Lightship Swiftsure – A Floating Lighthouse

Lightship Swiftsure

When we think of lighthouses, we usually picture tall towers and keeper’s quarters, bright beaming lights and loud foghorns, placed on the edges of land or on islands. However, did you know that there were these aids to navigation that were actually floating? These “floating lighthouses” were just as powerful, and used to be just as important, as their sisters on land. The bright beaming lights and loud foghorns were located on ships that were anchored offshore, floating in the seas, in places where building regular lighthouses were impossible or impractical. Known as “lightvessels” and “lightships,” they performed just like lighthouses.

Lightship Swiftsure

One of the oldest lightships in the United States is currently located in Seattle, and on one summer day, my husband and I drove down to the Historic Ships Wharf in Lake Union Park to board this vessel, walk around, and listen to information told by one of the volunteers. The Lightship Swiftsure was built in 1904 with sails and with steam engines. It is the only lightship today that still has her original steam engines.

Lightship Swiftsure

The name “Swiftsure” is this particular floating lighthouse’s current name from 1995. Prior to that, she had several other names depending on where she was located during her 56 years of service. “Blunts Reef ” off Cape Mendocino in California, “San Francisco” where she protected the foggy San Francisco Bay, and then “Relief” when she was first brought to the Puget Sound of Washington State, were some of her other names. Part of her service included time in the Navy during World War 2, in addition to originally serving with the United States Lighthouse Service, and finally the United States Coast Guard.

Lightship Swiftsure

In lightships, the light that shines to protect those at sea is located on a tall mast. Some lightships had two lights on two masts, one being a backup light. Just as the lights in lighthouses on land transitioned from oil lanterns and Fresnel lenses to electricity, so too did the lightships. Many lightships were painted red, with its name in white, because the color red is quite a visible color.

Lightship Swiftsure

As many as 179 lightships had been built in the United States between 1820 and 1983. Not only have lightships been assigned several names each, they were also given letters and numbers for identification. Although not continuous, consistent, and some are skipped, the letters are first A through Z, AA through AZ, then LV-1 to LV-118, and a few with the letters WAL and WLV. The Lightship Swiftsure is also known as LV83 and WAL 513.

Lightship Swiftsure

The Lightship Swiftsure was retired from service in 1960, and is currently undergoing renovation to stabilize her, to replace the wooden deck, to restore the electrical system, and to become a museum. Thus the tent covering over the vessel to protect it and the renovations from the weather. She is currently docked in Seattle as part of a heritage vessel and floating maritime museum area, along with other vessels, many of which can be toured during a visit.

Lightship Swiftsure

The Lightship Swiftsure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in Washington State in 1975, and was recognized by the National Park Service as a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

Of the 179 lightships built, only about 15 lightships remain today. Most of these are located on the East Coast of the United States, and only a few on the West Coast. I feel fortunate that my husband and I live so close to one of these historic and important pieces of history, the floating lighthouse.

Sweet Travels!

Information in this blog from:

Literature on display at the Lightship Swiftsure itself, including articles by Northwest Seaport, Maritime Heritage Center, owner of the Lightship Swiftsure.

Article by Diana Hennick, Museum Specialist, Northwest Seaport, “Rehabilitation of the Lightship No. 83” on display at the Lightship Swiftsure.

Northwest Seaport: 1904 Lightship: No. 83, Swiftsure
Lighthouse Friends.com: Lightship Swiftsure LV83/WAL513, WA
Wikipedia: Lightvessel

The Dofflemeyer Point Light(house)

dofflemyer point lighthouse

My husband and I took a day trip this past summer to Olympia, Washington just to view the Dofflemeyer Point Light(house). More like a light tower, the unusual bit of information about this light is that a formal lighthouse keeper was never actually appointed to this particular light. Instead, “local residents were contracted to care for the light and activate the fog signal.” Located on a private beach, my husband and I needed to walk out on the marina of Boston Harbor for a view of the light tower, and to take a few photos.

dofflemyer point lighthouse

dofflemyer point lighthouse

Dofflemeyer Point Light (also spelled Dofflemyer) is located at entrance to Budd Inlet, which leads to Olympia, the state capital of Washington, and to the Port of Olympia. This light is the southernmost light in Puget Sound. As my husband and I took our photos, we also watched the other flurry of activity on the marina, including people enjoying their fishing boats, motor boats, and sailboats, as well as jet skiing, kayaking, and even playing on the part of the beach near the light that is not private.

