The last of America’s lightships headed for port nearly two decades ago, never to return to their historic light stations. No more would these red-hulled warriors battle raging winds and mountainous seas while holding station to send out their guiding light. Instead, our nation’s remaining lightships enter the 21st century waging battle with another tempest of sorts in the form of neglect, deterioration and human indifference.
Despite the daunting challenges facing lightship preservation today, great strides continue to be made to save these “floating lighthouses” and their unique history thanks to the tireless efforts of groups like the USCG Lightship Sailors Association and the Overfalls Maritime Museum Foundation.
On October 3, 2003, “Overfalls” Lightship, LV 118 was the scene of two ceremonies honoring lightship history. The first ceremony was a joint effort by the USCG Lightship Sailors Association and the Overfalls Maritime Museum Foundation that paid tribute to America’s lightship sailors who died in the line of duty. As the names of fallen lightship sailors were read one by one, a bell aboard LV 118 was rung in honor of each man who paid the ultimate price for serving his fellow man. The touching memorial service was capped by a wreath-laying ceremony where U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Brian Wazlavek and Lightship Sailors Association president Dennis Cosmo tossed a flower wreath into the waters of the Lewes Canal from the bow of the lightship.
Following the memorial service, lightship sailors and preservationists alike gathered together to celebrate the history of lightships with the dedication of a historic marker for “Overfalls” Lightship. Thanks to an effort spearheaded by Vice-chairperson Elaine Simmerman of the Overfalls Maritime Museum Foundation, Delaware Senator Gary Simpson and Russ McCabe of Delaware Public Archives, a bronze historic marker was established on the grounds by the lightship.
The marker’s text was woven to pay tribute to both America’s lightships and LV 118. “The historic marker that was placed at the site of the Overfalls Lightship LV 118 (WAL 539) recalls the maritime dangers that were faced by sailors in the nineteenth and early twentieth century,” says Elaine Simmerman of the Overfalls Maritime Museum Foundation. “It is fitting that today’s general public be made aware of the sacrifices of lightships and their sailors by having a historic marker at the site of Overfalls Lightship.”
The establishment of a historic marker at “Overfalls” Lightship not only honors lightship history, but it also commits the Lewes community and maritime enthusiasts to the preservation of this historic treasure. “The Overfalls Maritime Museum Foundation is currently raising funds to lift and repair LV 118, and set it in a permanent cradle in order to have easy access to the hull for ongoing maintenance, says Simmerman. “The restored lightship will sit in a central location in the future Lewes Canal-front park as part of phase II of the park development plan. Right now, the Overfalls Maritime Museum’s restoration work crew is building a new entryway to the lightship, with plans to restore the galley and officer’s quarters next spring.”
While LV 118 embodies the spirit of our nation’s lightships by preserving and interpreting past deeds of unselfishness and valor, the vessel’s future is beaming just as bright thanks to preservationists who exhibit the same time-honored qualities that forged the legacy of lightships in the first place.
This story appeared in the
November 2003 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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