maritime history


North Carolina’s Outer Banks is one of the most unique places in the world, containing some of the most dramatic barrier islands and most dangerous shoals and currents on Earth. 

The area is often referred to as the Graveyard of the Atlantic because these waters have entombed thousands of vessels and countless mariners who lost a desperate struggle against the forces of war, piracy, and nature. 

On New Year’s Eve, 1862, the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor met its end, sinking to the bottom of the sea. Today, this historic wreck is protected by our nation’s first national marine sanctuary – Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. 

(Top photo: Peter Flood; bottom photo and 3D rendering: NOAA)

In 1888 a Risso’s dolphin, uncommon in that area, appeared in the strait between New Zealand’s North and South Islands. He was named Pelorus Jack and would guide steamers through the dangerous French Pass. He led ships through the strait for 24 years, each ship taking twenty minutes, without a single shipwreck. He disappeared in 1912.

Take a deep breath this Shipwreck Sunday and explore the wrecks of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary! 

Thanks to the cold, fresh water of Lake Huron, the sanctuary protects one of our nation’s best-preserved collections of shipwrecks. American Union, pictured here, was a three-masted schooner that sank in 1894 after running up on the rocks at Thompson’s Harbor. This is one wreck you don’t have to be a diver to explore: resting only 10 feet beneath the surface, American Union’s remains are easily viewable by kayakers and snorkelers. 

(Photo: David J. Ruck/NOAA)

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary protects some of our nation’s best-preserved shipwrecks. These shipwrecks are a living museum, a way for divers, snorkelers, kayakers, and more to get up close to the maritime history of the Great Lakes. 

In this photo taken by a 360-degree camera, a diver explores the wreck of American Union. This three-masted schooner sank in 1894 after running aground on the rocks at Thompson’s Harbor. 

(Photo: NOAA)

Finished that watercolor commission of the Lady Washington, the first ship I ever crewed aboard and still queen of my heart. This image will be available as a print exclusively for members of the nonprofit that owns and operates her (Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority). Watch this space for more details on how to get one of your own!

View of the Confederate States Navy ironclad CSS Stonewall anchored off of Ferrol, Spain, during the American Civil War in March 1865.

Source: Library of Congress.

The Maritime Museum of Barcelona is located inside the Drassanes Reials, the Medieval building where ships were built and repaired from the 13th to the 15th century. Seems like a good place for this kind of museum.