the Master of the port of Audierne invited the Norwegian captain to disencumber the channel. This last answered that the boat had been sold with its cargo to Mr Albaret, mechanic with Audierne, and declined any responsibility. Mr Albaret was thus put in residence to move the wreck. On November 24th, one proceeded to an attempt at reinflation under the direction of Mr Lojou (master mariner in retirement) with the two tug boats of Audierne (Steredenn and the Beautifulone) which succeeded in moving the ship of 250 meters towards the interior of the port. But, following an user error the boat was failed again and, this time, was put across the channel by blocking it. The made attempts the following day were vain. Considering the urgency of the situation, the prefect, asked the civil engineer and the mayor of Audierne to make remove the wreck. Le naufrage du BesselThe amount of the operation which rose with 21 551.41 francs (55 000 of our Euros) was claimed with Mr Albaret on April 20th, 1913. It is only on February 15th, 1918, that is to say 5 years later, that the Council of State will slice. Mr Albaret (manifestly insolvent) will have to thus discharge sum of 21 551.41 francs with interests starting from February 15th, 1913.

Vestiges of the wreck
In September 1978, the sand glass Goyen, at the time of one of its regular missions of dredging and désensablage of the channel of the port of Audierne, brought back part of one of the masts of the sailing ship (7 meters length for a diameter of 30 cm) and some parts in a perfect state of conservation which you can discover with the Maritime Museum.


Country : NORVEGE-Type de navire : Trois-mâts barque-Tonnage : 468-Dimensions : 153.0 x 27.6 x 16.0-Nom précédents : VILLE D'ANVERS (1882)-Armateur : A/S I/S Bessel (Nicolay Olsen)-Ports : Tvedestrand-Chantier : Readhead, Softley & Co., S.Shields (# 459)-Année de Construction : 1869-Lancement : 1869-Machine : Puissance : Dimensions : 153.0 x 27.6 x 16.0-Tirant : 15

 Sources :

Norske skipsforlis i 1912 ; A.N. 44 (122J Art 3) ;
Identifiant GEDASM : 573
Informateur : C. Rabault
Mise à jour : 17/02/2011

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