Lightships were designed to act as floating lighthouses in waters where it was difficult if not impossible to build a permanent light structure. From the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes to Maine, the lightships helped guide commercial and recreational vessels to safety in all types of hazardous weather conditions. A lightship crew’s primary purpose was to maintain its beacons atop one or two tall masts. Lightships were equipped with foghorns, and crews also conducted weather reporting and sometimes even relief efforts.
The WLV-612 is part of a proud line of Nantucket lightships known as the “Guardian Angels” of the North Atlantic. They were stationed at the Nantucket Shoals lightship station, 40 miles southeast of Nantucket island, after substantial loss of life and shipping along the area’s minefield of shallow shoals. These lightships served in international waters and were prone to fog-induced collisions, severe winter storms, and hurricanes. A Nantucket lightship was the last lightship seen by vessels departing the U.S. and the first beacon viewable upon approach.
Over time, lightships were decommissioned and replaced by large, automated navigational buoys. Many have been scrapped; some are part of museum displays. The WLV-612 was the last ship to serve a full tour of duty on the Nantucket Shoals station until a buoy took its place.
Today, the 600-ton, 128-foot-long ship is a redone beauty. “Almost everything you see is new,” says Bill. “When we bought her, she didn’t have one toothpick of wood.” But the road to achieving such an impressive interior was a long one: After purchasing the lightship in 2000, it took nearly four years to reappoint her from Coast Guard property to charter worthy. “A year and a half was spent just decommissioning her,” recalls Kristen. “It was similar to being handed the keys to a new house but having it come with all the previous owners’ stuff.”