3,500 ships have sunk off the coast of Cape Cod. Many have explored them over the years, while some are just still lost at sea.

With over 3,500 known shipwrecks, Cape Cod is often referred to as the ‘Ocean Graveyard‘. There were a lot of shipwrecks along the Cape and Islands coastlines between the years 1850 and 1980. During the 1800’s, there were at least two shipwrecks per month during the winter time. Each wreck holds tales of adventure, misfortune, and mysteries that have captured imaginations for centuries. But out of the 3,500, there are 6 very well-known ones. Those are the ones we will “explore” today (get it?)

Travelers and tourists come to Cape Cod from all over the world to get a glimpse of these ships in museums. Some brave ones even venture underwater to see them while scuba diving!

the pirate captain holds the ship's steering wheel and sails across the sea on a sailing pirate ship

The Whydah Museum is the most famous place on Cape Cod to see real-like artifacts from Pirate, Sam Bellamy. It’s right in West Yarmouth!

What’s The Obsession With Cape Cod Shipwrecks?

So, what fuels our deep fascination with these shipwrecks? For many, it’s the allure of hidden treasure, waiting to be uncovered. The mere idea that valuable artifacts could still be buried beneath the sands is enough to stir the heart of any adventurer. Be honest, you’ve wanted to be a pirate like Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean. Stealing treasures of the sea and yelling, “Ey Ey Matey!”

But shipwrecks also serve as time capsules. They capture specific moments in history, providing archeologists and historians with invaluable insights into navigation, trade, warfare, and daily life from bygone eras.

Beyond the tangible, there’s an emotional element at play. Shipwrecks are poignant reminders of humanity’s eternal struggle against nature’s unpredictable fury. They tell stories of bravery, despair, hope, and tragedy. Each dive into these watery graves is not just an exploration of wooden beams and rusted metals but a deep reflection on human resilience, ambition, and the inexorable march of time.

In essence, the shipwrecks off Cape Cod are not just underwater relics; they are powerful storytellers. And as long as there are tales to tell, our fascination with them will never wane. Here are 6 of the most famous shipwrecks off of Cape Cod.

  • 1. The Whydah Gally (1717)

    This is perhaps Cape Cod’s most famous shipwreck. Once a slave ship, it was commandeered by the pirate Black Sam Bellamy. Laden with a fortune—said to be the treasures of over 50 other pirated ships—it met its fate in a nor’easter storm. Discovered in 1984 by Barry Clifford, it’s the only verified pirate shipwreck ever found in North American waters. Today, its treasures can be seen at the Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth.

    Fun Fact, did you know I married a “Bellamy?” We don’t know if there was any relation to the pirate, but it would make for a cool story if my husband was part pirate, don’t you think?

    black and white pirate flag

    A pirate flag is an iconic symbol, and there’s lots of artifacts at the Whydah Pirate museum. Books tickets now to see!

  • 2. The Sparrow-Hawk (1626)

    One of the oldest known shipwrecks in the area, the Sparrow-Hawk was a British ship that foundered and sank near Orleans. Its remains were buried under the beach’s sands until they were unearthed by a storm in 1863. A symbol of the perilous journeys made by early settlers, its remnants can now be viewed at the Cape Cod Maritime Museum.

     

  • 3. The Andrea Doria (1956)

    Though not directly off Cape Cod, the sinking of the Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria after colliding with the MS Stockholm is a significant part of maritime history. Lying about 50 miles south of Nantucket, it’s a popular site for experienced divers. The History Channel even did a feature on it!

    The Sinking of Andrea Doria | HISTORY

    On the night of July 25, 1956, a collision between the ocean liners SS Andrea Doria and MS Stockholm killed 51 people and prompted one of the largest civilian maritime rescues in history.

     

  • 4. Portland (1898)

    The Portland, often referred to as the “Titanic of New England,” was a paddlewheel steamship that met a tragic end in the Great Portland Gale of 1898. En route from Boston to Portland, Maine, the ship and its passengers were caught in the storm’s fury. Despite its reputation as a sturdy vessel, the Portland sank, taking with it over 190 lives, and none survived. The exact location of the wreck remained a mystery for decades until it was finally discovered in 1989. Today, the shipwreck rests south of Cape Cod, serving as a haunting underwater memorial and a popular site for divers.

    Steamship Portland

    Its shallow depth allows for sanctuary divers to document the wreck of Paul Palmer, although years of fishing activity have significantly disturbed the site. Another of the great coal schooners, like Frank A. Palmer and Louise B. Crary, this vessel has also been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • 5. The James Longstreet (1944)

    The James Longstreet was a World War II Liberty ship intentionally sunk off the coast of Eastham, Massachusetts, in 1944. Instead of falling victim to an accident or combat, the ship was purposefully scuttled to serve as a target for military bomber training exercises. For years, its half-submerged hull was a recognizable sight from the shores of Cape Cod. Over time, the elements and repeated bombings have taken their toll, fragmenting and further submerging the vessel. Today, remnants of the shipwreck still lie off Eastham’s coast, bearing silent witness to its unique wartime role.

    SS James Longstreet - Wikipedia

    SS James Longstreet before her last and final voyage History United States Name James Longstreet Namesake James Longstreet Operator International Freighting Corporation Builder Todd Houston Shipbuilding Corporation, Houston, Texas Cost $1,833,400[5] Yard number 18[3] Laid down 24 August 1942[4] Launched 31 October 1942[2] Out of service Damaged by grounding in

  • 6. The Montclair (1927)

    The Montclair was a three-masted schooner that tragically met its end in a blizzard off Cape Cod in 1927. While en route with a cargo of coal, the ship faced the harsh fury of the storm and ran aground. All nine crew members aboard the Montclair perished in the disaster. The ship and its unfortunate crew remain entombed in their sandy grave to this day. Over the years, the waters and shifting sands of Cape Cod have concealed the wreckage, making it a somber testament to the unpredictability of the sea.

    SHORE LORE: The wreck of the Montclair

    The list of wrecks along the outer beach of Cape Cod is a lengthy one, with several tragedies registered during the winter of winter of 1926-27. One of the most memorable disasters of that season o...

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