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photo by: Marine Robotics & Remote Sensing, Duke University
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Ghost Fleet of the Potomac, Mallows Bay
- Location: Charles County, Maryland
Imagine kayaking the tranquil waters of a secluded cove on the lower Potomac, binoculars in hand, in search of bald eagles, great blue herons, and osprey. As you float along, you spot weathered wood and rusted iron jutting out from the water—they look almost like ribs.
You’re looking at some of the approximately 200 shipwrecks of the Ghost Fleet of the Potomac. Located in Mallows Bay near the Maryland town of Nanjemoy, the Ghost Fleet is the largest and most varied collection of historic shipwrecks in the Western Hemisphere, spanning over three centuries of American shipbuilding.
Mallows Bay is now the most prominent feature of the new Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary, the first national marine sanctuary within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Designated in 2019 by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary is the first designated sanctuary in 19 years.
photo by: Stephen Badger, Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Rusted nails and remains of a shipwreck in the Ghost Fleet of the Potomac.
photo by: Peter Turcik, Chesapeake Conservancy
Local and migratory species of birds and fish flourish in this ecological safe haven.
Sunset over Mallows Bay's tranquil waters.
Race to Greatness in World War I
Most of the ships in the Ghost Fleet date back to World War I, when the Wilson administration undertook a rapid shipbuilding program to prepare the United States for war. While World War I began in 1914, the United States did not enter the conflict until April 6, 1917. By that time, German U-Boats were destroying the world’s merchant vessels at the unprecedented rate of more than 200 per month.
Once the United States entered the war, the Wilson administration shifted swiftly into action. On April 16, 1917, the United States Shipping Board created the Emergency Fleet Corporation to ramp up ship production to meet this urgent need.
The Emergency Fleet Corporation created an ambitious plan to hastily construct steel, concrete, and wooden ships to support the war effort. These ships were built in 40 shipyards across 17 states. Wooden steamships were specifically designed to serve as a merchant fleet that could be constructed quickly using the United States’ large timber reserves. But delays and shortages kept the best timber from arriving at shipyards, and many of the shipyards that received contracts were understaffed, underbuilt, and underpaid.
Preservation Leadership Forum : National Marine Sanctuaries: Protecting History Underwater
The National Marine Sanctuaries act has been used to protect historic and cultural resources that tell unique and varied stories about American history. Now is the time continue protecting our nation’s most significant marine resources.
By the end of the war, only 98 of the 734 ships that had been ordered were delivered. Of the 98, only 76 could carry cargo, all were troubled by mechanical failures and construction problems, and none had sailed into a European port. After the war, the Shipping Board appointed a special committee to sell the inactive and incomplete ships. What had cost the U.S. government $300 million to build was sold for scrap for only $750,000.
Western Marine & Salvage Company in Alexandria, Virginia, purchased the majority of the ships for salvage and brought them to the Potomac. The company had determined that they could gain approximately $10,000 worth of scrap from each ship—but deciding what to do with the ships’ wooden hulls posed a problem. Eventually, the hulls were moved to Mallows Bay to be burned and beached. On November 7, 1925, 31 of the ships were burned. It was the greatest destruction of ships at one time in US history.
By 1931, the Western Marine & Salvage Company had transported 169 hulls into Mallows Bay, but the Great Depression and a resulting decline in scrap values lead the company to abandon the project. The remaining hulls were left to local scavengers to attempt to salvage whatever materials could be found.
When World War II began, attention returned to the Ghost Fleet. In 1942, the Salvage Section of the Metals Reserve Company, a company organized by the federal government, issued a contract to the Bethlehem Steel Corporation to recover any remaining metal from the fleet. Bethlehem Steel worked at the site until 1945 and transported salvaged material to a facility near Baltimore to support the war effort.
After 1945, the Ghost Fleet was largely forgotten until a company named Idamont, Inc., purchased the land and lobbied to remove the remaining hulls in the 1960s. Scandal erupted when it was revealed that Idamont was a straw company for the Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco) and that they planned to build a power generating station nearby at Sandy Point.
The House Committee on Government Operations, considering for the first time the ecosystem that had developed, declared that the removal of the ships was unnecessary, and the Ghost Fleet has been providing a habitat for plants and animals in Mallows Bay ever since.
photo by: Library of Congress
WWI-era posters for the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation.
Ship under construction before being grounded in Mallows Bay.
Ghost Fleet of the Potomac, Mallows Bay, historic photo.
The Ghost Fleet of the Potomac is a unique natural habitat, primed for exploration by scientists, tourists, fishermen, and outdoor enthusiasts. The fleet is located just 40 miles south of Washington, D.C., and a boat ramp gives visitors easy access to the fleet and other destinations along the Potomac River.
