Digest>Archives> Sep/Oct 2013

The Last Lighthouse Tender

By David Gamage


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The CG-80004 D

The first lighthouse tender in the U.S. Lighthouse Service was the schooner Rush acquired in 1840 for use in New York Harbor.  Over the years about 200 vessels served as lighthouse tenders until the Coast Guard years when the later vessels became known as buoy tenders. The CG-80004-D was the last to serve as a true lighthouse tender in the 1st District.  This vessel was formerly the 80-ft fishing schooner John M. Hathaway and was built in Friendship, Maine in 1924. It served as part of the New Bedford, Massachusetts fishing fleet and until the unexpected opportunity arose for a much more profitable business. It was in conducting this business that the Hathaway had a chance meeting with the former Navy destroyer CG Cutter Wilkes out in the Gulf of Maine on June 2, 1929. The Hathaway and her cargo were promptly impounded, thus abruptly ending its new business opportunity of transporting 1,197 sacks of individual bottles of high proof liquid refreshment to the United States, for such activity, known as rum running, was highly disapproved by the 18th Amendment.

But there is more to the tale. Earlier, the schooner Fannie M. Powell cleared from St. Pierre, Miquelon, an island possession of France located at the south coast of Newfoundland, and was bound for Bermuda carrying a cargo of bottles of premium intoxicating liquors. The schooner began leaking badly and was soon after encountered by the Hathaway about 70 miles beyond the 12-mile limit. In order for the crew of the Powell to reach the pipes that were causing the leak, it was necessary to relocate a large part of the cargo. But with no room on the Powell to relocate the cargo, most of it was transferred to the Hathaway. The intention was to place the liquor aboard the Hathaway until the crew could make the necessary repairs and then place the cargo back on the Powell, which would then resume its voyage to Bermuda. However, the opportunistic captain of the Hathaway had different plans. Shortly after the cargo had been transferred and repairs were started, the Hathaway got under way and disappeared fast.  However, as the Hathaway disappeared from view, the crew of the Powell saw what appeared to be smoke rising from the Hathawa’s deck.

Soon thereafter, the Hathaway, with its transferred cargo and now in flames, was encountered by the Coast Guard Cutter Wilkes on the high seas at Latitude 41 degrees 7 minutes north, Longitude 67 degrees 22 minutes west. The Hathaway’s crew promptly abandoned ship and was retrieved by the Wilkes. The Wilkes crew then boarded the schooner and extinguished the flames. The liquor was discovered and the vessel then impounded. The Hathaway was taken to New London to the Coast Guard Academy dock where the liquor, valued at $50,000, was transferred to the Customs House.  

Later, as a result of a subsequent Connecticut District 4 court case, “United States v 1929 Sacks of Liquor,” the contraband liquor was eventually transferred at night under guard from the Customs House to the Academy and there loaded on the schooner Columbo so that the cargo to be returned to its rightful owner. The schooner was then escorted to international waters by the Coast Guard   However, the Hathaway remained impounded and was subjected to forfeiture because this American registered schooner was ruled to have been engaged in an international trade other than fishing for which she was licensed.  Following Admiralty Court proceedings, the Hathaway was turned over to the Coast Guard on October 1, 1929. The schooner was converted for use as a lighthouse supply vessel and designated CG-80004-D. The “80-D” was soon after assigned to the Coast Guard base in South Portland, Maine. While there the “80-D” also referred to as the Workboat, served as a lighthouse supply boat, not necessarily for routine supplies alone but for delivery of specific equipment for repair and upgrade projects at Maine coastal and river lights, and, on occasion, for conducting repairs of fixed aids. For regular buoy work at this time, there were two 180-ft buoy tenders in Maine: the Laurel at Rockland and the Cowslip at Portland.

I had two opportunities in 1955 to go along on lighthouse supply trips on the “80-D” when my father, BMC Weston E. Gamage. Jr., was temporarily the Officer-In-Charge. One trip was from Whitehead Island to deliver equipment to the Manana Island Fog Signal Station. We had in tow a tender, a mini landing barge with a dropdown bow for landing equipment on the shores at lights or at light station boat slips. With equipment unloaded at the Manana boathouse, we moored overnight at the Monhegan Island dock and visited with the Monhegan Lighthouse keeper and family in the late afternoon. This was not my first trip to Monhegan. I had been to Manana and Monhegan before in a 36-ft. Coast Guard lifeboat when my father had been the Officer-In-Charge of the nearby Burnt Island Lifeboat Station.

Early the next morning we departed on a rather rough 35-mile trip in near gale force northeasterly winds to Saddleback Ledge Lighthouse. I did a turn at the helm, which was a challenge with the boat pitching and rolling, while keeping a keen eye on the small boat we were towing. The seas were high and building and were too rough to safely land equipment when we arrived at Saddleback, so we continued on westward across Penobscot Bay to the Coast Guard base in Rockland, Maine. 

My next trip a few days later was a day trip from the base at Rockland to the lighthouses at Heron Neck, Goose Rocks, and Browns Head. There was a reaction from the crew at Heron Neck when my father had me get in the light station’s peapod in the boathouse, unhooked it, and sent it running freely down the boathouse ways into the cove for me to attend to while equipment was then unloaded at the boathouse. The assistant keeper at Heron Neck was shocked, but my father told him that I often rode down the ways at Matinicus Rock Lighthouse, which was even more challenging. This was not quite true. It was at Whitehead Island where my grandfather, the head keeper, had earlier taught me how to launch, land, and properly row such a craft. It was my grandfather’s peapod that he had acquired years before when he had served as an assistant lighthouse keeper at Matinicus Rock. It was slightly smaller than the heavier Coast Guard peapods. If, at the time, my grandmother had known of this training activity, she likely would have had a fit.

Bill Parmenter, the lighthouse keeper at Heron Neck, was not present but he had earlier told my father to help himself to lobsters for the crew from his traps in the cove. There was a red and white buoy in the boathouse, so we proceeded to haul up several traps with red and white buoys until we had plenty of lobsters to feed the crew. Soon after leaving the cove, we passed a lobster boat with traps on the stern, and with the same red and white buoys. We had hauled the wrong traps! It was then “flank speed” to Goose Rocks Lighthouse and finally to the Browns Head Lighthouse. On the return trip across the bay to Rockland, we all enjoyed a late afternoon feed on this tasty contraband crustacean.

Soon after, my father was assigned as Officer-In-Charge of Massachusetts to lifeboat stations at Scituate and then Point Allerton at Hull. The CG 80004-D, having served the needs of many Maine lighthouses for 27 years as the last Maine lighthouse tender, was retired in 1956. 

This story appeared in the Sep/Oct 2013 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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