The S/S Burdigala is one of three wrecks (currently) in the Kea Underwater Historic Park. Normally, divers that want to dive the Britannic first dive the Patris, then the Burdigala, then the Britannic. Logically, some people think of the Burdigala as a “work up” or “warm up” dive. However, that is simply not the case. In any other location, the Burdigala would be the highlight wreck dive.
We arrived into Kea late the night of October 5th after a long day of travel through multiple airports and flights and then a somewhat interesting boat ride across the channel from Lavrio to Kea. There had been fires and then floods on another island and so the ocean was littered with logs and there was a reasonably good sized swell and the sun completely set during our journey so it was pitch black.
We woke up the next day and went to the dive shop to start organizing our gear and getting things ready for diving. Yannis had said to us that diving was “iffy” given the wind and conditions so we leisurely got all of our gear unpacked and our rebreathers built and then had some food. Yannis kept watching the ocean with his binoculars and then came back to the table to give us an update.
I was 100% sure he would say “sorry, we can’t dive.” Instead, he said “Well, I think we can dive the Burdigala.” I literally asked him “you said CAN, correct?” So, with little sleep, we got all our gear together, loaded it into the RIBs and made the trek to our first dive in Kea. It was quite a dive indeed.
The Burdigala was an ocean liner that was originally named the Kaiser Friedrich and built in 1897/1898 for the German shipping company Norrddesutscher Line (NDL). She was designed to be fast and break speed records for transatlantic crossings and complete a crossing in six days but but never achieved that goal. However, she was outfitted with extremely extravagant furnishings, especially for the first class passengers. Their quarters were high up on the ship with great views all around. She was equipped with smoking lounges, bars, music room, and a library.
Despite being over budget and all the time spent designing and building her, the initial journeys did not go well and she could never get above 20 knots or so. The NDL line “denied receiving the ship” due to the poor performance and sent her back to the shipyard. The shipbuilder made some improvements; however, on her maiden voyage to New York, she hit bad weather and a number of mechanical problems and it took 7.5 days to make the crossing.
The Burdigala was about 600 feet (183m) long and had a beam of almost 64 feet (19.4m). She was powered by two three-bladed bronze props with a diameter of about 20 feet. She had a capacity for 1,350 passengers and a crew of 420.
After a short period of time with NDL and more problems, they gave her back to the shipbuilder for good. Lawsuits ensued which NDL won at which point the shipbuilder somehow got the main competitor of NDL, HAPAG to take the ship. During the maiden journey with HAPAG to New York, the ship went off course and ran aground near New Jersey. She completed eight full transatlantic trips and finally got one journey down to 6.5 days. After a while, she was mothballed for a decade.
She was then sold to a French shipping company Sude-Atlantique for 4M Francs (probably about 30% of her actual value) and re-entered service as the S/S Burdigala after extensive retrofits. Burdigala is the ancient Latin name for the city of Bordeaux. Her first real journey was from Bordeaux to Buenos Aires in October 1912. The outbound journey went well but she had mechanical problems on the return.
She made several more journeys and was decommissioned and mothballed once again on 1 November 1913.
After WW I broke out, the French government requisitioned the Burdigala for service on 18 August 1914. They initially used the ship for troop transport from France to Greece. In 1915, she was designated as an auxiliary cruiser and equipped with four 140mm (5.5″) cannons which were place in pairs at the bow and stern. She continued to carry troops to the Dardanelles and Thessaloniki. The route went from Toulon, passing south of Italy with a stop in Valletta, Malta. She would then round Cape Male and on to Piraeus and from there through the Kea Chanel to the port Thessaloniki. Until this point, Greece had remained neutral in WW 1.
On 13 November 1916, she set off empty back from Thessaloniki and destined for Toulon. The next day, at 10:45am, she was about 2 nautical miles off the coast of Kea, Greece when an explosion amidships blasted the starboard side open and flooded the engine. The ship started to list quickly after water penetrated into the boiler room. The captain gave the order to abandon ship and 15 minutes later, the ship broke in two by a second explosion and quickly sank.
There are some very interesting coincidences with the Britannic and the Budigala:
- Both were initially thought to have been sunk by German torpedos.
- They were sunk within a week of each other
- Both were likely sunk by underwater mines planted by the same German sub U-73
- According to one article about an interview with Carl Spencer, the U-73 likely laid the mine just one hour before the Britannic hit it!
The Burdigala was only recently discovered and identified by divers in 2008.
The Burdigala sits upright on her keel in about 250 feet (75m) of water with her deck at about 200 feet (60m) deep. She is split two different sections about amidships which matches the description above where she broke in two. There are two large masts fallen off to the starboard side of the wreck. She is an amazing wreck to dive. As the Keadivers website says, it is “the best normoxic dive in the Mediterranean” and I would concur.
We started our dive near the large crack in the ship near amidships. We went along the port side toward the stern and I went down to take take pictures of the propellers. We then went along the starboard side of the ship, went up on top of the deck and then towards the bow. After spending some time at the bow, we went back down along the port side of the wreck and through the bridge area and back to the large crack in the hull.
Below is a side scan sonar image of the Burdigala that was created by the University of Patras.
Our dive was about 4-5 minutes on the descent, then 35 minutes on the wreck and about 100 minutes of decompression. It was what I would consider an ideal dive in terms of depth, time, and deco. When we got back to the surface, we were in for a big surprise! The surface conditions had deteriorated quite a bit and we knew we would be in for a “sporty” exit. It was our first dive with Keadivers and we were still trying to figure out all the procedures. Getting all of our tanks and rebreathers off at the surface while fighting currents, waves, and winds definitely made for an interesting experience. 🙂
I highly recommend diving the Burdigala. I know if I return, I could easily do 2-3 more dives on the wreck.
This was my first dive of the trip and I was still getting accustomed to the diving and scooter. Given the conditions, I think the pictures came out pretty well. I’ve made some of them into black-and-white since they seemed to fit well with that treatment. Note how large the wreck is compared to the divers in quite a few of the pictures.