Charles County, Maryland, manages a day-use area at Mallows Bay Park, and the bay is a site along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. It’s also a premier location for bass fishing and a bird watcher’s paradise. Unique habitats have evolved above and below the waters of the Ghost Fleet, and the fleet’s hulls have become a home for birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and mammals. The Ghost Fleet is the perfect spot for heritage tourism, and it has potential for new archeological discoveries and opportunities for scientific research.
To protect this culturally and historically significant area, the state of Maryland, with the support of Charles County, Maryland, submitted a nomination in 2014 to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to consider Mallows Bay a National Marine Sanctuary. Aside from helping to protect these fragile historic resources, the designation will also create a management plan that includes educational and interpretive strategies designed to encourage sustainable tourism at the sanctuary.
A New Marine Sanctuary
In July 2019, local community partners, national conservation and preservation groups, and recreation and education advocates celebrated the designation of a new national marine sanctuary at Mallows Bay in the Potomac River . It was the first such designation in 19 years.
While the National Trust named the Ghost Fleet a National Treasure in 2017 to reflect its cultural and historical value, local community partners, national conservation and preservation groups, and recreation and education advocates all worked together to achieve this game-changing designation. Now as a marine sanctuary, it will enjoy further recognition and attention that connects the local community and new visitors to this unique place.
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Paddle through the Ghost Fleet of the Potomac at Mallows Bay
Added by David Rodgers
An hours-drive from downtown DC sits the largest shipwreck fleet in the Northern Hemisphere. The ships provide an exciting and eerie playground for paddlers, anglers, and adventurers.
The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay, as it's now known, is the result of our great nation's call for 1,000 wartime transport vessels to be built in 18 months. The quick deadline led to hasty construction and, when World War I ended before the contract was fulfilled, hundreds of ships sat unused. Attempts to salvage materials from these already-obsolete vessels proved fruitless and many of the ships ended up halfway-burnt in Mallows Bay, where they still sit today.
Mallows Bay sits due south of DC on the Potomac River, just across from Marine Base Quantico. The park offers parking, a boat launch, kayak launch, and great views of the river and the ships you'll soon be paddling around.
You'll want to head out between tidal extremes - high tide covers most of the vessels and low tide can make navigating between the vessels challenging. From the launch, head west to the auto ferry wreckage (the largest vessel in the Bay and the only one that's all metal). The majority of the fleet lies north of the ferry, so head that direction next. The river is about 2 miles wide at this point, so inexperienced paddlers should hug the coastline to avoid choppy conditions.
There is a small beach to the east of the bulk of the fleet that you can land on for a short break from paddling, depending on tides. Stay on the lookout for megalodon shark teeth here. I have yet to see one, but I've heard they can be found here.
Once you've had your fill of exploring the ships, you can head back toward the boat launch and check out the marshes to the south and east. You'll have a good chance of seeing one of the many bald eagles that call Mallows Bay home here.
If you keep heading east past the launch, you'll make your way through an old lock door where water was once pumped out of a section of the Bay to make salvaging materials easier.
Anglers will love all of the structure the vessels provide for the river's bass, bluegill, catfish, and more. Just watch out for all the metal and wood that can snag your line!
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Paddle through the Ghost Fleet of the Potomac at Mallows Bay Reviews
Really neat area
Unique spot that I actually heard about on a local talk radio show. I had to check it out as soon as possible and it didn't disappoint. A really unique area thats worth the time to visit.
There is a kayak launch slip which is nice. One thing to be mindful of is if you have an inflatable kayak, like me, be careful not to go over anything shamrock in the water. Very cool place to explore though.
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How To See — And Photograph — The Ghost Fleet Of Mallows Bay
Tyrone Turner, photographing the Benzonia wreck. Jacob Fenston/WAMU hide caption
From the kayak I was in, I looked over toward the wreck of the Benzonia, a 1919 World War I steamship, whose wooden bow rises several feet out of the water at low tide. WAMU Visuals Editor Tyrone Turner was standing by himself in the front of a canoe. He trained his camera on the shipwreck, as the Potomac waves rocked the canoe, precariously positioned among the wrecks.
One of the many things I learned on my trip to Mallows Bay: Tyrone is fearless — and has excellent balance.
I also learned about the fascinating history of these ships — more than 100 of them are crammed into a small cove in the river, about 30 miles south of Washington. You can read that story here , and see some of Tyrone's photography. To learn more about planning your own trip to Mallows Bay, read on.
Jacob paddling among the shipwrecks. Tyrone Turner/WAMU hide caption
I've lived in D.C. for close to a decade and I had never heard of the ghost fleet until this summer, when a press release landed in my inbox. Actually, it landed in my spam filter, and luckily I noticed it and opened it anyway.
Mallows Bay, the email told me, was about to become a national marine sanctuary — a designation shared by spectacular places like Monterey Bay in California and Thunder Bay in Michigan.
When I did an internet search, I was blown away by the images I found. I told Tyrone about it, and he had to see the place, too. We consulted a tide chart, and picked a date in August when low tides would coincide with sunset and sunrise.
