The Arade River Shipwrecks

There are many reports of shipwreck troves in the mouth of the Arade River.  As it often happens, some of these reports are vague, others are contradictory, and some refer to sites that have long been destroyed, or simply to guns, iron anchors, or lead stocks that were removed by fishermen and sport divers, probably to end up melted or, in the case of the iron guns, slowly rotting away on the grass of some front yard.

There is no information whether any shipwrecks were hit or destroyed during the 1926 and 1927 dredging works, but it is probable that many artifacts were removed from the Arade River mouth together with the 360.000 m3 of sediments dredged at the time.

 

Fig. 12 - The mouth of the Arade River.[2]

 

In the late 1950s, or early 1960s, a bronze gun was found by divers of Grupo Desportivo da Sacor at the entrance of the river, on the area where know stands the left margin jetty.  The gun disappeared before the finders could raise it and there is no trace of it anywhere ever since.  Later, two shipwrecks have been reported to the area between the jetties, one on the channel, immediately outside the line between the heads of the structures (Arade 8), and another near the head of the left margin jetty (Arade 7).[1]

 

Fig. 13 - Approximate location of the Arade7 and Arade 8 shipwrecks.

 

In 1970 the works for enlarging the channel of Portimão's commercial harbor entailed the dredging of a large amount of sediments.  At least five old hulls were hit by the dredge, as the Dutch captain of the dredge told the press after the works were completed, and soon before leaving Portugal.  The news of archaeological troves during the dredging works had already spread during the summer, and some local inhabitants went even to the place where the dredged sediments were dumped on the beach - at Praia da Rocha - to try to see any antiques.[3]

Following an information of the captain of the dredge Mark - from the company Bos & Kalis, working as a subcontractor of the Sociedade Portuguesa de Dragagens - two rival groups of divers visited the Arade mouth and gathered data about three of shipwreck sites.

 

Fig. 14 - The five shipwrecks hit by the dredges (the fifth position is only guessed on top of the image).[4]

 

It is not sure whether all these three ships had been sighted by the captain of the dredge Mark.  As a matter of fact, it seems that six ships were exposed a consequence of the dredging works, and not five, as the captain informed.[5]

 

Fig. 15 -  Reconstruction of the 1970 dredged area. [6]

 

Then, in 1975, future archaeologist Jean-Yves Blot and a group of sport divers - including local diver Luis Sacramento - found and made a preliminary sketch of a group of five iron guns off Praia dos Caneiros, at Ponta do Altar.  Because of another group of guns found nearby some years later, this site is known as Ponta do Altar A and has been tentatively dated to the 18th century.

In 1980's dredging works started again.  At least one shipwreck was destroyed in 1982 (Arade 9), upstream from the former dredged area, near the commercial harbor (Fig.15).[7]

An unknown number of pewter ware pieces was found in the dredged sand by a bulldozer operator, and bought by a private amateur archaeologist who was trying to make a small museum at Cascais, in conjunction with the local municipality.  This project never saw completion however, and the pewter pieces were later divided between privates and small museums.  It is unlikely that these pieces will ever be study together.

 

Fig. 16 - The wooden remains destroyed by the dredges on the commercial harbor. [8]

 

Following the 1982 destructions Dr. Francisco Alves, then director of Lisbon's Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, brought the Comissao Nacional Provisoria de Arqueologia Subaquatica to propose legislation to protect the Arade shipwrecks.  This legislation was approved in February 1984.[9]

In 1993, after a report by Luis Sacramento, eight bronze guns dating from the mid-16th century to 1606 were rescued by a team of the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia, possibly corresponding to the 1611 shipwreck of a Spanish vessel named Nuestra Señora del Socorro.

[10]

 

Fig. 17 -  One of the eight guns from Ponta do Altar B site. [11]

 

Finally, in 1998, the remains of three ships presumably dating to the 19th or early 20th centuries were found during the construction of the marina of Portimão.  At that time CNANS was accompanying the works and promoted a full survey immediately.  Since these remains corresponded to recent ships, probably derelicts, the construction works were only stopped in order to make a quick sketch of the only vessel presenting structural coherence, referenced in this study as Arade 10 (Figs.17 and 19).

