In looking through a carton of early twentieth-century magazines, I recently came across a wonderful article on celebrating Christmas onboard the Portland Lightship. Written by Hal Cram for Maine’s Sun Up magazine in December 1925, the article presents a side of lighthouse service life that I found most interesting and thought you might as well.
Mr. Cram writes in part: “The spirit is in the air. You will find it everywhere. In the homes of the rich and poor, in the cities and in the country, even on the bounding main, on the palatial liners as they ply through the seas…. You will find it too in the lighthouses among the men who aid in guiding the toilers of the sea into a snug harbor. You will find it on our lightships, tossing about in foam covered seas.
“Ten miles from Portland Harbor and seven and three quarter miles southeast of Portland Head Light, the lightship Portland No. 76 tugs at its mooring…. [though the writer refers to the vessel as No. 76, she is actually Light Vessel No. 74.] Within its hull, many holidays have been observed by the officers and crews and many exciting and thrilling incidents have been witnessed from its solid decks. Just now, this floating village numbering 12 people are making their plans for the Yuletide holiday.
“Down in the ship, where it is as warm and comfortable as any home on land, there will be the Christmas tree attractively decorated with its usual colored trinkets and lights while here and there on the green boughs will be the presents each man makes to the others; presents, too that the relief boat will bring to the ship this month and presents from the families of the men, which will bear the usual words, ‘Not to be opened until Christmas.’ The dinner table will be graced in its center with one of the largest and finest turkeys obtainable and there will be all the Christmas fixings — the candies and cakes, the jokes and the surprises….
“The men enjoy a 9-day shore leave every month or 108 days each year. Consequently, there will be some among the crew who will be able to eat their Christmas dinner with their families at their homes, but those who are left behind on the lightship are not downhearted for they will make merry and their Uncle Sam will see to it that they are enjoying to the utmost the spirit of the day.
“….A heavy storm with thick weather keeps everyone aboard the craft busy, each having their respective duties to perform. Holidays cannot interfere with duty: the foghorn must be kept blowing, the lights in operation and the submarine bell striking the ship’s number at regular intervals.
“It is the southeast storm that the men on the lightship dread the worst. The seas are mountain high and time and again, break over the craft making it impossible for anyone to be on deck….
“A wind from the northeast or northwest, or in fact most any other wind except southeast, no matter how hard it blows, barely brings a wrinkle to the man on the Portland No. 76 ….
“The cook, two firemen and five sailors are hired by the Captain. There is always someone on watch, beginning with the mate from six to eight each evening. From eight until five o’clock in the morning, the watch is divided among the five sailors, each doing
a turn of something like two hours. The cook then comes in for the hour between five
and six and keeps watch while he prepares the breakfast….
“We, of Portland and Maine, wish the Portland Lightship a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. May the holidays be ours when the sea remains calm, when Kris Kringle can tie his reindeer to your topmasts and slide down into the forecastle for a general good time.”
Thanks to Hal Cram for his pleasant article. I am always pleasantly surprised at the wonderful things that I find. It is surely worth the effort of looking through those old cartons on the floor of your local antique or
out-of-print bookstore. You can never tell what you might come across. If you would like a photocopy of the complete article, please contact me and I will be happy to mail you one. Shown in the photo is Lightship No. 74 during the period from 1912 to 1931 when she served on the Portland station, courtesy of Ken Black at the Shore Village Museum.
Happy Holidays and may your seas remain calm.
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Jim Claflin is a recognized authority on antiques of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, Life-Saving Service, Revenue Cutter Service and early Coast Guard. In addition to authoring and publishing a number of books on the subject, Jim is the owner of Kenrick A Claflin & Son Nautical Antiques. In business since 1956, he has specialized in antiques of this type since the early 1990s. He may be contacted by writing to him at 1227 Pleasant Street, Worcester, MA 01602, or by calling 508-792-6627. You may
also contact him by email: email@example.com
or visit his website at
This story appeared in the
December 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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