The drive from D.C. takes about an hour, if you time it to avoid traffic. When I rolled up to Mallows Bay, down a gravel road, the first thing I saw was the the hulking outline of the steel-hulled Accomac. It's visible from the parking lot above the boat ramp, through a clearing in the trees.
A guided kayak tour heading toward the Accomac. Tyrone Turner/WAMU hide caption
The Accomac is one of the few wrecks you can see from shore. To really explore the shipwrecks, you need a boat. Specifically, you need a small, maneuverable, flat-bottomed vessel, i.e., a kayak or canoe.
From the boat launch it's a quick paddle out to the Accomac. The ship is newer than most at Mallows Bay — it was in service until the 1960s. But it's just as interesting: On the bow, there's a giant osprey nest. Around the stern, the boat is open to the elements, and you can peer inside the hull to see the ship's inner workings.
As we paddled around the Accomac at sunset, the waves picked up a bit on the Potomac, creating eerie, ghostly groaning sounds as the steel ship shifted in the water.
The Accomac at sunset. Jacob Fenston/WAMU hide caption
We planned our trip so we would have two opportunities to shoot the shipwrecks in good light at low tide. As the light faded and the tide receded in the afternoon, the bay took on a magical quality. The ghost fleet appeared truly ghostly.
"This view here, with all these pieces of metal poking out of the water, it feels like war," Tyrone said as his camera clicked. "It feels urgent. It's also beautiful, the blue-gray of the water, this brownish mud caked onto the pieces of metal poking out of the water. It's gorgeous."
Bolts protruding from the hulls of World War I wrecks. Tyrone Turner/WAMU hide caption
Once it was too dark to keep shooting, we headed back to the boat launch, and to our campground at the nearby Smallwood State Park. We were up again just after 4 a.m., so we could get on the water before sunrise.
Click here to view the WAMU story on the Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay.
What To Know If You Go
- It's doable as a day trip, but if you want to make it an overnight one instead, cheap accommodation can be found at Smallwood State Park . It has fifteen campsites, and eight cabins, including two with heat and air conditioning. (The campground is closed during the colder months.)
- For a longer paddle, start in Virginia. Widewater State Park , a new park that's still being developed, has a boat launch with access to the Potomac and will eventually have a campground. It's about 5.5 miles by water from Mallows Bay.
- Each season will provide a different experience. Summer can be brutally hot, and swimming is off-limits in the cove. If you go in cooler weather, it takes more planning to stay safe on the water, and you'll need your own boat (rentals and tours only operate in the warmer months).
- Atlantic Kayak rents boats and conducts group tours. Charles County also offers group tours, through Atlantic Kayak.
- Check with local paddling clubs , or recreation companies like REI for other tours.
Tips For Photographing The Ghost Fleet
- Plan for the best light: sunset and sunrise. Plan for the best ship viewing: low tide. We found a date when the two coincided, so the wrecks would rise from the water as the sun was low in the sky.
- Explore beyond the most-photographed ships. Some of our favorite shots were of more out-of-the-way parts of the cove — bolts protruding from the water, a stunted tree with red leaves growing on a small bit of ship.
- Bring a waterproof case for your equipment. The cove is somewhat protected, so in good weather you should be fine, but better safe than sorry.
Mallows Bay shipwrecks have turned into small islands, hosting vegetation. Jacob Fenston/WAMU hide caption
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Tour the Sanctuary
When visiting the sanctuary, download these guides to help make the most of your experience. Visitors to Mallows Bay Park are encouraged to borrow the free interpretive maps provided. And remember, whether you are paddling or walking, always respect the wildlife – from a distance.
A Paddler’s Guide to Mallows Bay: The water trail guide offers three routes to explore the Ghost Fleet. The map identifies and explains 16 points of interest that are marked by small buoys. It also provides a brief history of the site and identifies plants and animals most commonly encountered.
Mallows Bay Hiking Guide: The hiking trail guide offers four walking trails throughout Mallows Bay Park. The map identifies points of interest and plants and animals most common to the park.
Guided Interpretative Tours
Several commercial vendors provide interpretative tours. These typically include 90-minute to three-hour sessions with an experienced tour guide. Kayaks and safety gear are provided on-site.
- Atlantic Kayak
- Potomac Riverkeeper
Due to the size of the water access area at Mallows Bay Park, groups of 10 or more should pre-register their paddle trip. This process helps minimize congestion and conflict in the boat ramp area. To pre-register your group, please contact [email protected] at least two weeks prior to the requested date.
Kayaking among the Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay
After a week of perfect autumn weather, the mercury plummeted to a bitter 22 degrees. But my goal for the day was to kayak among the Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay. And secondary to that was attendance at the dedication of a section of the Potomac River as a National Marine Sanctuary.
