Life on a Lightship: Routines and Rough Spots

Lights THE WAY: The lightship Aid, noticed from another boat back again in the working day, was decommissioned by the Coastline Guard in 1975. (Courtesy of Barnegat Light Museum)
Taking into consideration that lightships and the seamen who served on them are a detail of the past, I am trying to protect some of the memories I continue to have, at age 83, of daily life aboard what essentially was a floating lighthouse. The very last U.S. lightship was decommissioned in 1985. These vessels were being changed by extra technologically highly developed lighthouses and large navigational buoys.
I noted for responsibility on the lightship Relief in Could 1956 at the age of 17. Tied up at the Coastline Guard Receiving Heart in Cape May, it before long remaining for just one of the a few stations that it coated when a long-lasting lightship went off-station for periodic servicing. Those people stations were being Overfalls at the mouth of Delaware Bay, 5 Fathom off Stone Harbor and this area’s Barnegat off Barnegat Light-weight.
We crewmen put in two weeks aboard and one particular week ashore, the latter currently being known as compensatory liberty. To attain this schedule, a boat from the closest base or lifeboat station would occur out to the ship just about every 7 days, bringing the liberty crew back and having the up coming liberty crew ashore. That boat, something from a 40- or 83-footer to a 180-foot buoy tender, also brought mail and groceries. This process meant that out of a crew of about 15 guys, there ended up nine or 10 aboard at any 1 time. This crew consisted of just one officer in demand, a main or initially class engineman, a chief or first class boatswain’s mate, a prepare dinner, three men to stand motor place observe and 3 adult males to stand deck enjoy. I was one particular of that very last team.
When not on watch, the deck crew “turned to” on servicing chores: chipping rust, painting and scrubbing. It didn’t appear to subject how several scrapers and chipping hammers we threw overboard, the boatswain’s mate often experienced extra. We also repaired canvas boat covers with sail needle and waxed twine, sewed new boat addresses and wrapped rails and ladder rungs with a tarred twine called “small things,” using an ingenious instrument known as a serving mallet.
HISTORIC SIGHT: The lightship Overfalls is preserved as a museum ship in Lewes, Del. (Photograph by Richard Hook)
Our time was also occupied with many drills, which include the “emergency steering” drill. Even the principal steering was quite standard – cables from the wheelhouse to the rudder, no steering motor. If a cable should really break, we would then hook up the unexpected emergency steering tools. It was a instead primitive method with ropes and pulleys that was the most effective they had in 1912, when the ship was created. We would also perform lifeboat drills working with just one of the two boats saved on deck, the motor whaleboat (26 ft lengthy, I assume). This is how I found that you really do not in fact “lower the lifeboat.” You fall it into the drinking water from a top degree with the deck, giving the men in the boat a fairly superior jolt.
At the prime of the ahead mast was the “main mild beacon” surrounded by a crow’s nest. One memorable knowledge transpired when the bulb burned out for the duration of a wild storm and I was volunteered to switch it. I remember climbing up the ladder attached to the mast when the ship was rolling from aspect to aspect in seriously large swells. At occasions it felt like I was crawling together a floor, then swung upright, and then hung from a ceiling. When in the crow’s nest, it was necessary to cling on with a person hand, remove the bolts holding a portion of the lens with the other, change the bulb, and reassemble the lens. It is nonetheless a vivid memory soon after 65 a long time.
Deck view was mostly put in in the radio room, a little compartment aft of and on a slightly decrease level than the wheelhouse. The watches had been six hrs extensive. On the midnight to 6 a.m. view, it was hard to continue to be awake. Once just about every working day, we decreased a brass machine that looked like a 2-foot-very long torpedo to the sea bottom on a wire cable. When it was reeled up, it contained a bottom drinking water sample and a smoked glass slide, which showed the variation in water temperature from surface to base. Each individual 7 days the slide and water sample have been despatched to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Establishment in Massachusetts.
RELIVING Record: The creator poses on the Overfalls’ main deck in entrance of the pilot dwelling in a pay a visit to some eight yrs in the past. (Photo courtesy of Richard Hook)
A single of the functions of a lightship was to operate a fog signal when visibility fell down below a certain distance. If the deck watch could not see a “fog buoy” a set distance away, he notified the engine space to start the compressor and switched on the foghorn. Given that it experienced to be heard 1 mile away in all directions, it was genuinely deafening on board the ship. In some cases, primarily in the winter, it would be on for a few or four times straight with a standard sign period of time of two seconds on and three seconds off. It was so loud that its vibrations basically unscrewed light-weight bulbs in the compartments down below deck. 1 crew member could not listen to another chatting even if he screamed in the other’s ear, so interaction was reduced to a number of phrases between blasts.
The man or woman on deck view was also dependable for the timing of the radio beacon, utilised in yet another functionality of our job as an “aid to navigation.” Apparently this timing experienced to be really precise because we had to adjust it hourly with “escape clocks” and a sign from radio station WWV at the National Bureau of Requirements. At the very least once on each watch we did a radio check out with the Cape Might base. A to some degree less mature, late-night time use of the contacting frequency was when various of the lightships and/or lifeboat stations along the coast would get turns repeating “MIC” then “KEY” then “MOUSE” around and about. This would go on until the responsibility officer at Cape May perhaps threatened to start an investigation.
The deck view had to keep the “rough log,” a massive kind of notebook in which we entered weather conditions observations, ship sightings, watchstander alterations and so forth. This handwritten log was typed up each and every early morning by the skipper or the officer in charge. The typewritten copy was regarded as the “smooth log.”
The skipper of the Relief at that time was a warrant boatswain by the identify of Stacy Cranmer. I think he joined the Coastline Guard at the outset of Entire world War II and entered as a next class boatswain’s mate. He experienced been a bayman, primarily a clammer, in Barnegat Bay, and his knowledge of the bay and the inlets was critical to our coastal protection (not so significantly for details south).
Viewing THE Light: The mast with the principal light beacon towers previously mentioned the Overfalls’  main deck. (Courtesy of Richard Hook)
At just one position, the Aid experienced to go into dry dock for hull upkeep – the hull was in fact rusted as a result of in areas. In some spots below the waterline, picket DC (problems handle) plugs had been pounded into the holes. Getting the ship underway was a fairly involved and prolonged affair. A number of hrs in progress we brought the mushroom anchor to “short continue to be,” indicating the bow of the ship was around the anchor and the chain was almost vertical. This was accomplished so that the pitching movement of the ship would loosen the anchor from the base. Usually, the anchor windlass would not have been able to totally free the anchor.
The chain would arrive about the windlass and then down into a dungeon-like compartment identified as the chain locker. Two crew users armed with chain hooks would be tasked with flaking the chain back again and forth on the bottom of the compartment. As the chain concluded piling up, the distance in between the chain and the overhead (ceiling) lessened, leaving a crew member barely plenty of home to scuttle out by means of the hatch. Not a task for anybody with claustrophobia.
The moment underway, we proceeded from the coast into Delaware Bay, then by means of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal into the Chesapeake Bay on our way to the dry dock facility at Curtis Bay, Md. By the time we arrived at the Chesapeake, it was darkish and we ended up navigating by implies of lighted buoys and variety lights. We skipped a change buoy and ran hard aground. The skipper was understandably reluctant to radio for assistance, so we tried using every thing from digging out with the prop wash to, unbelievably, swinging 1 of the boats out on the davits and owning several crew associates get in it and jump up and down. When the sun arrived up, kids have been paddling out from family vacation houses in the spot on inflatable rubber rafts to examine this weird craft. Just one boy recommended that we phone the Coastline Guard! Afterwards that morning, the tide rose and we had been able to resume our vacation. Soon after a pair of months at the shipyard we had been on our way again to a brief remain at the Coast Guard base in Cape Could and then on to a further of our stations.

