Coast a 'graveyard' of lost ships

By Wallace McKelvey - Delmarva Now

For beachcombers, Delmarva's waterways are delivering constant reminders of a bygone era.

The artifacts that have washed ashore from long-forgotten shipwrecks -- everything from button covers to Buddha statues -- hold both historical and mythic value to collectors like Bill Winkler of Ocean View.

"The history is more important than a piece of pottery or glass bottles," he said. "Literally tons, as in 2,000 pounds per ton plural, have been collected over the past 100 years."

Although not all the items can easily be traced to a particular wreck, given the daunting number of ships lost offshore since the days of the first 17th century settlers, Winkler said they all tell a story.

Now, at least part of the region's sunken history is being told through a map of the Shipwrecks of Delmarva commissioned by National Geographic.

Don Shomette, who's written volumes of literature about nautical history, was tasked with culling the 7,000 known shipwrecks to the 2,200 featured on the map. Based on predictive modeling, he said between 10,000-12,000 wrecks are believed to lie on or beneath the sea floor.

The region's waterways rival the Outer Banks of North Carolina as the "graveyard of lost ships," he said.

"It was an embarrassment of riches," he said. "There were so many important sites, and a number of them couldn't be included."

The process of selecting the sites to be included took more than a year itself, Shomette said.

He and cartographer Robert Pratt made the selections based on cultural and historical relevance, as well as diversity. Revolutionary War-era privateers exist alongside 1850s paddle steamers, Navy submarines and modern pleasure cruisers.


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