Tag Archives: james river reserve fleet

Windowpane Wednesday: To The Scrapyard

Today’s Windowpane Wednesday is a bit lengthier than usual, with (hopefully) some interesting facts about an area near us.

Last Thursday, Motor Man came home for lunch and announced: “Do I have a Windowpane Wednesday photo op for you?!”

So I grabbed the camera and ran to the window. Not the best picture, but we could tell it was something different than the usual river traffic we’re accustomed to seeing.

Motor Man correctly assumed that this was one of the ships from the nearby James River Reserve Fleet, also known as the Idle Fleet/Steel Fleet/Mothball Fleet/Ghost Fleet. Yes, it has many names. My mom and her family always referred to it as the Steel Fleet.

I found this description of the Idle Fleet on a site called Abandoned Country: “Known as the National Defense Reserve Fleet, these merchant and naval vessels are a floating insurance policy, called on in times of crises ranging from conflict such as the Persian Gulf War, to natural disaster, as with Hurricane Harvey in 2017.”

At one time, there were 500 ships in the Idle Fleet, now there are just a handful. Most of them have been sent to scrapyards.

And that was the destination for the ship that we saw last week.  We drove the few miles across the James River to a nearby park for a closer look.

But we knew our best vantage point would be from atop the James River Bridge during the upcoming lift necessary for the ship to pass under the bridge. Although I’ve never known anyone to intentionally get caught in a bridge lift, that’s just what we did.

Three tugs were escorting the ship.

Once I downloaded my pictures, I was able to zoom in and discover the name: The Cape Alava.

And then it was time for some research. Wikimapia shows that she was built in 1962, as the SS African Comet. She was a cargo ship for many years, and was later “used in  support of US Forces and in exercises with the US Navy. Her last deployment came during the First Gulf War, when she and several of her sisters were activated to transport stores to and from the Persian Gulf in support of coalition forces.”

I grew up within a few miles of the Idle Fleet, and one of our relatives owned riverfront property overlooking the fleet. This picture is of two of my nieces and a nephew, and was taken in 1969.

Obviously the Cape Alava wasn’t one of those in the background. At that time, she was still an active cargo ship.

And that concludes today’s history lesson.

~These Days Of Mine~