Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2011

Book Review - Collision at Sea

The True Story of the Sinking of the Relief Lightship LV-78/WAL-505

By Timothy Harrison


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The headlines of every major New York City newspaper on June 24, 1960 read AMBROSE LIGHTSHIP SUNK. In reality, it was not the Ambrose that was sunk, but her replacement, the Relief Lightship LV 78/WAL 505, which was stationed on the Ambrose Lightship Station, while the Ambrose Lightship was at Staten Island for repairs. The lightship, with its crew of nine men, was rammed by the much larger SS Green Bay, a freighter with over 8,000 tons of cargo that was bound for India. The lightship sank within ten frightening minutes.

Lightships were built to be a stationary vessel and positioned in an area where it was either too expensive or too dangerous to build a lighthouse. To put it more simply, lightships were floating lighthouses. Regardless of the weather, they were not allowed to leave their assigned position. Although the sinking of Relief Lightship never should have happened, anyone who ever served on a lightship can attest to the fact that it was the most dangerous aid-to-navigation duty in the world and an incident such as this was not to be unexpected.

Written by J. F. “Jay,” McCarthy, a former crewmember of the Relief Lightship LV-78, this book recounts the harrowing minutes before and after the sinking through first hand interviews with six of the survivors and the widow of the skipper on that fateful night.

Through the years, nagging questions have been asked about how this accident could have happened in an era where the technology was available to prevent a disaster of this magnitude. That answer can be found in the pages of this riveting, soft cover, 84-page, book that is also loaded with amazing and historically significant photographs. In fact, the historic photos themselves are well worth the cost of the book.

As an extra bonus the author recounts other memories of life aboard the lightship as well as his final thoughts and a brief report on what happened to the surviving crewmen who are now in the autumn of their lives.

This is truly a fantastic book. It is not your typical pretty picture lighthouse book, but it is the kind of book that has some real meat to it that preserves an important part of lightship and Coast Guard history for future generations and is well worth reading.

Lighthouse Digest highly recommends this book to anyone with an interest in lighthouse or maritime history.

Collision at Sea – The True Story of the Collision and Sinking of the U.S.C.G. Lightship Relief LV-78 / WAL-505 is available for $11.95 plus shipping from Lighthouse Digest, P.O. Box 250, East Machias, ME 04630 or www.FogHornPublishing.com.

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2011 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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