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Nantucket Lightship (WLV-613) On Station, 1975

October 25, 2013 in Ships

“The two loneliest things I ever saw” mused an old whaling captain “was a polar bear on an ice floe and the second thing was the Nantucket Lightship”.

Lightships were the technological answer to building a lighthouse where it was impossible (or too expensive) to do so. Located 50 miles south of Nantucket island, the WLV-613 was the most exposed lightship station in the world. Located in the shipping approachs to New York City, the lightship stood anchored on station year round no matter what the weather or sea conditions. The biggest danger to the ship and crew were passing merchant vessels and ocean liners that dwarfed our 133′ “floating lighthouse”. On May 14, 1934, the RMS Olympic (Titanic’s sister ship) crashed into the lightship and cut it in two, killing over half the lightship crew. Violent hurricanes and “nor’easters” would snap the anchor chain or drag the light vessels three ton mushroom anchor across the ocean bottom sending the ship off station. The duty on these little ships was arduous at best, the crew faced physical danger of death from sinking and the other danger of death from boredom. These sturdy ships were well maintained by their crews but after maintainence or standing watch there was little to do in 133 feet.There was little in the way of recreation, TV reception was nil and radio stations were static filled. To pass time crewman would play cards, or board games. Other men would fashion lady’s hand bags or baskets from reed and sell them ashore, “Nantucket Baskets” would become world famous. Still other crewman made knot boards, whittled wood dolls or, like me, make ship models.
I served a year on the “Nantucket” and I can attest from my personal experience, it was not “choice” sea duty.
A few years back I decided to commemorate my time on the ship through a diorama. It depicts an actual event during the early fall in 1975. Lobster boats would set their traps around us in calm weather and retrieve them before the winter weather came in. Away from their home port they would be low on food and would radio us for the weather report. In the conversation they offered to trade some fresh lobsters for bread and cold cuts for their trip back. In my diorama the figure lowering the metal can is me, ready to receive the lobsters and on deck, a cardboard box with food to trade. I can tell you we were sick of eating lobsters after a while. The 1:72 scale model is built of bass wood and covered with plastic sheet. The light tower is brass, aluminium and plastic (the small boats are basswod also). Most of the model is scratch built, some of it is out of the scrap box, some fittings are plasic other metal. The base is insulation foam painted with acrylic colors trimmed in oak.
I was glad the day I received orders off the “613”, as we had a saying: “What is the difference between the county jail and the Nantucket lightship? The jail can’t sink!”

13 additional images. Click to enlarge

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17 responses to Nantucket Lightship (WLV-613) On Station, 1975

  1. Cool, really liked the work!

  2. That is a seriously well built ship. I particularly like the furled sail & the water coming from the bilge.
    How many served on board at a time?

    • Hi Al
      The crew numbered 20 men in 1975. Our skipper was a Warrant Bosunmate. We had two chief petty officers, two first class PO’s, three second class PO’s, and 12 other men, (assorted third class PO’s, seaman and firemen). On station the crew numbered about 16-18 men, depending who was on leave.

      • Mike,
        I served as cook aboard the WLV 613 from late 1969 through early 1971. Then it was named the RELIEF. Great job on that model. It is true to life. I would love to a flammable photo of the ship. I’m sure the model is not for sale and if it was it would be out of my price range.

  3. Had to look twice, thought it was real at first.
    Nice history, thats cool to add to the build.

  4. Thanks Mike for sharing your experience on the lightship. I served on the USCGC Spar, a buoy tender that had to make a couple of calls to your ship in the late 50s….once because they lost an anchor and we had to drag for it, and the other time we had to pick up one of the crewmen who had a major dental problem. The latter event was during a major snowstorm with rough seas, which required that we send a crew over to the lightship in the Captain’s “Gig” which wasn’t powered. It was quite a challenge to make the transfer in those huge waves and we almost lost a guy in the process.I was glad to be a Quartermaster rather than part of the deck gang on that day. At one point in time I tried to get assigned to lightship duty because of the time off duty, but fortunately I did not get it. I heard that when the foghorn quit blowing, everyone woke up.

  5. This is what I call modelling with a personal touch! You’ve done a marvellous job on that model (don’t forget to look at the crew!) and the background story is great! Well done!


  6. I can only concur with the previous observations….quite a model, Mike – museum quality craftsmanship. Great Job!!

  7. Mike,
    Outstanding, beautiful, marvelous, on and on and on…. Your’s and Jack’s stories add reality to your model. I have only one question, What are you going to do with all of those first place monthly awards?

  8. That is really outstanding work in all ways, all around. Just superb!

  9. Mike, this model just goes to prove what a great modeller you are, everything you have posted is fully researched, and usually has an interesting story to go with it, and your modelling is, as Craig has already said, museum quality. Spending that time on the Nantucket was obviously worth it!

  10. There are models and there is historical recreation — this is a marvelous example of the later.

    Keep up the good work.

  11. Hi Mike.

    I just picked this up from a few days back.

    Just to chime in with the plaudits, what an excellent project!

    I must say it’s clear you’ve put heart and soul into this experience, and that can been seen even prior to reading about the personel connection.


  12. MIke , That’s one great build . Except for the name change she looks just like she did when I left her in 74 . That’s when she was the Relief out of group Boston .

  13. Nice story Mike, I served with you from 75-77 I was the ET

    • Hi Phil

      Yes I recall you very well. I remember you trying to fix the radio beacon and I think you were on watch during the Great Winter Hurricane of Febuary 1976. I ran into SA Claude Poirier at Govenors Island in 1990, he was a CPO then, I believe he was promoted to Warrant Officer. What did you do after the lightship? I could write a book about my experiences on that vessel but no one would believe it!

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