Sable Island is a ship eater and horse island in the Atlantic

“The Ship Eater in the Atlantic, the dreaded Sable Island.

Off the eastern coast of Canada is Sable Island, one of the most mysterious in the world. More precisely, it is not located, but constantly moves at a rate of about 200 meters per year, so you can determine its exact location only from a satellite. But that’s not the only oddity. Since the XVI century this unusually narrow and long piece of land has caused the death of at least 300 large ships, for which it received its terrible nickname – “devourer of ships.

But let us begin with the migrations in the ocean. Sable Island is shaped like a sand spit, only 1.5 kilometers wide and more than 40 kilometers long. It consists of sand dunes and hills that move deep into the Atlantic, moving away from the continent every year. The reason for this strange phenomenon, according to most scientists, is the location of the island at the junction of two currents: the warm Gulf Stream and the cold Labrador. Strong eddies form at the meeting point, which erode the island from the western side and bring the sandy soil to the east. But the process is uneven. As studies have shown, the area of the island is slowly decreasing.

Strong whirlpools, frequent fogs and the strange optical ability of the island’s surface to remain invisible to navigators has led to the fact that the place has become a ship graveyard. And residents of nearby mainland Canada call Sable nothing short of “ghost island. Here, merchant and military ships were wrecked, and sea pirates ambushed the island in search of easy prey, trapping ships. Legend has it that there’s a lot of treasure buried on the island. But in just the last 100 years, Sable has “moved” as much as 20 kilometers, and those riches are likely to have been swallowed by the ocean.

Today, the main treasure of Sable Island is not pirate gold, but … wild horses, which have lived there since the XVIII century. The ancestors of the horses are thought to have escaped the shipwreck and made a good home on the wandering island. There is plenty of grassy vegetation for them to feed on, and the population of the Sable breed numbers about 320 horses. Today, these beautiful animals are protected by the Canadian state.

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Strange as it may seem, there are people living on the spooky island today. The permanent residents are few: these are the lighthouse keepers and employees of the meteorological station, a total of five people. The lighthouse was built here by the British back in 1873. But it did not save the ships from destruction: the ships kept going aground. But now the sailors were at least assisted, and there were far fewer dead from the treachery of the sand dunes. The last victim of the wandering island was the steamer Manhasset, which ran aground in 1947. The entire crew, fortunately, was rescued.

With the advent of modern navigational aids, sailing in these waters has become virtually harmless. Horses roam unhurriedly around the island, and the few locals lead a measured and somewhat monotonous life. The remains of sunken ships have long been swallowed up by the sands and currents of the sea, and only a monument built from the masts of dead ships, reminds of the sad past of Sable Island.

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Sable is an island of horses and lost ships

Sable Island is a small Canadian island in the Atlantic Ocean. Absolute solitude, very sparse vegetation, hundreds of wild horses and hundreds of dead ships. All this is Sable Island. A unique, amazing and mysterious corner of our planet.

Sable Island.

Sable, the island of horses and ship-eater

Where is it

Sable Island lies 300 km south-east from Halifax city in the Nova Scotia region of south-eastern Canada. The nearest coast of mainland Canada is 175 kilometers away. Geographical coordinates are 43.933189, -60.006316

Sable Island. Top view

Sable Island. Top view

What Sable Island looks like

It is a very elongated sandy island in the North Atlantic. It stretches in the shape of a smile from east to west for more than 43 km. The total area of the island is about 34 km 2 .

Sable Island.

Sable Island. View from Space

Sable Island is very narrow. Its maximum width does not exceed 1.5 km. There are no mountains or rocks. This is one continuous sand spit.

There is no permanent population here, except for 5 employees of the local weather station. Plus in the summer here come scientific expeditions and a few tourists.

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Sable Island from June 20, 2013 became a protected area. To get here, you need a special permit from the authorities of Canada.

The meaning of the name of the island

The name of the island (Sable) in translation from English means mourning black color. This is due to the huge number of shipwrecks, recorded in the vicinity of the island.

But in French, the same sable is translated as sand. This is natural, because the island is one solid sand.

There is also speculation that the island was originally called “sabre” (translated sabre). The shape of the island is indeed very similar to a curved sabre. However, due to some mistake, the letter R became the letter L. Thus, the island is now known worldwide as Sable.

Remarkably, all three meanings are very appropriate to this island.

Sable Island – the devourer of ships.

Sable is often called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic. More than 350 shipwrecks are registered here. The reason for this is the dense fog, flooded sandbanks around the island and a combination of sea currents.

According to some reports, around 500 ships were sunk in the vicinity of Sable Island. The fact is that many ships quickly get sucked into the sand and the crew die. Therefore, it is likely that there are more than 350 shipwrecks.

It’s not just the sea that can take ships. The desert can do it, too. Read about the Skeleton Coast in Namibia. You’ll learn how a big ship can be swallowed by the desert.

The first shipwreck on Sable Island was the English ship Delight in 1583. This event started a tragic chain of shipwrecks. At the end of the 19th century, the number of wrecks decreased and has now disappeared altogether. The last major wreck was the Manhasset in 1947. Fortunately, the entire crew was rescued.

Of the small ships off the coast of Sable Island, the fishing vessel Andrea Gail sank in 1991. None of the crew survived and was not even found. In 1999, the yacht Merrimac ran aground here. Three people were rescued.

Merrimac yacht.

Merrimac yacht on Sable Island

An interesting fact is that few shipwrecks are visible in the vicinity of Sable Island, as they are usually pulled into the sand.

Sable Island.

