Public invited to see Delaware’s most famous sunken ship

213 years ago today the Captain of the HMS DeBraak was rounding Cape Henlopen heading for port. He said they were lucky for having such good weather.

Three days later a freak storm came up the Delaware River and sunk the DeBraak and the ship, Don Fransico Xavier. The British DeBraak had captured the Spanish ship and was escorting it. Both ships were lost.

The DeBraak was pretty much forgotten until 1984 when sonar found the ship. Two years later there were cheers and lots of media crews to witness the moment when the DeBraak cracked the surface.

Archeologists, over the years, examined the ship’s structure and tried to find ways to preserve it. Things have stayed that way ever since. Until now.

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Next month the public gets its chance to get close to the ship for the first time. “Until now it pretty much looked like a pile of wood on the surface,” said Jim Yurasek of the Delaware Division of Historic and Cultural Affairs.

It looked that way, he said, because the ship needed be submerged in water in order to preserve it. A structure that had been built when the ship was discovered has been expanded to accommodate public tours.

Visitors can go to Cape Henlopen State Park beginning June 4th. They’ll be able to take part in tours and lectures that will run through October 1st. Yurasek said they’ll be able to see the ship as it was laid out on the ocean floor.

Finding a way to keep the ship preserved and allow the public access have been the biggest stumbling blocks over the years. “The ship needs to be sprayed with water to keep it preserved. Otherwise, it will turn to dust,” Yurasek said. He says in the coming years they hope to implement a new “dry preservation” method.

There are over 20,000 artifacts that have been on display at the Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes.

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