The English wooden sailing ship, the Virginia Merchant, was owned by the Virginia Company and under the command of Captain Robert Burke. The ship was carrying 179 passengers and crew from Plymouth, England via Bermuda to Jamestown, Virginia. She had just left Castle Harbour when she ran aground on a submerged reef and just 250 meters off the south shore at Sonesta Beach on March 26, 1661. In the 1600s very few people knew how to swim, and tragically, of the 179 passengers and crew on board, only 10 survived.


After spending more than 350 years on the seabed, very little is left of the wooden Virginia Merchant, lying in 12 to 45 feet of water. The last evidence of the wreck is in a sand hole adjacent to the Sandy Hole Buoyed Dive Site (see Buoyed Dive Sites). Divers may see a pile of granite ballast stones. Other prominent artifacts include wood debris and a large metal hook which probably served as her anchor. In addition, a cannon believed to be from the Virginia Merchant was salvaged and mounted nearby on the beach of the Sonesta Beach Hotel. The site is considered a great reef dive with a number of dramatic archways and tunnels to explore. There is usually a shoal of around 100 horse-eye jacks patrolling the outer reef, and grouper are often sighted. The bed of sand is good for shell hunting. Parts of the wreckage lie outside and part inside the breakers off Sonesta Beach.


Location: 32°14'41.86"N, 64°49'42.60"W    Maximum Depth: 45 feet (13.7 meters)