Digest>Archives> Jan/Feb 2024

From The Lighthouse Service Bulletin

By Jack Graham


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This column continues to provide excerpts from the “Lighthouse Service Bulletin,” a monthly publication of the Bureau of Lighthouses, U.S. Department of Commerce. The first was issued in January 1912, and it continued throughout the existence of the Bureau. Unedited quotes from Volume IV No. 54, dated June 1, 1934, follow. The Bulletin had as its object “supplying information that will be immediately useful in maintaining or improving the standards of the Lighthouse Service, and of keeping the personnel advised of the progress of work and matters of general interest in the service and in lighthouse work in general.”

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The Sinking of the Nantucket Lightship – Lightship No. 117, occupying the Nantucket Shoals Station, was collided with by the steamship Olympic at 10:06 on the morning of May 15, in dense fog, and sank on station with the loss of seven members of its crew. Boats from the Olympic were immediately put over, and 7 of the 11 officers and crew who were on board the lightship were picked up; 4 men went down with the vessel. Three of those picked up died of injuries.

Survivors of the disaster were: George Brithwaite, master; Clifton E. Mosher, first officer; John F. Perry, radio operator; and L.U. Roberts, oiler. Those who went down with the ship were: Isaac Pine, cook; Mathew S. Rodrigues, seaman; John Fortes, seaman; and Ernest B. George, Seaman. Those who died were: William W. Perry, engineer; Justin F. Richmond, oiler; and Alfred Monteiro, second cook.

Nantucket Lightship No. 117 was a first-class lightship, built in 1930, and first placed on station May 4, 1931. It had diesel-electric propulsion, and modern types of signaling equipment, all of which were duly operating. The Secretary of Commerce promptly appointed a committee of three officers from marine branches of the Department to investigate the sinking of Nantucket Lightship, and to obtain information bearing on the accident with a view to avoiding a similar occurrence in the future. This investigation is now in progress. The Lighthouse Service is in receipt of cablegrams and letters tendering the sympathies of the lighthouse authorities of other countries, including those of England, France, Scotland, and the Netherlands.

Historical Notes Regarding Nantucket Lightship Station – The Nantucket Shoals were first marked in 1854, a lightship being placed about 19 miles from Nantucket Island, near Davis South Shoal. This lightship broke adrift in 1855, and stranded near Montauk Point, Long Island, but was gotten off and repaired. Within a year a new vessel was built and stationed on Nantucket Shoals in January 1856, and finally removed in 1892 after nearly 37 years of service on this station. This lightship station has moved three times, always

Southerly or southeasterly, and farther off the shoals; in 1884 two and a half miles; in 1892 ten miles; and in 1896 seventeen miles; and its present location is more than twice the original distance from Nantucket Island.

Notwithstanding the exposed position of this lightship, no record is recalled of the vessel having been damaged by collision prior to this year. Eight different lightships have occupied the station, and they have suffered various other vicissitudes, but without previous loss of life, so far as recorded, since the 80 years since the lightship station was established. Last winter when the incoming Atlantic liners were reporting their experiences after an unusually severe storm, the commander of one of them, who had observed the lightship on station as he passed, said that the men who deserved the iron cross were the men who were keeping Nantucket Lightship. (The experience of this vessel in the gale of last January is briefly recounted in the Lighthouse Service Bulletin for March.)

[Despite the text in the last paragraph above, this was not the first collision of the Nantucket Lightship with another vessel. The following item appeared in the February 1934 issue of the Bulletin.]

Liner Collides With Nantucket Lightship – During a heavy fog, the steamship Washington, of the United States Lines, collided with the Nantucket Shoals Lightship on January 6. The Washington was proceeding at slow speed at the time and sideswiped the lightship, carrying away its radio yards and doing other minor damage. The lightship remained on station, temporary repairs being made.

Eagles Make Home In Old Light Tower – A pair of bald-headed eagles are reported to have nested in the old Cockspur Island Light tower, in the Savannah River, and the birds are frequently seen by passers-by, perched on the balcony railing. This old tower, abandoned as a lighthouse in 1909, is now known as Cockspur Island Beacon, and is of interest to the many visitors enroute to the nearby Fort Pulaski National Monument. The first appropriation for a light on Cockspur Island was made by Congress in 1834, and the money was reappropriated in 1837. In 1855, restorations were made and the keeper’s house rebuilt, indicating that the light had then been in service for some time. Another entry, in 1880, showed that the keeper’s dwelling was again out of repair, and in 1893 the keeper of Cockspur Island and the keeper of Oyster Beds Light were living in “six casements in Fort Pulaski, which had been appropriately fitted up.”

This story appeared in the Jan/Feb 2024 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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