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May 6

Society Adventures with the Ghost Fleet

Suison Bay Ghost Fleet Obscura Society

This last Saturday we kicked off a new series of adventures with an expedition to the Ghost Fleet of Suison Bay, California.

Following a quick but very specific safety lecture, we packed onto our boat and headed out onto the bay, accompanied by the fantastic narration by the Historic Ships Memorial organization.

Approaching the Ghost Fleet - Obscura Society

Officially known as the National Defense Reserve Fleet, the boats in the bay were originally part of an extensive post WWII mothball fleet, awaiting reactivation for military or civilian purposes. Unused and all but forgotten over time, the ships slowly deteriorated, first becoming an eyesore for locals, then an environmental threat for the whole area as the fleet began to leak fuel and shed old paint.

Over the last several years efforts have been underway to clean up the fleet, and send the worst ships off to the scrapheap. As of this year, the process has begun and several boats have already gone to be transformed into razor blades and new cars.

USS Iowa http://atlasobscura.com/place/suisun-bay-ghost-fleet

The pearl of the collection is the USS Iowa, a legendary 880 foot long WWII Super Battleship. The four monstrous Super Battleships were designed to be floating war machines and protectors of the Pacific Fleet. The Iowa acted as the presidential shuttle to the epic meeting of Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill at Tehran, was nearly sunk by friendly fire, saw deadly action in the Philippines, and was witness to the Japanese surrender at Sagami Bay.

Today the Iowa sits abandoned, waiting to be turned into a museum ship.

WWII Veteran George Hillendbrand - Obscura Society

The Historic Ships Memorial organization is fighting to have the Iowa placed at the historic Mare Island Shipyard where it can be restored and serve as a tribute to the men who served in WWII and a looming grey reminder of the realities of war.

As we sat off the side of the ship, WWII veteran George Hillendbrand told us about his memories of the Iowa, and details of some of her lesser known features, like the bathtub installed specially for President Roosevelt.

Ghost Fleet Revealed - Obscura Society

We were thrilled to be joined by urban explorers and photographers Scott Haefner and Stephen Freskos, currently causing waves with their photos and stories of smuggling themselves aboard the fleet for overnight photo missions.

Over the course of several months, Scott, Stephen, and a third friend took to the waters in an inflatable raft and climbed aboard the aging ships. One row at a time, they explored by moon and flashlight, often camping out overnight in old officer’s lounges. More than once, they were nearly caught, but managed to ultimately slip through detection unscathed.

Scott Haefner -  - Obscura Society

After our boat adventure we stuck around for drinks and stories of lost oars, near misses from patrol boats, and exactly what happens when you trigger possible motion sensors aboard an old battleship.

THANK YOU to everyone who came out and made this such a terrific day! More adventures to follow.

If you would like to be notified about upcoming adventures near you, please send us an email to [email protected] and be sure to include your adventure city of choice.

Further Reading and Beautiful Pictures:

The Ghost Fleet on Atlas Obscura

The Historic Ships Memorial & the efforts to save the USS Iowa

Aboard the Ghost Fleet: SF Bay Guardian | Scott Haefner | Stephen Freskos

New Obscura Society Flickr Set

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The Obscura Society is the real-world exploration arm of Atlas Obscura We seek out secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities for our community to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us. Join us on our next adventure!

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Society Adventures are field reports from our favorite Obscura Society explorations - see them all here>