Bundled in about seven layers of clothes I headed for Mallows Bay Park (1440 Wilson Landing Road, Nanjemoy, Maryland). And, I certainly wasn’t alone in my intentions that day. With the sun shining, nature lovers and adventurers also got up early and braved the chill.
Hundreds made their way to a bluff overlooking Mallows Bay for the dedication ceremony. The event was attended by Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan, officials from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), and local representatives, as well.
But a highlight of the dedication was the Blessing Ceremony performed by members of the Piscataway Tribe. These indigenous people have been stewards of this land for centuries. It was nice to see them represented.
Why You Should Visit the Mallows Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Situated on the Maryland side of the Potomac River, the shallow waters of Mallows Bay contain the largest collection of wood and steel-hulled shipwrecks in the Western Hemisphere. It is one of only 14 sites in the country named a National Marine Sanctuary by the NOAA and the first new designee in nearly 20 years. Plus, in 2015 the shipwrecks and the 18 square miles between Mallows Bay and Widewater, VA were named an archaeological and historic district on the National Register of Historic Places .
The History of the “Ghost Fleet” of Mallows Bay
During World War 1 the US government (United States Shipping Board) created the Emergency Fleet Corporation and commissioned the building of 734 wooden steamships. The vessels were to be built by 40 shipyards in 17 states. They required quick construction using the large timber reserves in the United States. These boats were intended to serve as a merchant fleet. By the end of the war, only 98 ships were built and most were fraught with mechanical failures and construction-related issues.
Following the war, the Shipping Board appointed a committee charged with selling the unfinished and unused vessels. The Western Marine & Salvage Company in Alexandria, Virginia, purchased the vessels for scrap metal. The company relocated the ships to Widewater on the Virginia side of the Potomac where they remained for two years. At that time, the company moved them across the river to Mallows Bay.
Shortly thereafter, in 1925, 31 of the ships were burned in what experts consider the greatest destruction of ships at one time in US history. The “Burn Basin” contains the remains of these ships. And the remainder were intentionally sunk or simply left to rot.
Today, Mallows Bay is the final resting place of up to 200 shipwrecks. Their hulls peek out of the waters of the Potomac. The most visible of the vessels is the S.S. Accomac, a steel-hulled ferry used to transport cars and people across the Chesapeake Bay to Virginia before being replaced by the Bay-Bridge Tunnel.
Exploring Mallows Bay Park
Today, nature has reclaimed the remnants of these ships. The wrecks provide shelter for flora and fauna, including fish, osprey, bald eagles, heron, beaver, river otters, and turtles. Plus, the wooded area surrounding the sanctuary contains artifacts dating back 12,000 years including Native American relics.
Mallows Bay Park offers outdoor enthusiasts walking trails, a boat ramp, and a kayak launch. All are available for public use at no cost.
Kayakers and boaters hoping to view the Ghost Fleet should be aware that the waters of Mallows Bay are tidal. This means that during high tide, few of the vessels stand above the water. You will want to time your visit during low tide, so check the tide charts. A visit while the tide is out will give you the best opportunity to observe the greatest number of “Ghost Ships.” Better yet, if you can time it for a foggy morning, I imagine this would make for a haunting sight.
The best way to see the ghost ships is from the water. Therefore, despite the temperatures being well below freezing the morning of my visit, I was going to risk getting a little wet. Not wanting to miss this opportunity to see the wrecks up close, I joined a small group in paddling out to the wrecks. I think by the time we launched the mercury had hit a scorching 40 degrees. It was worth braving the cold.
But landlubbers can also enjoy Mallows Bay Park and the Ghost Fleet. The recreation area offers multiple walking trails of varying distances. All are relatively easy and provide vantage points from which to view the wrecks. While you’re exploring keep your eyes open. You just might find an Indian arrowhead.
The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay and the National Marine Sanctuary is truly awesome. Truth be told; this was my main reason for visiting Charles County. And now that I’ve been there, it would be my top reason to return. But there are plenty of other reasons to visit. Charles County offers many Civil and Revolutionary War sites as well as Religious Freedom historical spots. And, those who love life on the water can’t go wrong.
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Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary
Discover mallows bay, designated as the chesapeake’s first national marine sanctuary.
In July 2019, NOAA designated a new national marine sanctuary in Maryland at Mallows Bay – Potomac River. Chesapeake Conservancy is a lead partner in the community-driven effort that successfully led to this designation. Located along the Chesapeake Trail approximately 30 miles south of Washington, D.C. on the Potomac River in Charles County, Md., Mallows Bay is steeped in history, wildlife, and recreational opportunities.
Mallows Bay is famous for its “ Ghost Fleet ” which includes more than 100 wooden steamships built for the U.S. Emergency Fleet during World War I, an effort that propelled America to the forefront of shipbuilding, as well as many other wrecks from Revolutionary times through the 1900s. The wrecks are largely submerged during high tide, but are revealed to the naked eye during low tide – which is where the term “Ghost Fleet” originates. Today, these wrecks support diverse ecosystems that are teeming with marine life, attracting recreational fishing and ecotourists to the area.