 

Fig. 18 - Shipwreck destroyed in 1982, and the marina's shipwreck sites. [12]

 

During the last years of the 1990s other remains have been surveyed and positioned by GEO, a local group of sport divers under the direction of Mr. Alberto Machado, who lead the campaign toward a larger public awareness of Arade's archaeological richness at the same time. Between 1998 and 2000 GEO's divers found ten sites of archaeological potential at the Arade's mouth.  These sites have been numbered GEO1 to GEO10, and correspond to ship remains and parts, sometimes found as more or less coherent structures, sometimes as disassembled and scattered on the sea bed.  The most interesting of these two areas so far are GEO 5, corresponding to well-preserved remains of a large late 19th century vessel, which was called Arade 13, and GEO 2, where a small plank showing mortise and tenon joinery was found and named optimistically Arade 14.

Fig. 19 - The ten sites found by the GEO team . [13]

 

At the end of the 2002 field season the total number of shipwrecks reported at the Arade River mouth amounted to fourteen.

 

Fig. 20 - Aspect of the Arade 10 shipwreck during CNANS' survey. [14]

 

Although the whole area of the Arade River mouth in currently under study from an archaeological viewpoint, the scope of the present report is much narrower, pretending to focus solely on the so-called Arade 1 and Arade 2 vessels of 1970.

 

 Summary

 

Fig. 21 - Approximate location of the Arade River shipwrecks.

 
Arade 1 - Found by the captain of the dredge Mark in 1970, visited by two teams of sport divers. A report was made by CPAS divers and many pictures were taken. It was re-located in 2001 by a team from CNANS and partially excavated (site A1 from CNANS 2001 map). During the summer of 2002 it was excavated by a Texas A&M University / Institute of Nautical Archaeology team.
Arade 2 - Found by the captain of the dredge Mark in 1970. Already covered when visited by sport divers. It is said to have bronze guns, one of which was taken by the captain of the dredge to the Netherlands.
Arade 3 - Found by the captain of the dredge Mark in 1970. never visited by sport divers.
Arade 4 - Found by the captain of the dredge Mark in 1970. never visited by sport divers.
Arade 5 - Found by the captain of the dredge Mark in 1970. never visited by sport divers.
Arade 6 - Found by sport divers near the Arade 1 shipwreck. Clinker built. Possibly near site B2 of CNANS 2001 map.
Arade 7 - Found by sport divers near the left jetty.
Arade 8 - Found by sport divers at the entrance of the river mouth, between jetties.
Arade 9 - Destroyed by the dredging operations of the early 1980s.
Arade 10 - Covered by the Marina de Portimao. Said to be modern: late 19th, or early 20th century.
Arade 11 - Covered by the Marina de Portimao. Said to be modern: late 19th, or early 20th century.
Arade 12 - Covered by the Marina de Portimao. Said to be modern: late 19th, or early 20th century.
Arade 13 - GEO 5 site. Shipwreck dating to the late 18th or 19th century. Well preserved.
Arade 14 - GEO 2 site. Small plank with mortise and tenon joints.


[1] Personal communication of Luis Sacramento to Francisco Alves.

[2] After the book "Aero Guia do Litoral - Portugal, Lisboa: Publicações D. Quixote, 2000".

[3] See the newspaper cut from Diario Popular of June 29, 1972 (in Alves, Francisco, "Acerca dos destrocos de dois navios descobertos durante as dragagens de 1970 na foz do Rio Arade (Ferragudo, Lagoa)", in As rotas oceanicas, Secs. XV-XVII, Lisboa: Ed. Colibri, 1999: 75).  Also, Luis Sacramento, a local diver and old collaborator of CNANS, mentioned an iron gun and other artifacts being recovered by the dredges.

[4] Map from CNANS' archives.

[5] Helder Mendes, one the divers to visit the sites in 1970, is under the impression the clinker built ship found by his group had not been seen by the dredge crew.

[6] After several plans and maps in CNANS and GEO archives.

[7] Alberto Machado personal communication.

[8] Photo:  Francisco Alves (CNANS archives).

[9] Alves, Francisco, "Acerca dos destrocos de dois navios descobertos durante as dragagens de 1970 na foz do Rio Arade (Ferragudo, Lagoa)", in As rotas oceanicas, Secs. XV-XVII, Lisboa: Ed. Colibri, 1999: 92.

[10] Alves, Francisco, "Ponta do Altar B  - Arqueologia de um naufrágio no Algarve nos alvores do século XVII."  Arqueólogo Português, 4.8/10: 357-424. Lisboa: MNA, 1990-1992.

[11] Photo: Filipe Castro (CNANS archives).

[12] After several plans and maps in CNANS and GEO archives.

[13] Machado, C. Alberto, Relatorio do projecto "Salvaguarda do património arqueológico subaquático do rio Arade, Outubro 1998 a Outubro 2000, Portimao: GEO, 2000.

[14] Photo: Pedro Caleja (CNANS archives).