University of Delaware researchers have discovered that a shipwreck near the coast of Cape Henlopen is a 215-footlong sailing vessel destroyed by a hurricane more than a century ago.
Scientific surveys and historical records indicate that the wreck is the W.R. Grace, a three-masted ship that ran aground during a hurricane on Sept. 12, 1889.
“It was not something we expected to be as old as it was,” said Arthur Trembanis, associate professor of oceanography and geological sciences in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.
Trembanis' research group came upon the shipwreck two years ago while training undergraduates to use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and other ocean surveying equipment along the coast of Cape Henlopen State Park near Lewes, Del.
They were surprised to find that the wreck was not included in a public federal database of known shipwrecks and other potential navigation hazards.
Delaware’s coast has been the site of hundreds of shipwrecks over nearly four centuries, making identification a challenge – particularly with older wooden ships disintegrating over time.
State archaeologists initially suspected that this unknown wreck was made of iron or steel since it was readily picked up on sonar, possibly a military or freight vessel dating to World War I or later.