One of the 12 original Nantucket Lightships.
SOURCE: US Coast Guard
On occasion, I like to take a "spin" through Grass Island. Something about the boats appeals to me. I love being close to the water, and even bought 2 kayaks so I could paddle out from Greenwich Point. In October 2007, I was driving through Grass Island when I spotted a large, red ship docked near the DelaMar Hotel in Greenwich Harbor. It had two tall masts with Crow's Nests and large lights at the top. Across the red side of the ship was the word "Nantucket" written in large white letters. I grabbed a camera I had in the car and took a picture. Unfortunately, it was the last shot on the camera; but I had gotten the shot I wanted. I recognized it as The Nantucket Lightship!
When I was young, my family would rent a cottage at Chase's Beach in Dennisport on Cape Cod. We would shop at souvenir shops and eat at restaurants, which always seemed to have colorful place mats with maps of the Cape. I used to study these very attentively. Some had an image of a lightship off Nantucket near the shoals. As a young boy, I would imagine what it was like to be on such a ship. I even had thoughts of applying to the Coast Guard Academy.
Lightships were used off the United States oceanic coasts and the Great Lakes to warn ships about navigational hazards. The first Nantucket lightship was positioned 20 to 50 miles off the island in 1854. It was called the Nantucket New South Shoal Station, and was the most exposed lightship station in the United States. It was also the most dangerous. The vessel was in the direct path of Nor'easters, which brought howling winds and mountainous seas. Veteran seamen even got seasick! The constant smell of diesel fuel made the crew sick. From 1896 to1983 it was simply called the Nantucket Shoals Lightship. The lightship was usually the first thing passengers on Trans-Atlantic voyages saw in the United States. Twelve different vessels have served as the lightship. The lightships were replaced in 1985 by a navigational buoy.
During World War II (1942-1945), the lightship was withdrawn from duty, painted battleship gray, fitted with a gun and designated as the USS Nantucket. It served as an examination patrol vessel off the coast of Portland ME. The mission was to prevent enemy boats from entering our waters. During this time, the USS Nantucket saved crew members of the USS Eagle-56, which was torpedoed by the German submarine U-85s.
One of the Crow's Nest on a Nantucket Lightship.
SOURCE: US Coast Guard
The Nantucket Lightship I saw in Greenwich Harbor that day was the last lightship ever built and the last vessel anchored off Nantucket. It was designated as Lightship LIV 612. The LIV 612 Nantucket Lightship was built in Curtis Bay, Maryland, in 1950 for $500,000. It was commissioned on September 18, 1950. It's 128' long. The beam is 30' and the maximum draft is 11.5'. The propellor is 7' in diameter.
The Nantucket LIV 612 moved around quite a bit during its career. It served in many locations:
1950 - 1969 Warning vessel 3 miles off the Golden Gate Bridge
1969 - 1971 Warning vessel off Cape Mendocino in California
1971 - 1975 Warning vessel off Portland ME
1975 - 1983 Last lightship station in the United States off Nantucket
A Lightship moored at Oyster Bay.
The LIV 612 was removed from Nantucket in 1983. She became a "white cutter" used to refuel DEA ships in the Caribbean. In 1985 she was decommissioned , and It was purchased by an educational organization that wanted to refurbish it. Funding eventually dried up, and the Nantucket was returned to the GSA. In 1987, the State of Massachusetts Metropolitan District Commission bought it for $1500. Officials wanted to convert it to a floating museum. However, money problems derailed this plan. The vessel was moved to Marina Bay in Quincy, MA. A group calling itself "The Friends of the Lightship Nantucket" began to make real progress in repairing the ship. Unfortunately, the MDC withdrew its support and the ship was put up for disposal on eBay in 1999. Several scrap metal companies bid on the scrap metal, but Bill Golden, an environmental lawyer and ex-state senator, bid $126,100 for it in 2000.
Golden had the ship taken to New Bedford, where 11 craftsman converted the lightship into a yacht. This process took 3 years! The results, however, were well worth it. They turned it into a luxury yacht with a Master suite and four guest suites. The beds were carved out of mahogany or oak. It has 6 bathrooms. In the kitchen there are double ovens, 2 trash compactors, a granite counter top, and a 6-burner cooking top. The dining room table is made from tiger maple. Guests can retire to the library/den to play Foosball or watch a wide screen television. The top deck is made from American cherry wood.
Some may question why Bill Golden would invest so much money in such a project. He wanted to create enough value in the vessel to insure its preservation. In 2006, it was worth $7.6 million. Originally, the vessel was available for charters in Nantucket from May to September. Then it sailed out of Rowes Wharf in Boston from October to April. From 2007 to 2008, ir was chartered to DelaMar Inn for overnight stays. In 2009, it was moored at North Cove Marina in Lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center. People could rent rooms for $368 per day, according to the Internet. From 2009 to 2010, it was docked in a variety of ports including Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Newport and Lower Manhattan.
Although I'm not that little boy anymore, I still like to think of the brave men who risked their lives to save others. Their's was a great tradition of unselfish service. We at least owe them our respect and appreciation.
FIRSTS (AND LASTS) FOR THE NANTUCKET LIV 612
Built in 1950. Decommissioned in 1985.
Last lightship built by Coast Guard.
Last lightship in the United States.
Only lightship in International waters.
Known as one of the Guardian Angels.
Only lightship to pass both ways through the Panama Canal.
Repainted white and used in support of drug enforcement in Caribbean (1984).
Served as a security and communications center off Maine during visits by dignitaries
VP George Bush was on board the day the Soviets shot down Korean Air Flight 007 (1983)
Towed a Coast Guard cutter away from the Cuban coast to safety during 1984.
Greeted the Tall Ships visiting Boston in 1992.
Anchored off Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport to honor the late Senator Edward Kennedy
in August 2009.
SOURCES: Greenwich Time (Hearst Newspapers)
http://www.uscglightshipsailors.org/news/ : US Coast Guard Lightship Sailors Association International