Silverstein with a porthole he recovered from the Virginia
Shipwreck in 1992. Photo by Capt. Hank Garvin.
SOMMERSTAD (Virginia Shipwreck)
Many years ago captain Jay Porter announced to his crew that he had
found a virgin wreck. One of the paying customers on his boat
overheard him, but thought he said "Virginia" hence the
wreck's given name.
Just recently, ship historian Eric Gary concluded through much
research that the wreck we know as Virginia is really a ship called
Sommerstad. Although no artifacts that have been brought up off of
the wreck positively identify her, all evidence backs up Eric's
The Sommerstad was built in 1906 in Newcastle, England. She was 340
feet long by 47 feet wide and displaced 3,875 tons. She was powered
by 301 nhp triple expansion engines and was owned by A.F. Klaveness
On August 12, 1918,while bound from Norway to New York under the
command of Captain George Hansen, the Sommerstad was sunk by the
German submarine U-117. The U-117 had fired a torpedo at her
starboard side. The lookout man on board Sommerstad reported
sighting the wake from the torpedo and watched as it just missed his
ship's bow. The torpedo then did something very strange and
horrifying; it turned around and headed back, striking the
Sommerstad amidships on her port side. Within minutes, she was gone.
Later some would speculate that the German torpedo was radio
controlled, but U.S. Naval experts were convinced that the torpedoes
gyroscope was not working correctly, causing the abnormal path. The
entire crew had the good fortune of escaping with just a few minor
injuries. All 31 men rowed for a full day before being spotted by
the Coast Guard.
The Sommerstad or Virginia, as she is more commonly known, rests in
180 feet of water 36 miles from Fire Island Inlet. Captain John
Lachenmayer describes her as a looking like the Iberia wreck but
larger, with her propeller and boilers easily recognizable.