Lost steamers, sunken sailboats, vanished ocean liners, missing trawlers — our volatile oceans can be maddening for shipwreck hunters, who obsessively search for the remains of vanished vessels, many of which haven't left a single clue.
Finding these drowned ships and raising their stories from the depths is the dream of many ocean explorers. Some boats were lost centuries ago, others within the last 30 years. Once you learn more about these famous missing shipwrecks, you might want to join the search today.
You've heard of the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria, but did you know the largest of the three ships, the Santa Maria, was lost off the coast of Haiti? Since sinking in 1492, many have yearned to recover the historic vessel.
In 2014, one ocean explorer claimed to have found the remains of the Santa Maria, with their claims garnering worldwide attention. However, when UNESCO researchers examined the remnants, they confirmed they weren't nearly old enough to be pieces of Columbus' flagship.
Treasure hunters are obsessed with the Flor de la Mar, and for a good reason — some say this 16th-century Portuguese wreck holds a booty worth $2.6 billion. The mammoth merchant ship measured an unwieldy 118 feet long and 111 feet high, suggesting that it would inevitably meet a tragic fate.
In 1511, the Flor de la Mar sank near Sumatra, Indonesia, a casualty of a heavy storm. Whoever locates this lost treasure will start a major legal battle — Portugal, Indonesia, and Malaysia all claim rights to its storied remains.
The SS Waratah was a passenger and cargo steamship that's been compared to the Titanic. In 1909 the vessel was traveling between Europe and Australia, with a stopover in Africa.
The 500-foot ocean liner vanished without a trace, along with its 211 passengers and crew, not long after departing from the African city of Durban and is considered one of the biggest maritime mysteries of all time.
During the transatlantic slave trade from the 16th to 19th centuries, there were at least 36,000 overseas voyages to transport enslaved people from Africa. It's estimated that about 1,000 of those ships sank, and 1.8 million people perished.
Today, divers strive to lift their histories from the deep by searching for and documenting wrecked slave ships. These wrecks are challenging to find since they were primarily made of wood, but metal artifacts, like pulley blocks and leg irons, indicate ship remains that bear silent witness to a brutal past.
Another undersea object of obsession among treasure hunters is the Merchant Royal, a multi-decked sailing ship that sank off the coast of Cornwall in 1641. The vessel was brimming with precious jewels, gold, and silver, with various values estimated from $280 million to $23 billion.
The English galleon had been in the water for 14 years and was troubled by leaks. A storm at sea and failing water pumps caused the vessel to sink, taking its treasures with it.
A 50-foot-long ship called the Griffon vanished somewhere in the Great Lakes in 1679, and centuries later, it's still considered the greatest mystery those waters hold. The Griffon, the first European ship to set sail on the Upper Great Lakes, launched with great fanfare but disappeared after making just one stop.
The vessel has been the subject of 22 claims of discovery, but only three of those have yet to be disproved. Adding to The Griffon's intrigue was the 1898 discovery of four skeletons in a cave at the north end of Lake Huron, possibly the remains of The Griffon's captain and crew.
The Cyclops was a U.S. Navy steamship swallowed by the sea for unknown reasons in 1918 while en route to Baltimore from Brazil. All 306 men onboard are believed to have perished on the 542-foot-long ship, which was carrying elements for making military weapons.
Whether the vessel cracked and sank or was destroyed by the Imperial German Navy, no one knows. One theory is that the ship's captain, who was German-born, might have purposely scuttled the Cyclops.
A U.S. steam-powered ocean liner, the SS Arctic, was sailing near Newfoundland when it collided with a smaller vessel in 1854. The impact opened a hole under the waterline of the larger ship. Tragically, there weren't nearly enough lifeboats for everyone, and only half of the people who made it onto lifeboats were ever seen again.
A mere 85 of the 400 people onboard the SS Arctic survived, and while we know a lot about the sinking of the SS Arctic, the whereabouts of the ship's remains are still a mystery.
Another legendary lost wreck of the Great Lakes is the R.G. Coburn, a 200-foot-long steamer that sank in Lake Huron's chilly, steel-blue waters in 1871. As the ship sank, crew members started throwing cargo overboard, including some of the 30 barrels of silver ore.
Tragically, it seems that precious silver cargo played a role in the ship's demise; the barrels broke loose and smashed holes in the side of the vessel, letting water into the hull.
In 1991, the crew of the Andrea Gail was lost at sea when a nor'easter lashed the East Coast; a tragic event retold in a bestselling book and a movie, The Perfect Storm. All the fishermen onboard perished, and their 72-foot fishing vessel has never been found.
It's impossible to say what happened during the boat's last hours except that it vanished east of Nova Scotia. If its wreckage can be recovered, there may be some answers at last.