In addition to unique natural resources, Mallows Bay – Potomac River boasts rich American Indian and Black history. This section of the Potomac River is part of the traditional lands and cultural landscape of the Piscataway Indian people, as well as the site of important archaeological findings. Blacks have been a part of the area’s history for centuries, as well, with history related to African slaves landing on Maryland’s shores, fighting in the Civil War, and building many of the wooden steamships that now rest in the shallow waters of Mallows Bay.
We hope to help you explore this special place – both virtually and physically! Together with our partners, we’ve produced a Paddler’s Guide to Mallows Bay , a self guided tour to help you explore the Ghost Fleet by kayak.
While nothing beats seeing the beauty of Mallows Bay – Potomac River in person, we’ve also created a few ways that you can tour the Ghost Ships of Mallows Bay from your computer or mobile device. We offer two types of virtual tours. Riverview is a virtual tour created by Terrain360, similar to Google Street View, that takes you through the shipwrecks as if you are in a kayak paddling the bay. We also offer a birds eye view with 360 degree virtual tours using drone and 360 video technology. We loaded this page with lots of resources for you to learn more about Mallows Bay – Potomac River.
July 8, 2019
NOAA designates Mallows Bay – Potomac River as a new national marine sanctuary in Maryland.
Mallows Bay Paddle Guide
Check out the Paddle Guide for Mallows Bay that was created in partnership with Charles County, Atlantic Kayak, Maryland Historical Trust, Alice Ferguson Foundatino, Southern Maryland Audobon Society, Friends of Mallows Potomac and with funding by REI, National Marine Sancuary, and NOAA.
Explore four unique itineraries that take you through historic ship wrecks and untamed wildlife
Points of interest
Each itinerary includes detailed information about what you’ll see along the way
MARYLAND PUBLIC TELEVISION PROFILE
Discover the history and present day conditions of Mallows Bay in this informational video from MPT
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In Mallows Bay, a ‘ghost fleet’ of wrecked ships is very much alive
It’s a sunny morning in August and Mallows Bay is far from spooky. My group of 18 paddlers is eager to explore the new Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary in Charles County, Md. The 18-square-mile site, designated in July, is home to what’s known as the “ghost fleet” — the wrecks of more than 100 ships, the oldest of which date to the 18th century. Someone shouts, and we look up.
“Cue the eagle,” my husband, Pete, says. Bald eagles, ospreys, herons and all manner of winged creatures abound in this ship graveyard just 30 miles downstream of the District.
The majority of the wrecks in Mallows Bay are wooden steamships built for World War I. “It’s the single largest homogenous collection of ships in the world,” Susan Langley, the state underwater archaeologist for the Maryland Historical Trust, told me in a phone interview. “It’s a weird selection, but they all have stories to tell.”
Great white sharks abound at a marine sanctuary just off the San Francisco coast
And once you know the stories, this place inspires philosophical thoughts. As our double kayaks set out at low tide — the best time to see the remains — I’m reminded of those human conflicts English teachers drilled into me: man vs. man, man vs. self, man vs. nature. Mallows Bay showcases them all.
In 1917, the United States’ Allies needed supplies. President Woodrow Wilson issued a call to build ships, and the Emergency Fleet Corp. answered. It set the lofty goal of building 1,000 wooden steamships in 18 months. Too lofty, as it turned out — only 264 were completed, at 40 shipyards that sprang up across 17 states.
“They were being built — to be honest — to be expendable, so there’d be enough of them that the U-boats couldn’t get them all,” Langley explained.
Pieces of wood and metal protrude from the brackish water as we follow our Atlantic Kayak Co. guides, Jeremy Martinez and Kathy Fuller, toward the remains of the S.S. Boone. It is now a ship-shaped island with vegetation happily sprouting from its gut. Martinez shares the words once inscribed on its bow: “Here’s to the steamer Boone, the best new ship afloat. Across the sea she is doomed to get the Kaiser’s goat.”
Low tide exposes artifacts like the Boone in these four- to five-foot depths, but it also leaves paddlers at the mercy of hydrilla, an invasive aquatic vegetation that abounds in late summer. Paddle shallowly, Martinez advises; still, strands of hydrilla hang from my paddle. On the plus side, I’m getting a workout.
A red dragonfly lands on my paddle. Red? I’ve never seen one! Eye-catching red and blue dragonflies — and damselflies — whiz about us with a bonus: They devour mosquitoes, which keeps the bloodsuckers in check.
My eyes dance from pieces of metal strapping to yellow swallowtails amid the ecosystems that sprout from sediment-filled remains. “Flowerpot wrecks,” they’re called. Nature has transformed some of the vessels into a thriving reef that helps stabilize the shoreline. I can’t help smiling.
