They say there is a ghost that walks the
coast road between the port
of Korissia and the small beach at Galiaskari on the island of Kea. The ghost is a woman who carries a lantern and appears to be looking for something or someone. They
say the ghost appeared not long after Tuesday November 21 1916. That was the
day when the Britannic, larger and considered even more unsinkable than her famous sister
ship the Titanic, exploded and sank just outside the harbor. To this day the Britannic is the world's biggest sunken
ocean liner. At the time she was doing service as a hospital ship in the Gallipoli campaign
and in fact had never been used as an ocean-liner.
The straits between the island of Kea and
the mainland are known for having some of the roughest seas in the Aegean.
But on this day the sea was calm and the skies clear. Just like the night a few years before
when the Titanic went down, it was not the type of weather you expected
a large ship to sink. Especially an un-sinkable or an even-more unsinkable
ship. But sink she did in just 55 minutes!
Aboard the Britannic was
Violett Jessup who had survived the Titanic tragedy and the descriptions of
the disaster from her book Titanic Survivor-The Memoirs of Violet Jessop, Stewardess
give a first-hand account of the disaster.
On that morning the nurses
and crew had just finished breakfast when they felt the explosion. Within minutes
the Britannic was sinking. The improvements that had been made to the ship's design
after the Titanic disaster should have kept her afloat, but the flooding
of the bulkheads caused the sea to rush in through the portholes, left open
by the nurses to air out the interior of the ship. Captain
Bartlett knew the Britannic was doomed and tried to beach her on the island of Kea
just three miles away. But when two lifeboats
drifted into the ship's
propellers and were chopped to pieces with many casualties he turned off the ship's engines and gave up his plan to
reach the island. At 9:07 the Britannic sank. There were 30 fatalities
out of a total of 1036 people and had the ship been returning with casualties
rather than going to pick them up there would certainly have been many, many
more. Of the survivors many were picked up by the fishermen of Kea who were
the first on the scene and others by British ships in the area. Of the dead
most were left at sea and only five were buried including Sergeant W Sharpe
whose grave is on the island. The survivors who were taken in by local people
were later picked up by the rescue ships and brought to Pireaus. According to
locals the building on the beach in Korissia which is now
the primary school was where they treated the injured.
How the Britannic sank has been a mystery. Some believe it was torpedoed
by a German sub and others that it hit a mine. Unfortunately the dives to explore the
sunken ship, which was discovered by Jacques Cousteau in 1975, have not given enough
evidence since she is laying on the side where the explosion occurred.
In September 2003 the dive ship
Loyal Watcher sailed down from the Arctic Circle by way of Plymouth,
England and met a crew from BBC Television and National Geographic
as well as Simon Mills, the owner of the wreck, for another dive.
The ship was explored, photographed and filmed. From my window in
Ioulida I watched the Loyal Watcher go out every day to a spot above the
wreck where she dropped her marker balloons and sailed around them
endlessly in slow circles. Talk around Kea
was that there was a plan to bring the Britannic to the surface and tow
her to the shallow water of Vourkari. This would be quite a tourist
attraction as the big liner is relatively intact except for
the bow which is almost entirely separated from the rest of the ship. However
the cost of this endeavor is astronomical and the legalities of
it make it difficult as well. Even if the ship itself can't be raised
there are artifacts around the island as well as those on the vessel
which could be brought to the surface and placed in a Britannic
Memorial Museum with photos and perhaps live cameras showing videos
from the wreck. Maybe a small submarine can do tours
of the ship as well. Food for thought, but why not?
In the meantime there will be
other visits and exploration of the Britannic, which has slowly
but surely been capturing the attention of the public through Simon
Mills book Hostage To Fortune and a made-for-TV movie
called Britannic. As a matter
of interest in 1976 a survivor of the Britannic, Sheila Mitchel,
then 86 years old, was brought to the site by Jacques Cousteau and
Diver Peter Nicholaidis to take part and witness the exploration
of the Britannic. Sound familiar? Go rent a copy of Titanic.
Are there many remnants of the
Britannic on the island of Kea? Some relatives of ours had deck chairs which
had washed ashore but they eventually disintegrated. I saw a chest
of drawers in a house somewhere but I don't remember where. Supposedly
the grave of Sergeant W Sharpe is here but I have yet to find someone
who knows where it is. There is an old man who was seven years old
when the ship sank but I have never met him or seen him. But not
far from the building where they treated the survivors is a small
bar, that has a view out of the bay in the general direction of
the wreck, called Britannic. OK it's not exactly a museum. But it's
And the ghost who walks along
the shore? Maybe when the museum is built and the story of the Britannic can be seen by
all she will be able to rest.
Click on photos
of the Britannic
Wright, Captain of the
dive ship Loyal Watcher
and National Geographic Crew and divers prepare for first day of
getting permission from the Greek authorities the Loyal Watcher
leaves the dock...
into the bay...
the lighthouse and out into the Cavo d Oro
from the dive
Bar in Korissia
from the Britannic