SS Polias

World War I concrete ship wrecked off the coast of Maine in 1920.
by Matthew Anderson


Year Built

1918

Year Sank

1920

Depth

30 ft (9.1 m)

Difficulty Level

Intermediate


SS Polias

Wreck Location

Polias lies north of a rocky outcropping known as Old Cilley Ledge near Port Clyde in Maine. At low tide, a concrete bulkhead on the hull of Polias is visible. Polias is reachable by boat and can be dived, but due to the ice cold temperature of the north Atlantic, its probably for the best if divers have experience first. However, artifacts from the Polias are publicly viewable at the Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum in Port Clyde. Port Clyde is along the southern coast of Maine and is fairly isolated. It can be reached by means of boat, or driving down US 1 and State Highway 131.

~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude:   43° 53' 18.5316" N      Longitude:   -69° 15' 22.878" W

Description

Polias was the first World War I Emergency Fleet concrete ship to be constructed. Construction began after President Woodrow Wilson approved the construction of 24 concrete ships by the emergency fleet corporation in 1918. Both Polias and Atlantus were to be the prototype designs. None of the 24 ships were finished before armistice on November 11, 1918 however, but Polias was the first ship to be completed and launched in December 1918 by the Fougner Concrete Shipbuilding Company in Flushing Bay, New York. She was designed by Nicolay K Fougner, the inventor of the self-propelled concrete vessel who had only years before built his first ship, the Namsenfjord in Norway.

On February 6, 1920, the Polias struck Old Cilley Ledge off Port Clyde, Maine. The damage caused the Polias to sink at the spot. Her captain, Richard Coughlan, tried to back her off the reef she had struck, but was unable and the ship remained where she lay. Captain Coughlan told his crewmembers to stay aboard Polias and await rescue once the storm had passed. 11 crewmembers defiantly tried to escape in one of the two lifeboats, which quite unsurprisngly lead to their deaths. Captain Coughlan and the 27 remaining crew aboard the Polias survived the night and were rescued the next morning. Polias was not refloated and left where she lay. A powerful storm in 1923, broke the Polias apart into pieces and sank her into deeper water where she continues to lie today.

The remains of Polias are a shattered mangled and twisted mess; her propeller, whistle, anchor and china having been salvaged and placed on display in Port Clyde. The wreck in 1999 was the subject of an intensive university study. At low tide, the remains of Polias can be spotted poking above the water. Polias and Cape Fear are the only two concrete ships from the WWI EFC fleet to have been wrecked by natural causes.

Footnotes

Polias was part of a series of ships built of concrete for the U.S. Military in the late 1910s early 1920s. Atlantus and Polias were both experimental singular designs and were built as prototypes for the EFC concrete ship program. During World War I, steel was a highly sought after material needed for warships and other high priority military equipment. Reinforced concrete was an easy to construct, strong and cheap alternative to steel. President Wilson approved the construction of an "Emergency Fleet" of 24 ships in 1918. Only 12 were finished, all after the war, and sold to commercial operators. Many ended up as fishing piers, breakwaters and shipwrecks. Only one is still afloat as a Powell River breakwater in British Columbia; the Peralta. The San Pasqual is also intact off the Cuban coastline, but is abandoned and likely not afloat.

More information on the Polias.




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