Florida Museum of Natural History

Down Like Lead

The water surrounding Florida is a graveyard for thousands of ships - casualties of shifting sands, coral reefs, and treacherous hurricanes. Today, these shipwrecks are time capsules that reflect the history of maritime trade, colonial expansion by sea, and the changing fortunes of European powers in the Americas.

European ships and colonial expansion
European empires increased their colonial holdings by enhancing their naval power. Developments in ship design over the centuries are closely linked with the history of maritime warfare and rivalry among warring nations.

Coleridge quote

Sea serpents depiction from the 16th century
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, courtesy of New Bedford Whaling Museum
Perils of the Florida passage
In the Spanish colonial period, ships heading back to Europe sailed through the Straits of Florida on the Gulf Stream current. Hurricanes, shifting sands, and shallow waters made the passage between the Bahamas and Florida especially dangerous. Along with these real perils, European sailors feared sea monsters, creatures based more on fantasy than fact. In reality, pirates posed a more serious threat to ships than did the dreaded monsters.