Nantucket Lightship (WLV-613) On Station, 1975
“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.