Ghost Fleet Flatwater Paddle, Picnic, and Shark Fossil Hunt on the Potomac River

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:

http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/noaatidepredictions/NOAATidesFacade.jsp?Stationid=8578984

 

 

 

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:

http://somdthisisliving.somd.com/archive/vol11num2/mallows-bay-ship-graveyard.html

 

The sordid story of the ghost fleet from a sordid publication:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/11/AR2010121102381.html

 

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:

http://www.fossilguy.com/sites/potomac/mallow.htm

 

Here are three videos of prior kayaking journeys therein:

http://www.youtube.com/user/CJZeissler?blend=12&ob=5#p/u/0/E910Xh7xMDw

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY5U3sHwcvA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCT6Mj0enN0&feature=related

 

 

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:

http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lat=38.46985291872566&lon=-77.26530075073242&site=lwx&unit=0&lg=en&FcstType=text

 

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:

http://www.dnr.state.md.us/boating/pdfs/BoatingAccessInformationCharles6.pdf

 

Here are two photos of our parking lot and kayak put-in:

http://files.meetup.com/1415650/mb%20boatramp.jpg

http://files.meetup.com/1415650/Parking%20Lot.jpg

 

 

 

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:

http://bookeo.com/atlantickayak

 

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

Join or login to comment.

  • Bob

    Folks - In the Files section, I have uploaded an interactive map of the ghost ships during low tide. It is called: The Ghost Ships

    August 22, 2012

  • Robert Nicholson

    A first for me, neve kayaked in the rain before, but enjoyed it still. I played stealthy, managed to stay out of every picture, there's something hard to do. Managed to keep at least seven kayakers, one canoeer and the shoreline in view during the rainstorm even with my rainsoaked hat covering my face. Thanks Bob for setting it up and keeping everyone safe.

    August 22, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Even the rain was an interesting experience. I have spent innumerable hours in boats on that river. Never before have I been in an open boat when the rain was coming down so hard that it roiled the entire surface of the river to white! It was tough going, but we all made it. Amazingly, I was not even sore the next day, or today.
    I truly appreciated the concern for everyone's safety and well being, right down to the last "sweeper" who was also as tired as the rest of us, but still did his job. Kudos and thanks to all who made this a successful day to remember for the fun and adventure!

    August 21, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Well organized, fun and helpful people, enjoyable companionship, fun activity, cool ships and fossils. I would like to do it again soon.

    August 21, 2012

  • Robert

    This was a great trip. Too bad the rain cut it short, but even the rain was a good experience. Found some fossils, the wrecks were impressive, the intensity of the rain was memorable, but the good group of friends was the best part. Just too short.

    August 20, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Nice and adventurous meet-up. although we didn't go as far as advertised, the heavy downpour of rain made it a day to remember! (I'm serious - I enjoyed that part.) Was concerned that we were spread out as the rain closed in, but that can be addressed on the next trip.

    August 20, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Great location, well organized outing, good people helping each other. Poured down rain on us all, and it was GREAT!

    August 20, 2012

  • Bob

    Folks - You should all be extremely proud of yourselves in the excellent way that you all paddled today. As I said before, paddling in such weather is one of the requirements in our advanced kayaking classes, and all did it in a first-rate manner. Not only did everyone control their boats, but all looked out for one another and worked as a team. And, you will know, the main reason that we left the "Wall of Fossils " when we did was because the rain could have loosened the trees and boulders over our heads! Godspeed to all.

    August 19, 2012

  • Cindy G

    From the eagle to the paddle through the torrential rain, quite the adventure! Brought home a bounty of shells and sharks teeth, which was also fun and unexpected. Thanks, again, Bob & SaraBeth, for a great kayaking activity!

