St-Petersbourg 1786 - Die Frau Metta Catharina
Frau Lady Metta Catharina of Flensburg was a two-tree brigand built in 1782 in Rønshoved on the north bank of the Flensburg Fjord (now Denmark), and at the time of her sinking she had 106 tons of goods and six crewmen in her stash. In December 1786, the Catharina was carrying a hemp of reindeer skins from Saint Petersburg to the port of Geneva, when a worsening of time forced the crewmen to seek shelter in a bay south of Plymouth. Unfortunately, at about 10 am to about 22 o'clock in the evening, a storm coming from the southwest pulled Catharina from its berth by pushing it to Drake Island, unfortunately it was high tide and the ship was thrown over the rocks that lie between the Drake Island and Cornwall. Miraculously, the entire crew managed to escape before Catharina hit 30m deep, near Raveness Point.
In October 1973, some divers from the Plymouth Sub Aqua Club Archaeological Section found the bronze bell of a ship at 30 meters below the surface of the sea at Plymouth's Shed. They had discovered that the wreck of the "Die Frau Metta Catharina" had sailed from the Danish port of Flensburg and was defeated because of a storm in December 1786.
The discovery marked the beginning of an extraordinary campaign of excavations on the wreck and the recovery of its load of Russian reindeer skins.
Between the 17th and the 18th century, the reindeer skins that Catharina carried in its sheath, highly appreciated all over Europe, were considered a luxury good because of the special work that craftsmen used to conceive the skins making them scented and durable. At that time, this type of leather was referred to as "Leather of Russia".
The St. Petersburg artisans used the willow bark to darken the skins, curry them with birch oil and hand them a hatch. Birch oil from these skins still today is a distinctive aroma, while hatch is the visual brand of "Leather of Russia". The product was famous for being durable, resistant to water and repellent insect.
As time went by, the wreck was submerged by the sludge that formed a solid protective layer on leather films. Thanks to the silhouette and the particular tanning technique, the leather located more inside the shelf, has remained unchanged for more than 200 years.
Die Frau Metta Catharina
In October 1973 divers of the Archaeological section of Plymouth Sub Aqua Club found a ship's bell on the sea floor, 30 meters below the surface of Plymouth Sound. They had discovered the wreck of the "Frau Metta Catharina" from the Danish port of Flensburg which had foundered in a storm in December 1786.
The find marked the beginning of an extraordinary tale of the excavation of the wreck and the recovery of her cargo of Russian reindeer hides. This book Describes the difficulties and triumphs of the diving team as they overcame the problems of working in the dark, muddy waters 30 meters down. It also tells the story of the unique, bark tanned, reindeer leather, remarkably preserved after 200 years of immersion in black mud, much of it as serviceable today as when it left the tanneries in St Petersburg in 1786.
The Wreck of the Metta Catharina
By Geoff Garbett and Ian Skelton