Sunday, October 7, 2007

Requiem for a Lightship

Shame on the City of New Bedford, Massachusetts!

Lightship #114, built in 1930 at the Albina Iron Works in Portland, Oregon, was one of a "new breed" of lightships. At 133.3 feet long and a draught of 13 feet, LV114 was a very impessive specimen. It contained a new hull design, a new "direct diesel and diesel-electric propulsion" system, and state-of-the-art sound signals and locating devices. The lightship also boasted a 375mm electric lens lantern at each masthead, accounting for a 16,000 candle power capacity.

Lightship #114 was the first lightship to ever make a west coast to east coast trip, (via the Panama Canal).

LV114's first assignment after reaching the East Coast was to mark the shoals off Fire Island at the entrance to New York Harbor. It was removed from Fire Island in 1942, and until the end of WWII in 1945 served out of Bay Shore, NY as an "examination" vessel, armed with one 6-pound cannon.

At the conclusion of WWII, 114 was assigned for two years to Diamond Shoal, NC, just off the Outer Banks near Cape Hatteras. In 1947, 114 was removed from Diamond Shoals and for the next 11 years, became a "relief vessel" throughout the northeast U. S. (The purpose of a relief vessel was to temporarily take the place of permanently stationed lightships so that repairs and maintenance could be made on those vessels and the hazards they marked were not left unattended).

In 1958, 114 was again given permanent assignment, this time at Pollack Rip, a very dangerous "ship-eating" area just off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. After 11 years of serving Pollack Rip well, the lightship was again reassigned, this time to aid in the marking of Portland, Maine harbor.

After 41 years of dedicated service, Lightship 114 was decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1971 with the intention of turning it into a "floating" Coast Guard maritime museum. Plans for the museum fell through, however, and in 1975, ownership of LV114 was transferred to the City of New Bedford.

There were grand plans for 114 in the mid 70's in New Bedford. Repainted and redubbed "New Bedford" by the city, the lightship was planned to be part of the newly revamped downtown area, complete with the remaking of the historical area around the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the Seamen's Bethel, and a number of other buildings which dated back to New Bedford's heyday as the 1800's whaling capital of the world. The lightship would be part of the historical tourist area, open to visitors with "interpreters" conducting tours. It seemed like the perfect match for a lightship which served the surrounding area well.

Having grown up around the New Bedford area around this time, it seemed to me and the people of New Bedford that outwardly the city was turning a corner. After the collapse of the whaling industry, the city, once one of the richest in the world, became a shell of its former self. Eventually, textile factories replaced the whaling industry as the identity of the city, and a large fleet of fishing boats once again made New Bedford a maritime area of importance. As the textile industry slowly moved to the lower employment costs of Southern U. S. cities and closed their New Bedford factories during the 1960's and 70's, New Bedford unemployment was astronomical, (these were also the days of the 70's recession and gas shortages), and the city had to do something to revitalize the city, which was falling into disrepair. The city decided to try something new, to take its rich history and turn it into a tourist attraction.

Lightship "New Bedford", as it was now called, fell into the trap which many historical buildings, etc. get caught in. Although the intentions of the City of New Bedford were great, there never seemed to be enough money in the city's coffers to maintain the lightship and open it up to tourism, as was the intention. Over the years, 3 different mayors pledged to restore the lightship and make it a tourist attraction, but always, other priorities arose in this city which always seems to be struggling with a depressed economy. After 30 years of neglect, LV114 just couldn't endure any longer.

On May 31, 2006, the lightship rolled over on its side due to water which leaked in during a violent thunderstorm because of an open portal. In July of that year, while the City was still struggling with what to do with the lightship, and still on its side, vandals removed 23 historic brass portholes from the exposed side.

In September of 2006, after almost four months, the lightship was finally righted and the city was continuing to explore options of how to dispose themselves of 114. In December, the City posted the lightship on eBay, of all places, trying to recoup their losses for the cost of righting the ship and the years of storage. Sea Roy Enterprises, a scrap metal yard in New Bedford, was the lone bidder at $1,775. The city pulled the lightship off eBay and attempted to sell it to other area scrap yards, with no takers. It then negotiated another deal with Sea Roy, this time for $10,000, nowhere near the $212,000 the city spent to right the lightship and clean it up, but got the most anyone was willing to pay them for it.

Sea Roy towed the lightship from its mooring at the Commonwealth Electric Pier in June to its scrap facility just a short ways away on the Acushnet River, and by the end of that month, the once proud lightship was being dismantled.

LV114, last known as the New Bedford Lightship, is now only a memory. The City of New Bedford should be ashamed of itself! There was absolutely no reason that it ever should have come to this. If the city was unable to go ahead with its initial plans, it should have found a new home for the lightship many years ago, one that would welcome and respect the historic significance of this treasure. Unfortunately, this episode is typical to the way the City of New Bedford has been managed for as long as I can remember. One can only hope that lessons are learned here by other municipalities and we will never experience another historic treasure to fall into the same fate as LV114.
So long, LV114. Thank you for your service. You deserved a better fate.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home