Follow the Potomac River about forty miles south of the District and you’ll find more than 200 decrepit, wooden ships lurking around a bend.
The waters of an inlet called Mallows Bay hold one of the area’s most otherworldly scenes. Most of the vessels have been swaying in spot since just after World War I, slowly sprouting greenery from their decks and converging with the surroundings. Last month, President Barack Obama proposed making Mallows Bay and an 875-square mile portion of Lake Michigan the first new national marine sanctuaries in 15 years.
The 14-square mile area is home to the largest “ghost fleet” in the country—the product of a misguided attempt during WWI to build a string of inexpensive vessels and send them out across the Atlantic faster than German U-boats could sink them. And as ship graveyards go, other wrecks have also been dropped off at the site—some dating as far back as the Revolutionary War era.
Now you don’t have to hop in a kayak to see them. The Chesapeake Conservancy has released a virtual tour that allows you to explore as though you were casually paddling around in the middle of a bright afternoon.
The Conservancy partnered with Terrain360 to make the map, using a boat outfitted with six cameras to take 360-degree images every 50 feet. They also annotated several of the vessels—many of which are so overgrown with vegetation that you can barely make out the ship shape – with historical information.
“We hope that the virtual tour will inspire more people to come and see Mallows Bay first hand,” Chesapeake Conservancy President and CEO Joel Dunn said in a release.
Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is in the midst of reviewing the case to make it the Chesapeake’s first national marine Sanctuary.