Eighty years on, we went back to the shipwreck site to find out what was left of the Pourquoi Pas?
The wreck lies 1.7 nautical miles off the coast near the town of Borgarnes. To reach the small beach where a boat is waiting for us, we follow a 15-mile-long track towards a little farm, Straumfjödur.
The straight road crosses an arid landscape, the view stretching towards the emblematic Hafnarfjall mountain. The sheep, ponies and birds of prey of the Icelandic wilderness don’t seem at all interested in our presence.
After nine miles an old truck marks a turning point, then we drive on. The track ends in a succession of bends threaded through a maze of islets, and finally we reach the five buildings of the farm.
We recognise on the left from pictures the little square white house where Eugène Gonidec was taken in the day after the shipwreck.
At the end of a meadow is a cairn set up to commemorate the shipwreck, and below us lies the beach where the sailors’ bodies, including that of Charcot, were collected.
Swanur Steinarson, the farm-owner and the keeper of the wreck, takes us out to the wreck-site. Visibility there is never really satisfactory, but we have planned to do our diving following a series of clear days, to maximise our chances of getting a good view.
Above, clockwise from top left: One of the winches; the main two-bladed propeller; side and overhead views of the engine.
The Pourquoi Pas? lies only 15m deep, so has been very exposed to winter storms, and its timber structures have disappeared. Everything that remains is gathered in an area measuring 40 by 15m.
The two-bladed propeller is still in place at the end of its shaft, and we can see the compound-type steam engine, composed of two pistons and, at the front, the double-furnace boiler.
Around us we can see many pieces of furniture, a voltmeter and the emergency propeller. Past the boiler, we observe one of the Pourquoi Pas?’s winches.
The windlass and the capstan are located further ahead. And to link the two anchor-chains we have to follow the length of the uncoiled one, which lies flat on an axis perpendicular to the other one.
The first anchor we see lacks one of its flukes, probably broken during the sinking. The second one, much further on, remains intact.
Autumn is the time for the Northern Lights in Iceland, and we see them later above the farm.
The story of the Pourquoi Pas? has been largely forgotten in France, but in Iceland the shipwreck is part of the national maritime memory.
In the town of Sandgerdi, people have even dedicated a museum to the famous vessel: charcot.is/le‐musee‐charcot