This will be an educational and recreational adventure on the tidal Potomac River. It will be a flatwater paddle. You must reserve your boats ahead of time with Atlantic Kayak if you do not have your own vessel.
We did this paddle last year, and it was a fantastic voyage of adventure and discovery; here is where it begins
Head down the Potomac River, 30 miles south of Washington, D.C., and go in Charles County in Maryland, and enter Mallows Bay with your kayak. Press forward through the shallow waters of the little embayment, surrounded by tall, forested bluffs. As your boat glides slowly ahead, the silence may be interrupted only by a great heron fleeing before you. You are now entering a ghostly, little-known region populated only by ancient, hoary relics of generations past. For here lay the remains of myriad shipwrecks disguised by a thick green blanket of vegetation and lying about in utter profusion. What are these giant, decaying behemoths? How did they come to slumber in this remote and beautiful Potomac backwater?
Heading around and over the strange ghost ships.
During World War I, Congress embarked on an ambitious ship-building program to help put the nation on a war footing. As part of this effort, it authorized the construction of several hundred wooden hulled transport ships. However, political infighting, excessive bureaucratic red tape, and various technical problems delayed construction of the ships, so that when the war ended, not a single one of the wooden boats had set sail across the Atlantic. When world trade contracted after the war, the ships were rendered useless. After lying idle for decades, they eventually were abandoned in little known Mallows Bay, a shallow out of the way bay on the tidal Potomac River. This area was covered with warm shallow water which made it a suitable habitat for sand tiger sharks, mackerel sharks, Turritella (snails) and Eagle Rays more specifically Cownose Rays which all lived during this early time period.
Someone must be heading the right way
A present-day Normandy invasion as the boats make landing on the beach
The story of the ghost fleet began on April 2, 1917, the day President Woodrow Wilson issued a national call to arms against imperial Germany. Europe had been at war for more than two and a half years, and America's new allies were reeling from the devastating onslaught of Germany's campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare. Now the nation would be obliged to move everything required for waging war (men, arms and supplies of all sorts) across the submarine-infested Atlantic. The logistics were intimidating. Between 1899 and 1915 the shipyards of America had launched only 540,000 tons of bluewater shipping; now, to maintain an army in Europe and counter the losses imposed by the submarine offensive, the nation would have to build 6 million tons in 18 months. To do so would require the greatest shipbuilding program in history.
Of 285 wooden steamships built by 1920, at least 152 ended up in Mallows Bay within nine years. Today, the remains of at least 30 percent of the entire wooden steamship fleet still lie in the embayment, surrounded by derelict vessels of all kinds dating from the late 18th century through the 1980s.
The tide is rising and some of the ships begin to disappear
The consolidation of such a great population of wrecks within so small an area could not fail to affect the local environment. The shipwrecks of Mallows Bay have created a synthetic environment that, in its slow but certain evolution, has held and enriched the sediments. This environment seemingly counteracts the pollution of the Potomac's water, filtering it and providing habitat and food to a wide range of life forms. In the process, each vessel has become a mini-ecosystem. Just as it was once the last refuge of the Potomac snowy egret and the site of Maryland's last sturgeon fishery, so Mallows Bay has again blossomed with biodiversity. In many ways it is like a giant artificial reef to which the creatures of the sea and air flock to flourish, reclaiming this stretch of the river once and for all from the trauma of the industrial age.
Thus sleeps the largest shipwreck fleet in the Western Hemisphere, and possibly the world.
And we will kayak amongst them. It is a combination of being on the set of "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Terminator Salvation."
This boat still had an old kitchen and the bedrooms visible on it.
Mallows Bay, where we put in, is home to more than 150 abandoned ships, making it one of the largest ship’s graveyards in the world. Over time, the forgotten ships have mostly rotted away, but a few ships still poke above the waterline. Satellite pictures of the area show the outlines of dozens of ship hulls below the waterline. The ships now provide habitat for fish and birds, and make an excellent place to spend time exploring by kayak. In fact, the only was to get around all the boat carcasses is by kayak or canoe as some large boats are only inches beneath the water.
