Learn more about the HMS Delight Shipwreck

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HMS Delight is the first recorded shipwreck off Sable Island, 300 km (190 mi) southeast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and approximately 175 km (109 mi) southeast of the Atlantic Ocean’s closest point to mainland Nova Scotia. It sailed in the company of the frigate (warship) HMS Squirrel, led by Sir Humphrey Gilbert, a British explorer and adventurer living during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Sable Island, is now a Canadian National Park. Nothing else exists like this island anywhere else in the world, according to Dr. Sylvia Earle. Located 300 kilometres southeast of Halifax, the island is famous for its wild horses, shipwrecks, wild birds and grey seals and is known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”. Sable Island is a narrow, crescent-shaped sandbar with an estimated surface area of approximately 13 sq mi (34 km2). Despite being approximately 43.15 km (26.81 mi ) long, at its widest point, it is only 1.21 km (0.75 mi) across. Due to shifting sands, some days old parts of shipwrecks may appear, but just as fast they disappear the next day. Visits are only available via boat or air, and airfare is expensive. An estimated 350 vessels are thought to have fallen victim to sand bars on the island, due to thick fogs, treacherous currents and the island’s location in the middle of a major transatlantic shipping route.

HMS Delight was the first recorded shipwreck to fall victim to the island in 1593. Captain Richard Clarke (Delight) had a dispute with Sir Humphrey Gilbert (Squirrel), after reaching Sable Island Delight to provide a safe passage near the island, but Captain Clarke eventually followed Sir Gilbert’s orders to pass close to the island. This was a mistake, as HMS Delight sank after running aground on one of Sable Island’s sandbars. Captain Clarke led 16 men quickly to a small lifeboat (which had only one oar) and rowed away from the rapidly sinking ship. HMS Delight sank to a depth of 10 metres (33 ft) and took with her 85 men and most of the supplies. The water was too shallow to offer any assistance to Gilbert’s ship. Seven days were spent at sea by the 17 men in the lifeboat from the Squirrel before they finally reached Newfoundland. A barque whaling vessel rescued them after spending five days in the cold winter waters off of Newfoundland.

Sir Humphrey Gilbert survived to sail again but ended up drowning in a later wreck. The disaster contributed to the temporary abandonment of the English settlement in Newfoundland.

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Kathy is the owner of Kirk Scuba Gear, a passionate Scuba Diver, Ocean Advocate and Managing Editor of The Scuba News Canada

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