The dangers of the Cape Cod shoals are well known to the seamen who regularly navigate those waters. Almost from the time the shoals were discovered, they have been wreaking havoc on the ships that have the misfortune of getting too close to them. Sailors know that they need to steer clear of the Cape coast. Thousands of ships have been destroyed on its bars and rocks, and with the lost ships, uncounted lives too have been lost in the storm-tossed waves. When the storms were raging and a ship got caught, there was no way for rescuers to get to the trapped crew and passengers. The storms battered the trapped ships until they sank.

Oddly, Cape Cod is both a hazard and a haven to the mariners. All shipping between Boston and New York must either pass into its sheltered bay or run aground on its treacherous shoals. It is only the skill of the mariners that determines the difference. The shoals, when combined with the forces of countless Nor’easters put the Cape in a precarious location. Because of this, the Cape has been the site of more than 3,000 shipwrecks in 300 years of recorded history.

One of the first recorded wrecks was that of the Sparrow Hawk. The Sparrow Hawk originally hailed from London, England. It was making a six-week voyage to Virginia when it ran aground off Nauset Harbor in 1626. A gale arose and forced the vessel over the bar into the harbor. The ship ran aground near Orleans. The area isn’t always so dangerous. When the tide is low, people aboard the ships were able to get ashore safely when their ships ran aground. When Sparrow Hawk grounded, some English-speaking Indians arrived and offered to conduct them to Plymouth or carry a message. Grateful, they accepted and once ashore, they sent a message which brought Governor William Bradford with repair material. The ship was soon repaired, but before it could set sail, the ship was sunk by another storm. The sunken ship was abandoned.

The second wreck would be more permanent, as the ship wasn’t seen for over 200 years. The wreckage reappeared on May 6, 1863, after the sand shifted. The exposed remains of the ship reappeared only briefly. Because of the vessel’s unusual shape, two local men made a drawing of it. The ship was an oddity, and it drew many visitors. The visitors, when they came to see, nearly all took a fragment of the ship for a souvenir before it was again covered by sand in August of 1863. Since they now knew where the ship was, it has since been excavated, and the ribs of the ship were removed and transferred to the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth, where it is to this day.

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