There are not many photos of shipwrecks near Sable Island, because the ships get sucked into the sand very quickly. Hence the name “ship eater”.

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A little history of Sable Island

It is not known reliably who and when first discovered this island. There are legends that the island was visited by the Vikings, perhaps on their way to Vinland. There is speculation that the ancient Romans came here. But there is no clear evidence of this.

The first information about the island dates back to the beginning of the 16th century. It is believed that the discoverer was the Portuguese navigator Joao Alvarez Fagundes. His expedition to the shores of Nova Scotia in 1520-21 discovered the island. Joao may have named the island after himself, “Fagunda. Portuguese maps of the time mention such an island. And it is marked roughly in the vicinity of present-day Sable Island.

The first recorded settlers were outlaws who were landed here in 1598 by the French Marquis de la Roche-Helgomarsh. Most of the settlers died, but some managed to survive on the island for five years before being returned to France in 1603.

In view of the development of shipping between the Old and New Worlds, in 1801 the governor of Nova Scotia established a number of salvage stations. One of them was located on Sable Island.

The Canadian government built two lighthouses there in 1872, respectively on the eastern and western ends of the island.

Before the advent of modern ship navigation, Sable Island was home to families of lifeguards and lighthouse keepers. In the early 20th century, radio and weather stations were installed on the island.

Houses on Sable Island

Houses on Sable Island

An interesting fact – since 1920, only 2 people were born on the island.

Improvements in navigation led to a dramatic decrease in shipwrecks by the mid-20th century. Thus, the rescue station on the island was first reduced, and then closed altogether in 1958. In 2004, the west lighthouse was decommissioned.

Sable Island lighthouse

The last lighthouse of Sable Island

Geography and climate

It is believed that the island originally separated from the continental shelf at the end of the last ice age.

An interesting fact is that Sable Island moves eastward.

The island lies at the junction of two ocean currents: the warm Gulf Stream and the cold Labrador Current. Therefore, it moves as much as 200 meters a year. The fact is that the waves destroy the western shore, and under the action of strong winds the masses of sand are carried to the eastern shore.

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Sable Island.

There are several freshwater reservoirs on the island. Due to the movement of the island, they gradually disappear, but may appear elsewhere.

Sable Island has a humid continental climate. The average annual temperature is about 18-19 o C. As a rule, February is the coldest month and August is the warmest. Rainfall is about 1,400 mm per year.

Severe fogs are common in the area due to the contrasting effects of the cold Labrador Current and the warm Gulf Stream. Fogs here average 127 days per year for at least 1 hour per day.

Climate observations on Sable Island began in 1871 with the establishment of the Meteorological Service of Canada and continued continuously from 1891 to August 20, 2019.

An interesting fact is that due to its geographical location and the presence of ocean currents, the coast of Sable Island is constantly carrying a variety of debris. In particular, balloon remnants end up on the shore. Zoe Lucas, a resident of the island, collects thousands of balloons every year and uses the inscriptions to determine where they came from. So the balloon you accidentally miss in the clouds might end up on Sable Island.

The ocean often brings debris to lonely islands. A prime example is Henderson Island, which is recognized as the dirtiest uninhabited island in the world.

Sable Island Plants.

The island consists entirely of sand, so there are no trees. They just don’t take root. In 1901, the Canadian government planted over 80,000 trees in an attempt to stabilize the soil, but all the seedlings died.

An interesting fact is that out of tens of thousands of artificially planted trees, one did take root. It is a pine tree. True, its height is not more than 1 meter.

A tree on Sable Island

It’s the only tree on Sable Island.

There is only grass and other low vegetation on the island.

Animals of Sable Island

Harbor seals and gray seals are actively breeding on the shores of the island. In 2003-2004, for example, about 50,000 seals and harbor seals were born on the island.

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Navy seals on Sable Island

SEAL rookery on Sable Island

Seals in the local waters are sometimes hunted by various species of sharks.

The island has become home and a staging ground for many varieties of birds. More than 350 species of birds have been recorded here.

There used to be a significant population of walrus on the island, but unfortunately hunters have wiped it out completely.

Sable Island wildlife

Animals of Sable Island

Special attention should be paid to the horses on Sable Island.

The horses of Sable Island

Sable – Island of Horses

Notably, Sable Island has a very large number of feral horses. According to a 2016 report, there were about 550 individuals living here.

Horses on Sable Island

Sable Island Horses

Horses probably originated here in the early 19th century. Back then, they were used extensively by lifeguard station workers. Horses were used by people to patrol the island and move rescue boats. Later, the population of the island dwindled and the horses multiplied. But the climate and scarce forage periodically reduced the horse population.

In 1959, the Canadian government decided to remove the horses from the island and let them go for meat. But then-Prime Minister John Diefenbaker began to receive numerous letters from children all over the country and even from other parts of the world, asking that the horses remain on the island.

As a result, not only were the horses left on the island, but all human interference in their lives was forbidden. Now the horses of Sable Island have become its calling card.

By the way, pay attention to the Isle of Pigs in the Bahamas. There pigs not only filled the beautiful beach, but also learned to swim well and begging tourists for different goodies.

Sable Island is an amazing place with a strange origin and untouched beauty. For centuries, the island has fascinated and continues to interest explorers, photographers, artists, and travelers from around the world.

The island has been mentioned many times in scientific and fiction literature. Documentaries have been made about it and songs have been composed. Sable Island horses are featured on Canada’s 2005 stamps and coins.

Coin with Horses of Sable Island

Sable Island Horses Coin

The Atlantic Maritime Museum in Halifax has a permanent exhibit dedicated to Sable Island.

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