Pastimes on board integrated fishing, fancy knot perform, card online games and creating rings out of silver coins. We also experienced videos, proven in the wardroom at the stern of the ship. On the Aid the only movie we experienced was a number of reels of “Victory at Sea.” On just one situation that sticks in my head, the motor place observe was with the relaxation of the crew viewing the film when he should really have been at his article. Evidently it slipped his thoughts that he experienced still left on the pump that transferred water from the ballast tank on one facet of the ship to the other. The vessel’s slowly and gradually increasing record grew to become discovered only when an ashtray or some thing slid off the wardroom desk. I don’t know how close we came to actually capsizing, but it was pretty terrifying. We experienced a Television aboard, but we could not get any channels from either Philadelphia or New York, so “Victory at Sea” was the only match in town.
Another genuinely unforgettable occasion associated our cook dinner, a guy by the title of Roper. He had turn out to be incredibly ill, almost certainly with pneumonia, and it was made the decision to choose him off the ship to a medical center. A buoy tender arrived out from Cape May to consider him ashore, but incredibly tough seas produced it difficult for them to arrive together with or even to use a tiny boat to go from 1 vessel to the other. A method referred to as highlining was the only option. To achieve this, ropes had been rigged from a relatively higher point in each vessel, and a bosun’s chair holding the sufferer was suspended from 1 of the strains. By use of pulleys at every single end, the chair could be moved from one particular ship to the other. However, in rough disorders, with the vessels at a safe distance from every other, they are inclined to roll toward each individual other on descending waves and absent from every single other on climbing waves. As a final result, the chair that contains our barely aware cook dinner was dunked in the sea and then lifted higher in the air consistently on the journey involving vessels. Assuming inadequate Roper did have pneumonia, this procedure could not have served. We under no circumstances saw him yet again.
Old HAUNTS: The author under deck on the Overfalls. (Picture courtesy of Richard Hook)
When I was transferred to the lightship Cross Rip in 1959, it was tied up at Coast Guard Base Boston, but we proceeded to our station in the middle of Nantucket Audio a few times later on. This lightship was eventually renamed Overfalls and right now is a historic site docked in Lewes, Del. My last 7 days of service coincided with a trip to Woods Hole, which was only the 2nd time in my calendar year aboard that the ship experienced not been anchored. The sight of a lightship coming into the Coast Guard dock at Woods Gap was seemingly really abnormal, and there have been a range of reporters and photographers there to witness it.
The spectators, nonetheless, have been dealt with to the working experience of viewing a significant, metal vessel crunching head-on into the dock exactly where they stood. Blame it on an error in the system of interaction amongst the wheelhouse and the motor area on ships of this classic. There was a code of bells or jingles made by the skipper pulling on a single of two rings (bell or jingle) related by wires to the bell or jingle maker in the engine place. Most likely thanks to the sound made by the main engine, the engineman mistook the sign for “full astern” with “full ahead.” It is also possible the skipper mixed up the signals, a concept to which most of the crew and I subscribed.
Richard A. Hook lives in Barnegat.

Leave a Reply