Technological progress — diesel engines, mainly — left these coal-powered ships in the dust, and storing them was expensive. In 1922, 233 of the vessels were sold to a salvage company for $750,000, once the price tag for constructing a single ship.
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Initially, the company — the Western Marine & Salvage Co. — stored them in Widewater, Va., and towed them to Alexandria to dismantle. However, they often broke loose, sank, or blocked channels or fishing grounds, causing a local outcry. In 1924, the company bought the farmland around Mallows Bay and warehoused about 140 of the ships in the bay.
At the S.S. Afraina, Martinez points to the spot where the ship’s giant propeller once was. We paddle by rows of metal pins that lined its interior. Farther along, we admire the double-hull construction of one ship and observe burn marks on another. The vessels were often burned to the waterline for both disposal and easier access to salvageable parts.
Surely, the 10 torch-bearing men who sprinted from one oil-soaked, 60-foot-tall deck to another while setting the 31 lashed-together ships alight (1925 was pre-Occupational Safety and Health Administration, pre-power-tool times, Martinez reminds) felt inner conflict. A veritable army of rats jumped ship then, too. During the Depression, the market for scrap metal fell, and the salvage company failed, leaving these stranded behemoths to the locals.
As I peer into the clear water, I wish for polarized lenses to better observe the underwater forest. Bass, catfish, snakes and a throng of tiny creatures dart among the ships’ decayed remains.
“That habitat is critical for a lot of juvenile fish species we care about in the Bay,” said Kim Grubert, a scientist in Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, in a phone interview. “If you can imagine what’s going on under the water’s surface, it’s even more magical.”
“Eagle!” someone cries as we paddle single-file into what our guides call the “secret cove,” a secluded spot created by verdant vessels. Inside, we note a sturdy beaver lodge in one wreck.
We owe much of our knowledge of the ghost fleet to Don Shomette , an author, historian and marine archaeologist who pored through archives and combed the wrecks themselves to flesh out the site’s history.
He first heard the moniker as a boy. After a night of camping on the shore with his father and brother, Shomette told me in a phone call, their boat was heading down the river through a heavy fog when they ran into an old waterman.
“You boys going to see the ghost fleet?” the waterman asked.
Minutes later, their boat came up “under the bow of a ship that loomed out of the gloom,” Shomette said. (The ships were more emergent then.) He’s been going to see them ever since.
After hugging the shore, we paddle into choppier waters toward the hulking Accomac, which was dumped here in the ’70s. The ferry serves as a point of scale because it’s “roughly the same size as these vessels lying in Mallows Bay,” says Paul “Sammy” Orlando, a regional coordinator in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. (Much of the Accomac is out of the water; it’s the most emergent vessel at the site.)
According to Martinez, who credits a local witness, the Accomac’s captain ran his outdated ship aground, said “Whoops” and dinghy-ed off into the sunset.
Ospreys don’t mind nesting atop the Accomac’s rusty remains, and you might also spy the other kind of Osprey taking off from nearby Marine Corps Base Quantico. (Look for the white hangar across the Potomac.)
An osprey atop the S.S. Benzonia squawks as we head back across the bay and into what our guides called Burning Basin. During World War II, when metal was in demand again, the Bethlehem Steel Co. attempted another salvage operation, hauling ships into the basin and setting them on fire to access the remaining metal. However, years of tobacco farming had sent so much sediment and silt into the basin that “the boat would slowly start to sink in the mud, and the mud would eat the fire,” Martinez says. Nature wins, again.
For our last stop, we follow Martinez up the peaceful Marlow’s Creek, an area called a breadbasket marsh because of its abundance of edibles: wild rice and papaws, to name a few.
Paddling regulars at Mallows say fall is their favorite season because of the colors and conditions, but winter can evoke the fleet’s spookiness.
“Winds from certain directions have this magical way of emptying out Mallows Bay,” Orlando says. From overlooks along about three miles of park trails (it’s too cold and rough to kayak then), “you can really see the remains of the ghost fleet and the related infrastructure.”
The sanctuary designation — the first in the Chesapeake — gives the site what Langley calls “global street cred.” I can’t help feeling hopeful at this triumph of nature. But the generative forces that reclaimed this bay for flora and fauna can also destroy. With rising seas and fickle weather, this fleet’s very existence is, well, fleeting.
White is a writer based in Arlington. Her website is amybrecountwhite.com . Follow her on Twitter: @amybrecountwhit .
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Atlantic Kayak Co.
Charles County offers a three-hour, 2 ½ -mile kayak tour of Mallows Bay ($75 per person for a two-person kayak) or a shorter 1 1 / 2 -hour tour ($49 per person) through this kayak company. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May through October, weather permitting.