    August 19, 2012

  • Bob

    You will remember that this was going to be a recreational and educational activity. As is true of all outdoor events, we are always at the mercy of the weather and the elements. If it is unsafe, we cancel; if it is inconvenient, then we go but allow each person the choice to attend. Now, as I sit here thinking back of all those shark teeth that we found, and wonder where the owners of those teeth are, I will say that the best part of the paddle was our ability to safely paddle as a group in the pouring rain. Believe it or not, that is one of the requirements of the advanced kayaking classes that we have, and being able to do it in a group setting when the water is warm with no thunderstorms in the area, that was a truly great skill and experience to have. Every single one of us did fantastic, no one capsized, and we continually looked out for one another. At the end, we made sure that everyone was helped with his or her boat and gear. It was a good day on the river.

    August 19, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Thanks, Bob for coordinating another great event! Although mother nature did not cooperate, the day turned out to be very educational in more ways than one. Not only for the historical value of the event but also how the unpredictability of nature brought out kayaking abilities that I thought that I never had.
    It was great to see how everyone bonded together as a team and assisted in the towing of Julia and Kiki. The girls were such troopers, so confident, calm and in control for being their second time kayaking.
    And finally, I totally enjoyed meeting everyone. We have such high caliber of people who join these activities. I thank the participants for sharing.

    August 19, 2012

  • Lisa

    Wendy your family was amazing and handled the situation beautifully. I uploaded some pictures of you all - hope you enjoy them.

    August 19, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    That was quite the adventure! So cool to finally paddle the wrecks, after wanting to for six years. Thank you!

    August 19, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Thanks to everyone for all the help. The kids have quite a story about kayaking in the storm. They say the help you all gave helped them to not panic. We are very grateful and they want me to tell you that they will see you on the ice cream trip!

    August 19, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Well weather channel this morning was right rain moved in by noon, but glad I went

    August 19, 2012

  • Valerie

    I am so sad I am not there. After reading the recent info, I only wanted to kayak...they were full,all rented ;-( I am so disappointed. I hope ya'll have a magnificent time!
    I've sure learned my lesson...Cheers

    August 19, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Hope you all have fun and the weather plays nice. Would love to do this and meet you all. Hopefully next time when not traveling so much. Enjoy and be safe.

    August 19, 2012

  • Valerie

    Unless someone can tell me i can rent a kayak tomorrow...i cant go. :-(
    I would meet you in old town kambiz...but I dont have a kayak now!!

    August 18, 2012

    • A former member
      A former member

      I have an open seat in my canoe...

      August 18, 2012

    • A former member
      A former member

      could meet up @ college park 495 & 95...

      August 18, 2012

  • Valerie

    I was going to bring my canoe,but am not. I tried to rent a kayak..It says FULL!!! So, unless i can go in someones tandem kayak or i will rent one and someone one can paddle with me!!!

    August 18, 2012

  • Bob

    Okay, folks. It is a three-hour dive there for me. I am leaving at 6 AM and, as the crow flies, I will be there at 9 AM. Drive safely, and I'll SYOTR.

    August 18, 2012

  • Valerie

    I need a ride..live in bethesda/rockville..will meet somewhere

    August 18, 2012

    • A former member
      A former member

      Hi Valerie, Bethesda is out of our way...we can meet in Alexandria Old Town by 8:45 sharp I have room in my car.

      August 18, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Nancy, I do have room. Do u know a good spot in Gburg where we can meet?

    August 18, 2012

    • A former member
      A former member

      thanks but it turns out to be two people two boats

      August 18, 2012

  • Bob

    During the day, based on the current prediction for our paddling location, it is going to be clear with no precipitation and a high of 85 degrees with a slight headwind. This is ideal summertime paddling weather. One could not ask for better kayaking weather. It could be said that the spirits of those who once lived in the ghost ships had a hand in such things.

    August 18, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    kambiz and I will be carpooling and meeting up somewhere around fair lakes if anyone is interested

    August 13, 2012

    • John C

      I would like a ride for me and my boat - 8' kayak. I live in McLean.

      August 18, 2012

    • A former member
      A former member

      Hi John, I have room for you but I have a passenger car and can not help you with your Kayak. Looks like Rob is your best bet.

      August 18, 2012

  • Bob

    Folks - We have people saying they need rides and then we have people saying they are offering rides. This is much like the telephone pole by my house that has a sign on one side that says "Lost Dog" and has a sign in the other side that says "Found Dog" and it is the same dog. You all need to communicate directly with one another.

