The passenger vessel the SS Portland was one of about 140 ships that perished in a horrific storm that struck Cape Cod, Massachusetts on November 26th in 1898. The storm was so terrible that it eventually became known as “The Portland Gale.”
The storm that struck the Cape Cod region on that day was one of the most destructive storms that the area has ever had, before or since. The storm killed over 200 different people and sank over 140 known vessels. The best known and most highly published victim of the storm was the coastal steamship the SS Portland, which perished with 191 people on board that day.
The storm that caused all of the trouble started small on the 26th of November, with a medium strength wind but within a single day it grew to hurricane force and higher winds with high waves, creating destruction and lethal damage all along the coast of Massachusetts.
Houses were blown over from Cape Cod, MA to Portland, Maine, and the wrecks of literally dozens of vessels littered the coast for months afterwards.
The storm began on the 26th of November, and continued full force on the 27, and did not die down until midday on the 28th of November, nearly 36 hours after the storm had first began. The steamer Portland was built at Bath, Maine, an area known for its shipbuilding, and it was the pride of the New England coast steamer fleet in the region.
It was a strong ship, and the SS Portland was known to have an experienced and seasoned crew. But her long wooden hull and shallow overhanging sponsons that housed her paddlewheels are believed to have caused the downfall of the SS Portland in the storm.
The SS Portland was crowded with passengers on November 26th 1898 who were all returning home after their Thanksgiving Holiday, and while the weather was stormy, it was believed that everyone would be safe, as the SS Portland has an excellent track record.
Diving on the site of the SS Portland is possible, but it requires an experienced diver to be part of the dive team, due to the strong ocean currents, and the overall difficulty of the dive and the ocean floor area.
Ultimately, the loss of the SS Portland was an event not able to be foreseen, the combination of the sudden storm along with the heavy crowding of the vessel is believed to be at the core of the ship’s loss and the perishing of all 191 people on board.