Mallows Bay Park
1440 Wilson Landing Rd., Nanjemoy, Md.
The park has an information kiosk, a shallow boat ramp, a dock, portable toilets and hiking trails, including several overlooks on the bay. Visitors can download a map of the sanctuary at charlescountyparks.com . Open 5:30 a.m. to dusk. Free.
The company offers day-long “Ghosts of the Potomac: Mallows Bay” tours for ages 12 and up, which include a catered lunch and transportation to the site from the Greenbelt Metro station. $160 for nonmembers; $140 for members.
"Celebrating the Richness of Paleontology through Fossil Hunting"
MALLOWS BAY GHOST FLEET
A Photo Tour of the Mallows Bay Ship Graveyard
Mallows Bay Ghost Fleet
Mallows Bay Park - 1440 Wilson Landing Road, Nanjemoy, MD
Word War II Ghost Ships at Mallows Bay
Introduction and Location
As one paddles closer to Mallows bay, the rusty bow of an old ferry, the Accomac, breaches the water. Emerging from the distance, small dots of vegetation strangely sprinkle the bay. It is not evident one is approaching hundreds of sunken ships. However, as one paddles closer and closer, hunks of decaying wood and large iron nails can be seen, mostly inches under the water. As one carefully navigates through the debris field, outlines of dozens of football field length ships begin to emerge. It now becomes apparent one is in the largest ship graveyard fleets in North America.
The Accomac is the first boat often seen when approaching Mallows Bay.
Mallows bay is an incredibly scenic place. The derelict wrecks are now home to Osprey, water fowl, and other wildlife. Bald Eagles nest in the nearby trees along the shore. It once was a fun daylong adventure to paddle to this curious spot. However, the state bought the land next to the graveyard, created a park and installed a boat ramp for easy canoe and kayak access. Although it is now less of an adventure to travel to, it can now be enjoyed by many more nature and outdoor enthusiasts.
Bald Eagles at Mallows Bay
Location: Mallows bay is located along the Potomac River, just south of D.C. The exact adress is: Mallows Bay Park - 1440 Wilson Landing Road, Nanjemoy, MD Entrance to the park is at the intersection of Riverside Rd (rt. 224) and Wilson Landing Road, in Nanjemoy, Maryland. Google Map of Mallows Bay
Kayak Trip to Mallows Bay - The History of the Ghost Fleet
After paddling our kayak along the Potomac for over an hour, we finally saw an old rusted hull looming in the distance. This old ferry, the "Accomac," was the first evidence that we made it to the ghost fleet of Mallows Bay. Paddling here was tough. We decided not to use the park ramp, but to be more adventurous paddle from further down river so we could take in the scenery of the Potomac. The long trip was well worth it. We soon got lost in the history of Mallows Bay.
The Accomac - an old rusty hull remains
Paddling up to the ferry, we heard warning cries from an Osprey tending to its nest on the ships' bow. After rounding the rusted bow and an angry Osprey, the ghost ships suddenly appeared.
Looking into one of the WWI wooden transport ships
Built to carry cargo across the Atlantic to support the war effort in Europe, the ships arrived too little too late. By wars end, only 134 out of the 731 contracted ships had been finished. Shortly after, a total of 264 were finished. Out of those, only 195 had actually crossed the Atlantic.
Another view of one of the wooden ghost ships
Once W.W.I. was over, no one wanted the leaky, obsolete ships. Eventually, after much fiasco leading into the 1960's, the remaining ships (over 150), partially salvaged, were left to rot in Mallows bay.
Mallows bay ghost fleet - iron nails in the water line
Looking nothing like they did in 1918, the fleet of wooden steamships are now empty, rotting hulls poking haphazardly out of the water; a navigational nightmare even for our small kayak.
These Ghost ships are often called "Floating FLowerpots" as they are now wooden island of vegetation
These wooden ships have now returned to nature. They are now odd looking islands that act as a wildlife sanctuary for many animals, including Heron, Osprey, and Bald Eagles that patrol the waters. Mallows Bay is a bird watchers paradise.
Additional Images of the Ghost Fleet
This gives one an idea of the size of the WWI transport ships . Our kayak, parked inside this ship, is 16 feet long.
Here, we ventured inside the ferry Accomac. I think we are kayaking over where the cars would park.
Recommended Books For Mallows Bay and Kayaking Maryland
Fossil Hunting Site:
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Calvert Cliffs Fossil Hunting
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Mallows Bay by Kayak: Ghost Ships and Bald Eagles
Morning tour, select your tickets.
This tour is also available on:
- June 3 - 9 a.m. or 1 p.m.
- June 10 - 9 a.m. or 1 p.m.
- July 8 - 1 p.m.
- July 22 - 9 a.m. or 1 p.m.