    August 18, 2012

  • John C

    Can anyone give me and my 8' kayak a lift from McLean?

    August 18, 2012

  • Valerie

    Can anyone give me a lift from Bethesda,Rockville area?

    August 18, 2012

  • Bob

    Folks - We are good to go for this adventure. There is now solely a 10% - 20% chance of precipitation for this area during our adventure, starting at 5 PM and increasing from that time onwards. The wind speed prediction has also decreased to 4 MPH, and that is also good. If there are any changes, I will post them today before 9 PM. If anyone needs to reach me, I will be online until 9 PM today.

    August 18, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Too bad i hv to work. Could you plan this again later pls.

    August 18, 2012

  • Bob

    Those of you canoeing, canoes are fine but remember that this is an open water paddle with the caveat that we would hug the Maryland shore with the tide. If you are very proficient using a J-Stroke, you will be okay in a canoe, and you will not need to continually switch sides to compensate for the force of the elements. The headwinds are currently predicted at 7 MPH NE.

    August 17, 2012

    • A former member
      A former member

      Or canoe with double-blade paddle... :-)

      August 17, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Anybody want to carpool/riding down from Baltimore/Columbia area?

    August 17, 2012

  • Valerie

    Is this only kayaking? No canoes?

    August 16, 2012

    • A former member
      A former member

      I'm bringing my canoe, Old Town 16'. Room for one more...

      August 17, 2012

  • Bob

    Yes, I see that there is now a chance of showers on Sunday, as it went from 0% to 30%. And, yes, this has been the case for every weekend this summer. I will be updating the weather report up until Friday evening.

    August 16, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Tim, if you still have room, there are two paddlers and a boat heading from Frederick, can we ride with you?

    August 15, 2012

  • Bob

    The current weather prediction on Sunday for Nanjemoy, Maryland, is for a clear day with 85 degrees. There should be a SSW wind of 6 MPH. This report will be updated in time.

    August 15, 2012

    • A former member
      A former member

      Hey Bob, I'm not going to be able to make this weekend excursion. Have fun!

      August 15, 2012

    • Bob

      Okay, Kimberly. Thanks for the heads-up. Hopefully, we will see you at a a future outing.

      August 15, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Interested in carpooling from Woodbridge area or points north.

    August 15, 2012

  • Bob

    Sabrina - Here is what was written: "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." So, as the crow flies, the total time for the activity is approximately 6 hours with the total round-trip paddle being 6 miles. Of course, no one will be rushed on this trip, and folks can go on pictorial excursions to their heart's content.

    August 13, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Could someone please clarify if this is 6 miles round trip, plus 2 hours exploring for total time of about 6 hours, or is it 6 miles each way, plus 2 hours exploring for total of 12+ miles and 10 hour trip?

    August 13, 2012

  • Bob

    Working on carpool arrangements is good. Please make sure that you all read the activity information and that your planning is done this week.

    August 13, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    I'll be coming from the Manassas/Centreville area if anyone wants to carpool

    August 12, 2012

    • A former member
      A former member

      I live by Fair lakes shopping center--carpooling sounds great.

      August 12, 2012

  • martha

    just tried to get a kayak and they were full...my fault for waiting until today...

    August 11, 2012

  • Bob

    Folks - Please contact Judy at the outfitter's if you need a rental because they will be running out of boats on that date for river trips.

    July 29, 2012

  • Bob

    Yes, many of us used that launch the last time we did this trip last summer. My and Sarabeth's kayaks are too big for the launch, however, and we use the boat ramp so that we can back the trailer down the ramp.

    June 19, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    My husband and I did this paddle last summer. It's really neat! Highly recommend. The kayak launch is very easy to use, almost like a ramp on rollers.

    June 19, 2012

  • Bob

    This is a high-end paddle, and vastly different than our normal river trips. It is appropriate for beginners and enjoyable for experienced paddlers. Teens and adults are welcome. More information will be forthcoming in time.

    June 13, 2012

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