Mallows Bay, Potomac River, Charles County, Maryland
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.
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.
Sea Kayaking Maryland's Chesapeake Bay: Day Trips on the Tidal Tributaries and Coastlines of the Western and Eastern Shore
This is a great reference book for paddling the Chesapeake bay area. It has great trip ideas and suggestions. I highly recommend it for anyone paddling in the Maryland/Virginia area.
Kayak Trip to Mallows Bay - The History of the Ghost Fleet
After paddling our wobbly 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The remaining ships that dot the bay are now wooden islands, full of vegetation.
These wooden islands 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.
Hull identification is based on Shomette (1996).
Additional Images of Mallows Bay Ghost Fleet:
This picture shows how difficult it is to navigate through the Mallows Bay Ghost Fleet. Almost everywhere one looks,
debris is just inches below the water.
Debris are poking out of the water. Many of them are large rusty spikes.
The ship in the middle is perched atop another ship below the surface.
This gives one an idea of the size of the WWI transport ships . Our kayak, parked inside this ship, is 16 feet long.
Looking down the bow of a ghost ship.
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
Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay and Other Tales of the Lost Chesapeake
By Donald G. Shomette, 1996
Shomette is an underwater archaeologist and author who created the most detailed look at the Mallows Bay Ghost Fleet. His fascinating book gives a history of the Potomac river from 1776 until today. As well as the Ghost Fleet, Shomette explores a sunken steam ship in the Chesapeake bay, and describes the archeology of Kent Island, the first European settlement in Maryland. This book is a must for anyone interested in the Mallows Bay Ghost fleet!
30+ Kayaking Tours Within One Hour of Washington, D.C.
By Steve Smolinski, 2013
Calling all Kayakers! This outstanding book is full of short to medium-lenght paddles around the D.C. area. Waterways include the Potomac, Patuxent, Anacostia rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and many small tributaries. As well as describing the paddles, the author concentrates on when to go based on the tides and seasons. As well as giving you places you can put your boat in the water, he also delves into the wildlife and history of the areas.