Preparation is always an important part of the activity, and we make sure that all have enough drinking water
The paddle from Mallows Bay to Wades Bay should be about 6 miles and last 4 hours. After that add 2 hours for the exploring of the Ghost Ships and having lunch. You will need a kayak, a paddle, and a PFD. Bring food and plenty of water for a meal along the river. Bring a collapsible container for your food and water with rope. Please be advised that the time for this activity is 10 AM, so you are advised to get there a little earlier to obtain a parking space and get your gear ready.
Paddlers should bring their boats and gear and equipment and food and water to the boat ramp, and load everything on their boats for the paddle. No alcohol is allowed on the river, and paddlers must wear their PFDs while on the river.
During the low tide, we can beach our boats and look for fossils and relics
The shores of the sandy beach make an excellent launching place in addition to a great place to explore for fossils. We will head downriver from Mallows Bay to Wades Bay, and see how many shark teeth we can find (without the rest of the shark). The morning and evening high tide will reduce the beach area, so timing is important. Mallows Bay is very easily identified once you get near where the ships are by the presence of a giant iron shipwreck, an abandoned old ferry called the Accomac. The Accomac is the ship with the kayakers in it on the photo below. By the way, for referential purposes, it is exactly 3 miles across the Potomac River from our boat ramp in Maryland to Quantico on the Virginia shore, and the water on that stretch can be very choppy even if it is calm by the shores. We are not planning to venture out on open water.
Note that we have to be out of the boat launch area and parking lot at night. Teens are welcome to this event.
The event will only take place if there is safe weather and proper water conditions, as paddler safety is always our prime concern. Accordingly, all attendees will be notified the evening before NLT 9 PM of any changes in our plans. A profile photo is needed for identification purposes for this activity, and the automatically-generated question that is a part of the RSVP needs to be answered as well.
No alcohol, no smoking, and PFDs must be worn at all times. We keep our trips safe, because your own safety is of paramount importance. This trip is appropriate for first-timers as well as for experienced paddlers, as we will stay close to the shore in a shallow area during the entire paddle.
Sunday, August 19, 2012:
Sunrise: 6:28 AM
Sunset: 7:57 AM
Tides for our location (Liverpool Point):
2:35 AM EDT Low Tide 0.2 feet
9:04 AM EDT High Tide 1.5 feet
2:54 PM EDT Low Tide 0.1 feet
9:27 PM EDT High Tide 1.5 feet
Liverpool Point Tide Readings:
Here are our paddlers, on the way to the fossil hunt
There is no park fee and no launch fee (it is in Maryland). SYOTR.
The boy who fell in love with the ghost ships:
The sordid story of the ghost fleet from a sordid publication:
Here is a previous paddler's photo journey to the Ghost Fleet, he is known as the Fossil Guy but his real name is Jayson Kowinsky:
Here are three videos of prior kayaking journeys therein:
At the beach, where we take our lunch break and look for shark teeth, one can chew or one can chat
Here is the real-time weather report updated with each Doppler sweep:
When we get to the beach, we will have our lunch - Hey, what happened to the Twinkies I had in here?
Information on the boat ramp:
Here are two photos of our parking lot and kayak put-in:
The first time paddlers see the fossils is always a special moment
Either bring your own boat or rent one.
We are using Atlantic Kayak for our rentals:
To rent a single or tandem kayak, go to this link at Atlantic Kayak and then go to Private Event:
They will have the boats at the boat ramp at 9 AM. We have to be back at the boat ramp by 6 PM. They are charging us $55 for a single and $70 for a tandem plus 6% state tax. Contact Judy at Atlantic Kayak directly and reserve the boat by credit card. Use the online payment link above.
Here are two pictorial maps of Mallows Bay for our paddle:
Mallows Bay Topographic (Oceanographic)
Mallows Bay Overhead (Satellite)
And here is an article that shows what type of fish one can fin in the Potomac River:
Potomac River Jaws
Send more tourists - the last ones tasted great!
One wonders what happened to the men who were on this ship that is now below my kayak
This imposing vessel will be right in front of us
Once, long ago, cars entered this ferry ship to be transported across the waters