- July 29 - 9 a.m. or 1 p.m. (Rescheduled from June 24)
Thirty miles south of Washington in Charles County, Maryland, the lower Potomac River holds the Western Hemisphere’s largest concentration of shipwrecks. Mallows Bay, a shallow embayment off the Nanjemoy Peninsula, is the site of this fascinating “ghost fleet” of nearly 200 vessels dating from the Revolutionary War through World War I. They had been sent to the bay in the early years of the last century to be destroyed, but instead were abandoned and now linger in varying states of decay.
There’s no better vantage point than a two-person kayak from which to experience this dramatic collection, as well as to explore the bay’s marshy tributaries filled with abundant wildlife. Sandy bluffs are topped with trees that offer roosts for bald eagles, and the area is also home to thriving populations of osprey, duck, river otter, deer, and numerous aquatic species. The flora is equally fascinating, from towering sycamores to an array of edible and medicinal plants such as wild rice, duck potato, and pawpaw.
The 3-hour tour is guided; a snack and bottled water are provided; all participants use tandem kayaks; beginning-level kayakers are welcome.
Parking is available at Mallows Bay Park. Detailed information is emailed in advance.
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Mallows Bay Kayak Tours 2021
THE 5 BEST Moscow Kayaking & Canoeing
Kayaking & canoeing in moscow.
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Experience one of the most scenic rivers in TN
Ghost river outfitters.
Looking for an exciting adventure less than an hour from Memphis? We’ve got you covered : Join one of our Group Guided Tours. Rent a canoe, a kayak, or a stand-up paddle board. Use our shuttle service to get your boat on the river and off with ease. Hire an experienced guide for your group. To stay dry and learn about the river, register for an EcoTour. The Ghost River State Natural Area is home to one of the most unique and scenic environments Tennessee has to offer!
Rentals and Guides
Ghost River Outfitters was founded in the spring of 2004 by long-time friends, Mark Babb and Don Hailey. For years Mark and Don worked together for a local Fire Department, taking advantage of every day off by exploring the Ghost River section the Wolf River.
Now we enjoy helping others discover the same river.
The business has grown and now we have some awesome partners: Trips on the Wolf River, Wolf River Conservancy, and Bluff City Canoe Club. We work together to get folks out on the Ghost River to see for themselves the majesty of a river that lies at the heart of our community.
Check our prices
We pride ourselves on competitive prices for our kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddle boards. here is a quick break down of what you can get. .
- Life Jacket Included
- Paddles Included
- Call for Reservation
- Plus $10 per person
Some of our partners
Ghost River Rentals has been in operation since 2004. We began this venture by accompanying friends and family on guided river tours and supplying them with our extra canoes and kayaks. These trips have been on most sections of the Wolf River, the Hatchie River and the Mississippi River. Since then, we have had people from all over the world and walks of life use our services to get out on the Ghost River.
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Planning your trip can be difficult we’re here to help. Feel free to reach out.
- 16970 Hwy 57 Moscow, TN 38057
- [email protected]
Moscow travel guide
Moscow tourism | moscow guide, you're going to love moscow.
With 10,38 million inhabitants, Moscow is the most populous city in Russia. It is the most popular tourist destination in the country.
Activities & attractions in Moscow
When to visit Moscow
Looking for warm weather? Then head to Moscow in July, when the average temperature is 62.6 °F, and the highest can go up to 69.8 °F. The coldest month, on the other hand, is January, when it can get as cold as 12.2 °F, with an average temperature of 17.6 °F. You’re likely to see more rain in July, when precipitation is around 3.1″. In contrast, February is usually the driest month of the year in Moscow, with an average rainfall of 0.8″.
How to Get to Moscow
There are 4 airports serving Moscow. Moscow Vnukovo (VKO) is the closest to the city center (28 km). Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO) is located 28 km from downtown Moscow, while Moscow Zhukovsky (ZIA) is 40 km from the center. The shortest flight to Moscow from the United States departs from Boston and takes around 18h 15m.
Located 2.1 km from the city center, Moscow Paveletsky is the busiest station in Moscow. Another popular train station is Moscow Passazhirskaya, located 4 km from the center.
Another option to get to Moscow is to pick up a car rental from Vnukovo, which is about 26 km from Moscow. You’ll find branches of Budget and Rentmotors, among others, in Vnukovo.
The most popular bus station is Moscow Severnye Vorota, located 17 km from downtown Moscow. Moscow Fili is also a commonly used station, and is 6 km from the city center.
Airports near Moscow
Airlines serving moscow, where to stay in moscow.
There are also lots of vacation rental options in Moscow, with prices from $7 to $302 per night. South-Western Administrative is the neighborhood with the highest amount of rentals to choose from. On average, vacation rentals in Moscow are about 32% more expensive than a hotel room in the city.
Where to stay in popular areas of Moscow
Most booked hotels in moscow, renting a car in moscow.
Expect to pay $2.16 per gallon in Moscow (average price from the past 30 days). Depending on the size of your rental car, filling up the tank will cost between $25.89 and $34.52.