Turks and Caicos & The Wreck of форт-шевченко

In February of 2016 my wife and I finally decided to go somewhere tropical and outside of the U.S.

We stayed at a nice resort on Grace Bay Beach.  The rooms were super nice, the drinks were super expensive, and the water was super warm.

When we go somewhere, we tend to rent a Jeep.  Staying somewhere nice is one thing, hanging around a hotel all day paying $30 for a Pina Colada, not being able to go to local restaurants, not seeing what other beaches and cool stuff is out there is another.  The island is pretty cool and there are lots of things to see if you’re willing to explore a bit.

I had scouted a bunch of dirt roads and Jeep trails from the Satellite images, and we spent a couple days driving around.  The weather had breaks of full sun but there was a lot of just-barely-overcast as well.  I took a lot of video with the jeep but not as many pictures.  Hopefully someday I will do something with it.

This trip was also during the ramp up of, “pano fever”.  I had been shooting more and more of them but two things coincided for me – Lightroom’s ability to stitch panos got a lot better, making it much easier to deal with them, and I bought a simple pano rail/clamp for my existing RRS ball head.  The combination will give you super solid, sharp panos and blending errors really are a thing of the past.

I had also scouted a shipwreck I was desperate to visit.  I hadn’t made arrangements for a boat but I knew where I could get one.  It was pretty overcast that day and I had given up on going.  We stopped at a beautiful beach to go swimming and, of course, the sun came out.  It was getting late but it was the last chance to go and it was killing me that I hadn’t tried.

Oh, and you could see the ship from the beach.  I mounted my zoom lens to take a shot and have a look and this is what I saw.

It was much further than it looks in this photo, but it was still soooo close.

The boat rental place was closing for the day when we arrived, but there was no one around.  They seemed to have no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned that I wanted to go to the wreck at first but, luckily, they agreed to take us out.  We already had limited time due to the time of day and as we were leaving the harbor the sun dipped behind the clouds.  Darker, ominous looking clouds loomed on the horizon.

Our friendly captain took us out to the wreck and pulled up beside the cargo net someone had hung over the side.  I had, naturally, contracted a pretty decent case of bronchitis before we left home, to the point where I wore a surgical mask on the plane and was sucking down prescription cough syrup.  My lower back issues were also acting up, exacerbated by the plane ride, and how I had to somehow climb a cargo net up the side of the ship with 20lbs of camera gear.  Our captain and my wife offered to try and hand my bag up to me, but I didn’t see how we would ever reach, especially with the pitching and rolling of our little boat.  No, my camera bag and I would share our fate.

I managed to claw my way up on to the deck of the wreck.  Reports online mentioned that the rust had really started to take its toll, and this was certainly true.  Areas of the deck were pretty spongy and many stairs and ladders had rusted away.  Nonetheless, I was able to navigate around.  Our captain and my wife were a bit concerned about my climbing the mast but, obviously, it had to be done.

La Famille Express or, as it was originally known форт-шевченко (Fort-Shevchenko) was completed at the Stocznia Gdynia shipyard in Poland on March 15, 1952.  It was built as a cargo ship for the Baltic Fleet of the Soviet Navy and stayed in service through the transition to the Russian Navy.  In 1999 the ship was renamed La Famille Express and eventually ran aground in Turks and Caicos on September 1, 2004 during Hurricane Frances.

There are some great photos of the ship when it was still in service here and  a little information here.  While there isn’t a ton of detail, the photos of the ship in various places around the world are pretty cool…you get a small sense of the path it has traced all around the world before meeting its end.

Between the approaching storm and the decay I didn’t get a chance to go down into the bowels of the ship, but there is a great blog here which has some shots I missed.  You can also see how much the ship has decayed in the six years since their visit in 2010.