Kayaking the Ghost Fleet

 

The Accomack Ferry in Mallows Bay

The Accomack Ferry in Mallows Bay

Earlier this summer, some friends and I went kayaking around the Potomac River Ghost fleet.  It was such an interesting paddle – snippets of history and local culture, as well as great wildlife viewing.  A bit of a drive from Loudoun, but well worth the trip.

The Ghost Fleet consists of a number of long-abandoned World War I wooden steamships that had been commissioned as transport vessels to aid the war effort.  By the time the ships were constructed, the war was already over.  Evidently the ships weren’t built very well to start out with, and quickly became obsolete, so Congress sold these boats to a salvage company who eventually abandoned the ships at Mallows Bay. During the Prohibition era, these abandoned vessels harbored illicit stills and became a local  hot spot.

Several of the boats have been burned, and others have rotted, but many of the boat hulls are still viewable out on the water. When out in the kayak, we were able to get a up-close view of how these ships were put-together.

 

Portion of the hull of one of the Ghost Fleet vessels.

Portion of the hull of one of the Ghost Fleet vessels.

 

The mostly submerged hull of a Ghost Fleet vessel.  Large nails clearly delineate the outline of the boat in the water.

The mostly submerged hull of a Ghost Fleet vessel. Large nails clearly delineate the outline of the boat in the water.

 

 

Osprey Nest constructed on one of the Ghost Fleet Vessels.

Osprey Nest constructed on one of the Ghost Fleet Vessels.

 

We also had great wildlife viewing while paddling around Mallows Bay.  We saw herons, osprey, and even an eagle!

Great Blue Heron fishing off the submerged hull of a Ghost Fleet vessel.

Great Blue Heron fishing off the submerged hull of a Ghost Fleet vessel.

 

Logistics:  We launched from the rolling kayak launch at Mallows Bay Park, which is about a 1.5 hour drive from Ashburn.  The park had relatively clean port-o-potties, but another option would be to stop at one of the fast food restaurants at Indian Head, MD – about 10 miles before you get to the park.

I recommend launching close to low tide, in order to get the best view of submerged ships. Quantico Creek would be the best tide guage for checking tide levels.

If you have your own boat, it’s a very short and easy paddle from the Mallows Bay Park out to see the Fleet.  Just be careful not to scrape up against submerged nails from the ship hulls.  Also, Up the Creek Rentals rents kayaks and and will do tours of the site. They’re an off-site shop, so you have to make arrangements ahead of time, but it’s well worth it.  Their tour was fun and informative. Even though I had my own boat, it was worth the $20 tour guide fee (in addition to boat rental fee for my friends who had to rent) in order to hear the guide’s local stories of the Bay.

 

Additional Information about the Mallows Bay Ghost Fleet:

Don Shomette’s article with the Maryland DNR provides a fairly comprehensive history of the Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay.

Fossilguy has some great photos from his trip out to the Mallows Bay.

John Kelley’s Washington Post column includes some of the more ‘colorful’ history of the site.

Paddling alongside the Accomak Ferry.

Paddling alongside the Accomak Ferry.

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