The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay – October 2020

It’s amazing what you can discover searching the internet. I can’t remember what I was looking for, but I stumbled across a discussion of kayaking on Mallows Bay in Maryland. The more I read, the more I was intrigued. There is a lot of history of the Liberty Ships, cargo ships that were mass produced for World War II. What I discovered was that between 1917 and 1919, during World War I more than 100 wooden steam ships were built for the U.S. Emergency Fleet. Their construction in forty shipyards and in seventeen states reflected the massive national wartime effort.

At the end of WWI, these ships, poorly constructed and now obsolete, had to be disposed of. Most of them were purchased by the Western Marine & Salvage Company and brought to Mallows Bay, off the Potomac River. Here they were stripped of their metal components, beached in Mallows Bay, and burned to the waterline. The burning occurred on November 7, 1925, and was the greatest destruction of ships at one time in U.S. history. During WWII, Bethlehem Steel Corporation dredged a salvage basin to recover the remaining metal components from the ships to support the war effort. After that was completed the ships were towed back into the bay.

In the 1960’s there was an attempt to remove the hulls in order to build a power generating station in the area. The House Committee on Government Operations identified that an aquatic habitat and ecosystem had been created by the hulls of these ships and declared their removal was unnecessary.

Charles County manages a day-use area at the site. The Ghost Fleet was designated as a National Treasure in 2017. The Chesapeake Bay Program and Charles County has published a guide that highlights sixteen of these wrecks for a self-guided tour.

The Accomac is the only steel-hulled vessel in Mallows Bay. It serviced the ferry route between Cape Charles and Norfolk until it suffered a fire and was taken out of service. It was scuttled in Mallows Bay in 1973.

The Benzonia was named after a Michigan town, served for a brief period during WWI and then sold to the Western Marine and Salvage Company.

The Three Sisters is a group of three wrecks: The Dertona, the “Heron Wreck,” and the Moosabee.  The Dertoona was briefly in the coasting trade. The “Heron Wreck” is named for the frequent sightings of great blue herons on and about the site. The Moosabee carried timber logs to Europe from 1919 until 1922.

The Flower Pot Wrecks are two unidentified U.S. Shipping Board WWI ships. Both wrecks are overgrown with vegetation and fire damage is evident.

The SS Boone was named by the wife of President Woodrow Wilson. The Boone was launched in 1918. Her career was brief and it was sold for scrap in 1922.

We kayaked around the Ghost Fleet on Monday morning, September 28th. After lunch we drove to Fort Washington. Constructed from 1814 to 1824, this was the first permanent fort constructed to defend the Potomac River and the Nation’s Capital. In addition to touring the fort, we were able to see the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the Washington Monument.

We spent Tuesday doing some shopping and maintenance. On Wednesday, we headed for Yorktown, VA and America’s Historic Triangle.

About Michigan Traveler

Bob and his wife, Pat, are fulltime RVers. They sold their home in Michigan in June, 2011 and now travel the country, living on the road. Home is Where You Park It!
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2 Responses to The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay – October 2020

  1. Dawn Cibor says:

    Greetings Pat & Bob! We just left Pohick Bay NOVA Park. Nice wooded campground in Lornton VA, kiddie corner to your Ghost Ship find. Interesting….I’m saving this for future reference as we frequent that area. Our daughter & family live in DC. Love seeing your posts, we tended to stay put near family during this pandemic. I must admit, I’m a bit envious. Thanks for sharing-Frank & Dawn (Michiganders camped next to you once upon a time in Wickham County Park, Melbourne, FL).

  2. Hey Dawn, I remember you guys. We’re still grateful you let us stash our bikes and kayaks with you. I hope you can visit the Ghost Fleet in the future. For a history buff like me, it was a great find!

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