Galveston, TX is kinda cool. There’s Moody Gardens, a couple nice coffee shops, fun painted turtle statues placed around historic downtown, and I suppose it’s a good place to visit if you’re interested in the history and dynamics of offshore drilling or international shipping. It’s neat, but it is certainly no New Orleans. However, every city has its especially interesting quirks and corners if you look close enough.
One such place is this unassuming hunk of rock and metal sitting about a mile off the shore of Pelican Island:
This is in fact an experimental WWI era concrete ship, the largest of the 24 approved for construction by former president Woodrow Wilson (and one of only 12 that were actually built) to test the viability of concrete as means to conserve on steel for ship production.
The Selma was launched on June 28, 1919, the same day the treaty of Versailles was signed with Germany ending WWI. With no war to take part in, the ship was turned into an oil tanker for the Gulf of Mexico.
Its service in the petrol industry only lasted less than a year when on May 31st, 1920, the Selma hit a jetty in Tampico, Mexico. The resulting 60 ft gash in the hull proved impossible to repair, so the ship was intentionally scuttled on the eastern shoreline of Pelican Island, where it lies today.
With only a couple days in Galveston, I decided to rent a kayak and go check it out.
The ship was about a mile off the shore, which was nice considering my lack of ocean kayaking experience.
Prior to my visit, I had heard some warnings about this place from a couple locals. See, large concrete structures require long metal sticks of rebar to be embedded within the material to be stable and not fall apart. The Selma was no exception, and an entire century of hurricanes and salt water have eaten away at the ship exposing cavernous death traps filled with giant spikes of rebar rusted into sharp, pointy pikes of pure tetanus.
While a little bit sketch, this really is quite a cool location. Since the 1922 scuttling, the ship has been subject to failed plans to convert it into a fishing pier, pleasure resort, and oyster farm. Allegedly, the Selma was even used as a disposal location for bootleg liquor during prohibition.
The lower levels were unfortunately inaccessible without proper gear or serious injury. However, some holes allowed for alright viewing of these hidden areas.
If you are going to visit the Selma, wear sturdy shoes and watch your feet very carefully. It’s a wonderful explore with an interesting history, and it’s not going to be around much longer. Also note that boarding the ship in anything but a kayak or canoe seems like it would be excessively difficult in my opinion. Watch for holes and do not get stabbed by rusty rebar.