Digest>Archives> June 2005

The Last Crew of the Ambrose

By Timothy Harrison


Recently acquired by Lighthouse Digest were a number of photographs, old newspaper stories, press releases and other materials when the Ambrose Lighthouse replaced the Ambrose Lightship in 1967. It was August 23, 1967 when the Ambrose Lightship blasted its foghorn for the last time on Ambrose Station about seven miles east of Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Its blast signaled the end of a lightship era that had guarded this position at the entrance to New York Harbor since 1823. The lightship was being replaced with what was called a “Texas type tower,” so called because of its resemblance to a Texas oil-drilling platform. It was built, as reported by the government, to withstand all that Mother Nature could throw at it. In fact the legs were 42-inch diameter steel pipes anchored into a bedrock 245 feet below mean water. In a 1967 newspaper interview at the time, the Captain of the Ambrose Lightship, CWO David N. Russell USCG, recalled the monotony, danger and respite aboard a lightship. In fact, being stationed on a lightship, which was not allowed to leave its station no matter what the conditions were, was considered the most dangerous duty in the Coast Guard as well as the old Lighthouse Service. Russell, in talking about the danger, said every sailor sleeps with his life jacket. “We have had numerous, far too many in fact, near collisions. Only last month, we were nearly run through by a Japanese freighter and another time, a Navy ship. We can’t move, so there is no way for us to avoid a collision.”

Russell, in talking about the many days of fog and smog, said that during those days, “You can’t go out on the deck or the noise will tear your ear off.” He continued by saying, “After several days of fog signals, you’re about to go out of your mind.” He went on by saying how the sailors learned to talk between the blasts and when they would go ashore, they “required some time to adjust to normal speech patterns.”

At the time of the decommissioning, the crew was interested in contacting Louie the Lobsterman who, for many years, always dropped off the newspaper on his daily trips. They wanted to thank him for always remembering them. Whether they were ever able to locate him to give the proper thanks is unknown to us. Perhaps we’ll find out after this story is published.

The channel, lightship and the tower were named in honor of John Wolfe Ambrose who was known as the “father of modern New York Harbor.” His

18-year battle to have the harbor dredged was won in 1899 when Congress approved $4 million to dredge the channel, which then allowed even the world’s largest ships to enter New York Harbor, even at low tide.

This story appeared in the June 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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