Staten Island Ship Graveyard

Staten Island Ship Graveyard

It was early morning as we stood upon the bank of the river with Justin of Vacant New Jersey and Lerch, two long-time friends and travel companions. A flat pane of deep green greeted us, upon its surface reflected a flat expanse of grey which was the dismal sky above. Our destination still lay some miles away, out of sight for the time being beyond a bend in the river. The unexpected storm front we now faced brought with it a cold and unwelcome headwind, but we were here nonetheless, and had no intention of leaving. The Arthur Kill was colder than expected as walked our kayaks into the dark water.

Paddling was rough going. The winds pressed hard against the lightweight plastic kayaks, and for each paddle forward, half was lost as the wind and current worked in unison to push us back downstream. By the time we rounded the bend our hearts were hammering in our chests, and our arms were growing painfully fatigued. None of it mattered though, as it all faded away from thought when our destination came into view. Jagged forms protruded from the dark river, massive things silhouetted under the dreary sky. A river of wooden and metal corpses - The Staten Island Ship Graveyard.

We docked within the rotten and partially-submerged hull of an old ferry boat. Stepping aboard one's first impressions are surprisingly not of the boats themselves, but rather of how quiet it is out on the river. The graveyard is peaceful in its own peculiar way, alone with the lapping of water upon the motionless boats. A wasteland sandwiched between New Jersey and Staten Island, yet seemingly miles away from any of it. We found a maintenance stairwell in the center of the ferry and decide it would serve well to climb it to the roof in order to survey the area of river around us. Lerch headed in, ascending only to the first landing when a large piece of cast iron came tumbling down. Deafening clangs echoed out as the metal tumbled toward earth, burst through a wall steel, and plunged into the river below. The wayward chunk of metal turned out to be an entire stair, let lose with only the slightest touch. A deep guttural groan emanated forth from the sunken ferry. Our presence had clearly upset the rotten steel frame of the old vessel. Or perhaps it was a warning.

Undeterred, Lerch reached the roof. In all directions lay dead ships, some stood tall, simply run around in the muddy riverbed, while others were mostly submerged with only their tallest points breaking above the waterline. While we surveyed the landscape the winds began to wane, and the greyness of the skies began to fade. Quickly the summer sun was able to push through what remained, and the river surface glistened under its rays. It was then that we saw the true number of ships which lay around us. For every boat above water, several lie below - Ghostly shadows under the surface which only now became visible. They were everywhere, and in many places only inches below the water. We returned to our kayaks, mindful of the gauntlet which we were now navigating.

We paddled on around and through dozens of crooked hulls, constantly reminded by a light scraping along the kayak's underbelly that we were also passing over the top many more unseen. The Boat Graveyard has an otherworldly beauty, but there there is also a profound melancholy here - Each and every one of these ruined ships have had past lives, serving in countless roles, with nameless crews, across untold stretches of ocean. That was then, now they all share the same inglorious end. Stripped of their identities and forgotten, as they slowly sink into a murky nonexistence.

Yes, that is entirely bird dropping.


 Justin getting the best possible view.

 Lerch with head-cam, heading topside.

 A sunken ferry boat, the lone occupant of which was an osprey which had come to nest upon the highest tower.

Justin climbing yet again, luckily the osprey wasn't home.

 Bones from the osprey's many meals.