One day two years ago, Art Trembanis, an associate professor of geological sciences at the University of Delaware, sent his students on a field trip to the waters off Cape Henlopen.
Their goal: to learn to use the high-tech equipment, such as side scan sonar, that coastal geologists use to survey the ocean bottom.
He told them to tow the device around Breakwater Harbor and along the waters of the Cape Henlopen shoreline. When they came back to Newark, they told him that it went well. And "Oh, by the way, we saw a shipwreck."
Trembanis was intrigued. He went on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration database of shipwrecks. Nothing was listed for the spot where the students had seen a very clear image of a massive ship hull.
"It was a bit of a head-scratcher," Trembanis said.
Now, two years later, with the help of oceanography graduate student Carter DuVal and state archaeologist Craig Lukezic, the team believes it has identified the ship, along with when and how it sank.
Tracking down a shipwreck might seem like an easy task, but since European settlement, hundreds of ships have run aground, foundered and sunk along the Delaware Coast and entrance to the Delaware Bay and River.
Two of Delaware's most famous shipwrecks -- the H.M.S. deBraak and the Roosevelt Inlet shipwreck -- both went down within sight of land. The mystery wreck the students found appeared to have done the same thing.
While the deBraak and the Roosevelt Inlet wreck date from the 18th century, this latest discovery comes from the 19th century and the Golden Age of Sail.