Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2014-01-19.
Just before 1900, the Port of New York was bustling. On average, the regular transatlantic steamers coming into the port each week were valued around $13 million and the number of passengers coming from northern Europe each year averaged 450,000. These statistics didn't even account for the cargo on board, which would have been millions of dollars annually.
Around 1894, the ocean and coast steamship owners, agents, masters, pilots and underwriters petitioned the Lighthouse Board to establish a lightship with a fog signal near Fire Island, New York. There was a whistling buoy at that location, but it was proving ineffectual.
To safely guide vessels into New York Harbor, many mariners would run as close to Fire Island as possible, but during heavy weather such as fog or snow, the Fire Island Lighthouse was obscured, and as it lacked a fog signal, it would be virtually invisible to a passing vessel.
To effectively mark New York Harbor, The Lighthouse Board honored the petition and established a lightship presence 40 miles east of Sandy Hook at Fire Island. Light Vessel 58 was the first ship to serve, having been moored at the location on July 15, 1896.
Light Vessel 58 would only serve Fire Island temporarily until relieved by Light Vessel 39. Light Vessel 58 was then assigned to Relief duty. While relieving Light Vessel 66 (Nantucket Shoals) on December 10, 1905, it developed a leak in the fire-room compartment during a heavy gale. After rising water extinguished the boilers and suction pumps failed, the crew had no choice but to bail by hand.
While LV-58 was being towed to port by the tender Azalea in heavy seas, the crew exhausted having bailed water for over 24 hours, the signal "must abandon" was given. The crew safely evacuated to Azalea, and within ten minutes, LV-58 listing heavily starboard, slipped below the sea.
LV-68, built by the Bath Iron Works, in Bath, Maine for $74,750, was completed and moved on site September 20, 1897. For illumination, there were clusters of thee 100 candlepower electric bulbs in galleries on each masthead. For fog signaling, the vessel was equipped with a 12" steam whistle and as a backup in case of failure, a hand-operated 1000-lb fog bell.
Light Vessel 68, would spend the next 33 years marking the Fire Island location, leaving only for maintenance and repairs. Newly constructed LV-114 took over marking the Fire Island location in 1930. At that time, LV-68 was assigned to Relief duty, and was later retired from lightship duty in 1932. It was sold in January 1933.
Light Vessel 114 was built in Portland, Oregon by Albina Iron Works at a cost of $228,121. Propulsion was provided by a single 350-HP diesel-electric motor. The illuminating apparatus was a 375mm electric lens lantern at each masthead providing 16,000 candlepower. For fog signal duties, the ship was provided an air diaphone utilizing four-way horns, and as a backup, a hand-operated bell.
When completed in 1930, it was assigned to Fire Island, New York, a 5,892 mile west-to-east journey that would take it through the Panama Canal, making it the first lightship to travel through the canal. The trip took from August 5 to September 20 while making stopovers in San Francisco, San Pedro, Balboa, Navassa, Charleston, and Portsmouth, Virginia.
The ship remained at Fire Island through 1942, when it was pulled due to World War II, and would be converted to an examination vessel. It was fitted for military service which included armament and detection radar being added to the vessel and would serve as an examination vessel until 1945.
Upon conclusion of World War II, LV-114 was assigned to Diamond Shoals, off the coast of North Carolina, as Fire Island was marked with buoys which were deemed sufficient. It would only serve here for two years, before being replaced by another vessel. LV-114 would then become a Relief vessel for the first district, a position it would hold until 1958.
From 1958 to 1969, it would serve as the Pollock Rip Lightship off Monomoy Point in Massachusetts. In 1969, it was transferred to a station in Portland, Maine, where it would stay for two years. On November 5, 1971, it was retired from service.
Original plans called for it to be a floating Coast Guard museum. Those plans fell through, and it was transferred to the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1975. The city spent some money to restore it which included painting the vessel red. On the sides, the words "NEW BEDFORD" were painted in white block letters despite New Bedford having never being a lightship location. The following year, the vessel starred the city's Bicentennial Celebration.
The City had plans to rehabilitate the historical area around the harbor in the mid-1970s. The plans were meant to evoke New Bedford's heydays as one of the whaling capitals of the world. It seemed that the lightship would fit in well with the Palmer Island, Clark's Point, and Butler Flats Lighthouses, and compliment the harbor.
On May 30, 1980, Light Vessel 114 was added to the National Historic Register as a National Landmark. This designation had little effect, and the vessel would languish at its mooring in New Bedford Harbor despite the claims of many city mayors to turn the vessel into a public attraction.
LV-114 rolled on side. Courtesy R. English.
By 2006, the New Bedford Lightship was in poor condition having largely been ignored for 30 years. The vessel developed a leak in its hull, which the city would occasionally pump out, however on May 31 during a heavy thunderstorm the vessel rolled on to its side.
The City of New Bedford spent $212,000 to pump the water out, right the ship and clean it in June of 2006. Less than a month later, thieves boarded the vessel and stole 23 brass portholes and other brass fixtures from the historic vessel.
After the issues experienced over the summer, the City of New Bedford viewed the dilapidated ship as a liability. It tried to auction the vessel off in September of 2006 with a starting bid of $10,000; however, it failed to receive a single bid. Prior to the auction, the city removed the ship's artifacts including the remaining portholes, fog horns, beacons, and anything else with historical significance.
In December 2006, the city listed LV-114 for sale on eBay with a starting bid of $99.99. After four days of bidding, it reached the final bid of $1,775. However, the City Council Property Committee held off on accepting the bid to see if another buyer was willing to pay more.
After exhausting all possible options, the City of New Bedford eventually sold the rusty LV-114 to Sea Roy Enterprises, Inc. for $10,000. By Monday July 2, 2007, a giant mechanical claw was ripping through the New Bedford Lightship, reducing it to a scrap pile. A sad ending to a ship meant to save lives.
Here is a partial list from uscg.mil of commanding officers:
Directions: This lightship no longer exists. In late June of 2007, Sea Roy Enterprises finished dismantling the ship. It was sold by the Town of New Bedford for scrap.
Access: The ship was sold for scrap. It has been dismantled.View more New Bedford Lightship (LV-114/WAL-536) pictures