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One of my favorite “ear worms,” Gordon Lightfoot’s “Ghosts of Cape Horn” has a line “see them all in sad repair, demons dance everywhere … and none to tell the tales.” New York City’s waterways have ghosts of this sort as well.


This vessel lies in the mud not far from the Whitestone Bridge.


Can you make out the masts of a submerged lightship just north of the Erie Basin in Red Hook?


Not submerged but locked into the south side of the entrance to the Gowanus Canal is this ship. A stern view, listing Rio Lobos as registry port, is visible from the Brooklyn Queens Expressway .


The Kills have a wealth of ghost ships. Short of travelling through the Kills at low tide and seeing many like the above, you can see Noble’s fantastic drawings of ghost ships that have been claimed by the kills mud at Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island. It houses the fabulous Noble Maritime Collection, the drawings of John A. Noble.


Above is a waterway view of the white-black-gray stern of Wavertree, not really a ghost ship although it has moved mostly only vertically since coming to Manhattan in 1968 from … Argentina. Wavertree was dismasted off Cape Horn in 1910 and could have become one of the vessels of the Lightfoot song; instead she became an elegantly shaped warehouse and barge in southern South America until she came to New York, where she waits in a ship purgatory.

All photos by Will Van Dorp.

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December 2006