Kayaker Stumbles Across A 110-Year-Old Ghost Ship On The Ohio River

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Just downstream from Cincinnati, on a small tributary of the Ohio River is the final resting place of a magnificent ship. Many northern Kentucky residents are aware of the presence of the rusting boat, but visitors are always amazed when they see it, whether visiting by land or by kayak.


This boat was born in 1902 as “The Celt,” a luxury yacht for railroad executive J Rogers Maxwell. When the United States entered WWI, however, the US government conscripted the boat into her Navy and it was dubbed the USS Sachem. Nimble private ships like this one were used by the Navy to help discover and destroy enemy U-boats. The Sachem served as a coastal patrol vessel.

After being returned to its owner and later serving a stint as a fishing ship, the boat was called into service again during WWII. At 40 years old, the ship was then commissioned as the USS Phenakite. Again, it would serve as a coastal patrol vessel and also assisted in the testing of sonar.

Ronny Salerno

Ronny Salerno knew a little bit about the history of this storied ship before he visited (with the help of GPS coordinates), but he was surprised by the emotions the strand ship stirred up. He was unable to enter the boat because he was visiting the ship by land and wasn’t interested in getting in the chilly river water during the winter visit, but he still got a good sense of what they ship must have been like in its glory days. When he got back to a computer, Salerno wrote:

“There, right before us, in the quiet woods sat an 186-foot long ship. The water flowing in from the river smacked up beside it as it sat partially submerged and listing to one side. The engine is long gone and silent, any ornamentation is now absent and the faded letters of its Circle Line V title could still be seen on the hull.”

Ronny Salerno

A few years after the second Great War, the ship was sold and renamed, briefly, Sightseer, for an unknown reason. Eventually, the owners renamed it Circle Line V, showing tourists the sites from the waters around New York City for 30-some years.

The Circle Line V stopped its sightseeing travels in 1983, but the boat received a pair of curtain calls before sailing off into retirement. Shortly after Robert Miller bought the historic boat for just $7,500, Madonna asked to use the vessel in her “Papa Don’t Preach” video, which Miller obliged.

Ronny Salerno

Miller would also throw a party aboard the Circle Line V to celebrate the relighting of the Statue of Liberty in 1986.

Shortly thereafter, Miller would tow the ship along the Erie canal, through the Great Lakes, along the Illinois Waterway, down the Mississippi, and up the Ohio River in what would be an epic journey to her final resting place in Northern Kentucky.

Ronny Salerno

“After countless passengers, two World Wars and ferrying millions of tourists on sightseeing jaunts, the ship itself has become a sight to behold,” wrote Salerno. “It in itself is a ruin of the past, a symbol of history in a condition that doesn’t seem fit for the story behind it. After everything the Celt/Sachem/Phenakite/Sightseer/Circle Line V saw in its day, it’s now something for us to see, to marvel at. A ruin of the past hidden in a creek.”

A group of kayakers visited the Circle Line V in 2012 and shot a video of the rusting ship and its overgrown deck. Take a look and think about all of the adventures this ship has seen.

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