A Drone’s Eye View of the Arthur Kill Ship Graveyard at New York
The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay
By Cap’n Larry Jarboe
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
Did you know that the largest concentration of sunken ships in the Western Hemisphere lies in the Potomac River just offshore of Charles County?
Over two hundred ships, mostly archaic wooden steamships from the WWI era were scuttled and scrapped inside the shallow bay at Mallows Cove near Nanjemoy, Maryland, which also exists in another place and time.
Most of these ships originated as a grand government plan that turned into another boondoggle. To counter the devastation that the German U-boats were inflicting upon Allied shipping in World War I, the War Department per recommendation of the U.S. Shipping Board contracted the construction of a monthly allotment of 200,000 tons of wooden steamships. Even in 1917, wooden steamboats were a thing of the past, but they were easier to build than steel ships and wood was in plentiful supply.
When the war ended on November 11, 1919, not a single wooden steamship contracted by the Shipping Board had motored into a European port. By 1922, the Emergency Fleet Corporation offered all 226 for sale as one unit. The greatest portion of the fleet was sold for a total of three-quarter million dollars which was about a half percent of the original cost.
The initial scrapping operation at the shipyard in Alexandria turned sour when the first two nearly 300 foot long vessels to be scrapped caught fire and delayed work at the shipyard for four months.
Ultimately, the “wooden navy” ended up in the desolate shallow Mallows Cove far up the Potomac on the Maryland side. There the Widewater Marine and Salvage Company of Alexandria, Virginia set up a massive scrapping operation across from the Quantico U.S. Marine Base much to the chagrin of our local Maryland fishermen.
Then, the Depression hit. Scrap metal prices plummeted. WM&SC went belly up and local scrappers took up residence at Mallows Bay eking out a living by pulling metal from the timbers of those derelict steamers.
Today, many of these ships and other vessels as well lie on the shallow Potomac bottom. Dozens of hulls protrude above the water. Low tide at Mallows Bay provides an eerie view of the past as ship ribs, and iron spikes jut above the surface of the Potomac River.
Now, these wrecks provide habitat for fish and are also becoming the foundation for strangely shaped islands as trapped silt becomes soil for trees to take root in.
In 2010, Charles County Government and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources built a beautiful boat ramp and separate canoe/kayak launch where a large maritime scrap yard once operated. Fishermen can catch a wide variety of fresh and saltwater fish from the surrounding waters. Largemouth Bass, Bluegill, Channel and Blue Catfish, White and Yellow Perch, Norfolk Spot, Crappie, Striped Bass, and Northern Snakeheads may be caught in the shallow bay and quiet cove adjacent to the shore. Bald Eagles, Blue Herons, ospreys, ducks, and many other birds may be observed in the air and on the water.
The Mallows Bay Public Launch is twenty miles west of LaPlata, Maryland. From Rt. 301 take Route 6 West and turn right on Rt. 344. In a couple miles, turn left on Rt. 224. Four miles later, turn right on Wilson Landing Road. Better yet, check it out on MapQuest.
Mallows Bay Park is one of the most unique places to visit in all of Southern Maryland. The gates open at 5:30 AM and close at dusk. There is no fee to come in to sightsee, fish, or launch your boat.
Larry Jarboe – firstname.lastname@example.org
See more of Cap’n Larry’s Kayak – perfect for keeping you out of the water while you fish!
This well-done drone view was filmed by Daniel Stockton.