With more than 800 souls on board, including a nephew of an emperor, the U.S. ship-of-the-line Delaware, one of the most powerful ships afloat, set sail from Hampton Roads for her maiden voyage at 0700 on 20 February 1828, bound for the Mediterranean. Almost immediately after getting under way, the huge ship began steering erratically and within an hour, after failing to answer her helm, she stuck fast on Willoughby Spit. Shifting guns and people “for the purpose of extricating her . . . all [had] no effect,” an anonymous diarist of the crew noted. But a flood tide at 0900 prompted renewed hope of the ship freeing herself. Some of her tars climbed aloft to clew up her sails, while others weighed the bower anchor and let go the stream anchor, which they used to haul her off. When inspection revealed no injury to the ship, the Delaware set course for Gibraltar without further mishap.
“The steering of the ship which excited so much alarm when the ship got underway,” Sailing Master John Robinson later penned in the log, “was much better after she got to sea than was anticipated.” Edward R.