This lonely spit of sand dunes and shrubs, located a little more than 100 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, is called Sable Island, and it has a very fascinating and dark history. As the only bit of land in this very stormy part of the North Atlantic, ships traveling between Europe and America have wrecked here for centuries, beginning in 1583 with the English exploration ship Delight. As the English colonized this area in the 17th and 18th centuries, they recognized Sable Island was an important place to establish a rescue station for distressed vessels. The first superintendent of this station was appointed in 1801. Since then there has been a permanent, but very small, human habitation on the island.
It was here on November 6, 1991 that some wreckage washed up on one of the lonely beaches on the island’s eastern half. A fuel tank, radio beacon and empty life raft were discovered. They came from a fishing vessel called the Andrea Gail, which vanished, presumed destroyed, in one of the greatest oceanic storms ever recorded in this area. Andrea Gail and her crew of six were out swordfishing at Flemish Cap when they got caught in the storm. None of the six were ever heard from again. Their last contact was by radio, on October 28, 1991, twenty-three years ago today. The story of the Andrea Gail was dramatized in a 1997 book by Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm, which was made into a popular but controversial movie in 2000.
The Andrea Gail aside, modern technology has made shipwrecks much less common on Sable Island than before. Now its chief attraction is environmental: its unique wildlife, dunes and vegetation, as well as its excellent location for monitoring weather conditions and climate trends. Most of the people who come to Sable Island these days are scientists. But it is likely that it will still see its share of shipwrecked mariners from time to time, as it has for the past 400 years.