MD - Mallows Bay - 2009/10/02 - 20.5 miles



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Pulled up into a shallow bay off the Potomac River, an abandoned fleet of wooden World War I steamers lies rotting in the mud. With 20 tons of iron bolts above and below the water, the three hundred foot wrecks make for an interesting and very careful paddle.







I was staying at Smallwood State park after a nice paddle on the Mattawoman River. Ten miles down the Potomac from the park is a shallow bay where hundred's of old World War I era wooden steam ships were pulled into the mud for salvage. Like the project that built the ships in the first place, the salvage process turned out to be uneconomical and botched as only government procurement projects can be. I wanted to see what was left of the old ships.



Unlike the bright sunny day prior day, this day was overcast and a little sullen. The waters of Mattawoman Creek were calm as I left the ramp at Sweden Point Marina, a facility that is part of the Smallwood State park. All was quiet out on the Potomac too as I paddled out of Mattawoman and headed south along the shore. After about seven miles of paddling I found a nice sand beach for a break and stretch of the legs along the sandy pebbled shore. The usual assortment of plastic bottles and a heavy selection of smooth driftwood littered the high tide line.



Past the beach was a little opening with a current spilling out past a bar across the opening. I headed up into the little cfeek which imediately starting snaking back and forth across a marsh. The waterway was choked with heavy SAV and progess upstream ws very difficult. Soon the way was blocked by a solid front of American lotus. I turned around and battled back through the heavy grass mat to catch the current leaving the twisting waterway. On the way out a muskrat swam upstream and crossed just under my bow. Seemed to show no fear at all of my presence. Out on the river again I turned south and paddled the final three miles to the ghost ships. The first thing that impresses one is how really big these old vessels are. At three hundred feet they are monumental. Each one was constructed from timber resawn to a template and then assembled with 20 tons of iron bolts in each ship. It was the iron in the bolts that was the object of desire for the salvage. The plan was to burn the boats and then sweep up the bolts. But strangely enough the boats only burned to the waterline of low tide ( who would have ever thought that! ) and many of the bolts sunk into the soft mud (Duh!). Now hundreds of thousands of big iron bolts stick up both above and below the water. Plan to come here at low tide as there is not much to see otherwise. The bolts only stick out at low tide and navigating when the bolts are all underwater will be dangerous to your hull.



There are a couple of younger iron ships also in the bay plus a couple of older log canoes and a revolutionary war vessel as well. Only the former were easy to locate, being large rusting hulks on the outside of the ship pile.



One ship has shifted and now lies on top of another, exposing the beams and bolts that lie below the surface on the other ships. You can see the massive timbers that were once accoumpanied by up to 1.5 million board feet of lumber in each ship. I didn't notice that you can land on the low side of the ship and get a reallly good feel for the size and construction of the vessel from the inside. Be careful as the wreck is falling apart.
The wind picked up as I headed back up the river giving me a strong assist at the end of the twenty mile paddle.



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