The largest derelict warship graveyard in Western Hemisphere waters is now a vibrant nature preserve that can be seen up close.
Seen from above, the ships of Mallows Bay, Charles County, Maryland, on the side of the Potomac River look like boat-shaped islands. Closer examination reveals that they are in fact huge navy freighters – most dating from the First World War. The wooden hulls peak above the waterline. Most are now filled with plants and osprey nests.
“Over time sand and silt fill the vessels and then wetlands are created there by birds and wind dropping seeds,” said Shellie Perrie, co-owner of Atlantic Kayak.
After World War I, a salvage company purchased more than 200 coal-powered wooden ships from the United States Navy that had become obsolete. The company took them up the Potomac River to salvage the metal, but when the depression hit, the salvage company went bankrupt and abandoned the fleet.
The largest and only steel-hulled vessel in Mallows Bay is the Accomac, which once served as a ferry between Cape Charles and Norfolk before being abandoned in 1973. The rusting hull of the Accomac now watches over the rest of the so-called Ghost Fleet.
Joe and Shellie Perrie run Atlantic Kayak, offering tours of the fleet and all it has to offer.
“There are 108 wooden freighters left from World War I, and we have ships from the Revolutionary War days,” Joe Perrie said.
Salvage companies would separate the metal from the wooden hulls by setting the ships on fire. Some charred remains are still visible.
“There’s so much nature in conjunction with the story,” Joe Perrie said.
“The park itself is 185 acres,” Mallows Bay assistant park superintendent Carl Sharp said. “We have four miles of trails. It’s spectacular.
The park is open all year round. Atlantic Kayak offers paddle excursions from May to October
Best to go at low tide when most ships are visible. The Chesapeake Conservancy also offers an online virtual tour.