Unfortunately, many ships in the past have not been able to find that safe port in a storm. Too many vessels over the years have succumbed to extreme weather, pirate attacks, and the weapons of war and sunk to the bottom of the ocean where a watery grave awaits.
The ocean floor is littered with the skeletons of thousands upon thousands of ships. In fact, some areas have experienced so many shipwrecks that they've become famous. One such area off the coast of North Carolina goes by the nickname “The Graveyard of the Atlantic."
From the Outer Banks of North Carolina north to the southern entrance of Chesapeake Bay off the Virginia coastline, two forces collide to create stormy, dangerous seas on a regular basis. One of those forces is the Labrador Current, which is an arctic stream of icy water that originates off the coast of Greenland. The other is the Gulf Stream, which contains warm waters from the Caribbean.
When these two forces collide in the Atlantic Ocean near the Outer Banks of North Carolina, rough seas and dense fog are usually the result. Some of the areas known for dangerous seas include Cape Hatteras, Cape Fear, and Diamond Shoals.
In addition to severe weather, these areas also have strong currents that can cause sandbars to shift and thus make it hard to navigate. It is believed that Blackbeard the Pirate used these factors to his advantage to keep from being captured. There is no doubt that this section of the Atlantic Ocean is extremely dangerous. The ocean floor in this area contains the relics of thousands of ships. Blackbeard's ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, was discovered here in 1996. Parts of the ship are on display at the North Carolina Maritime Museum.
The first recorded shipwreck in the area occurred in 1526 at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Explorers were attracted to the area because it was wild and new. It quickly became known as a dangerous spot for mariners, though, as ships began to encounter the deadly conditions often present in the area. Legend has it that the wild Spanish mustangs of the Outer Banks got there by swimming ashore from sinking colonial ships.
So many shipwrecks occurred that the government eventually required that lifesaving stations be built every seven miles along the coast of the Outer Banks. These stations and their personnel would later become the United States Coast Guard.
Even though you don't hear a lot about shipwrecks today, they still occur. As recently as October 2012, the Graveyard of the Atlantic claimed another ship when the HMS Bounty sunk off Cape Hatteras during Hurricane Sandy.