dofflemyer point lighthouse

dofflemyer point lighthouse

The original light at this location that was established in December 1887 was a “post lantern” on top of a 12-foot stake. With the lumber trade as the main industry of the times, and other trades such as canned fruit and shellfish, the increase in ships carrying these various cargos made it necessary to increase the light needed to guide these ships safely. Therefore in 1934 the 30-foot pyramidal concrete light tower seen today was built.

dofflemyer point lighthouse

The Dofflemeyer Point Light was automated in the 1960’s by the Coast Guard, with its fog signal automated in 1987, and thus the need for the local residents as “care-keepers” was no longer needed. Today the Coast Guard maintains the signal.

dofflemyer point lighthouse boston harbor marina

In 1995, Dofflemeyer Point Light(house) was listed on the Washington State’s Heritage Register, as well as placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sweet Travels!

Quote and information from this blog obtained from:
Lighthouse Friends-Dofflemeyer Point, WA
Northwest Maritime Heritage-Dofflemeyer Point Lighthouse
History Link.org-Dofflemyer Point Lighthouse

The “Unusual” Skunk Bay Lighthouse

Skunk Bay Lighthouse

Skunk Bay Lighthouse seems to have had an unusual beginning, unlike the main reason lighthouses are constructed. It was not originally built out of the needs of a dangerous area as an aid to navigation. Instead it was built by a local maritime author, and a former lighthouse keeper, Jim Gibbs, seemingly for personal use and as a memorial light.

Skunk Bay Lighthouse

As my husband and I drove north on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington State passing the nearby Point no Point Lighthouse and the town of Hansville, we knew we were looking for a lighthouse that is privately owned and that we would not be able to go into and tour, but we would just be able to view it. Driving down Twin Spits Road, at first we could not find Skunk Bay Lighthouse, but then we realized it must be the place which had the red, white, and blue Coast Guard sign out in front of it, even though the sign contained no words.

Skunk Bay Lighthouse

In 1965, using plans based on the Mukilteo Lighthouse (where my husband and I were married!), Jim Gibbs constructed the Skunk Bay Lighthouse using the lantern room from the Smith Island Lighthouse before it eroded. Jim Gibbs also used a real Fresnel lens.

My husband and I parked our car off the side of the road, and walked right up to the fence where there was a “No Trespassing; Private Property; Admission Beyond This Point by Permission Only” sign. We managed to take some photos from various angles as we peered over the fence. Through the bushes, we were able to see part of the Skunk Bay Lighthouse.

Skunk Bay Lighthouse

Originally only for personal use, Mr. Gibbs would occasionally flash the light for brief instances. But one night he turned on the light for a friend who was guiding a cargo vessel, but then forgot to turn it off. The next morning, the Coast Guard paid a visit to Mr. Gibbs and the lighthouse due to complaints of an unauthorized beacon.

After a lighthouse inspection (which was typical back in the days before lighthouses were automated), Mr. Gibbs was told to either leave the light off or he could operate it under Coast Guard rules and regulations for private aids to navigation. Mr. Gibbs passed inspection and the Skunk Bay Lighthouse became fully operational.

Skunk Bay Lighthouse

Since 1971, the Skunk Bay Lighthouse has been owned by a group of people known as the Skunk Bay Lighthouse Association, and is now a private time-share. They did some remodeling, adding more rooms to the house, making the room from the original lighthouse into a kitchen.

As my husband and I peered over the fence and took our pictures, we really hoped that someone might be around to give us permission for admission and let us in so we could look inside Skunk Bay Lighthouse. But alas, that did not happen.

Sweet Travels!

Disclaimer: Due to the limited information about Skunk Bay Lighthouse, much of this blog is paraphrased from Lighthouse Friends-Skunk Bay, WA.

Information also from:
Northwest Maritime Heritage-Skunk Bay Lighthouse
Lighthouses of the United States: Washington

Today’s Ediz Hook Lighthouse

Ediz Hook Lighthouse

This summer my husband and I went on a sort of “treasure hunt” to try to find several lighthouses in Washington State that are not quite like the typical lighthouse one thinks of when thinking of a lighthouse. This first one, Ediz Hook Lighthouse, is currently located in a residential area of Port Angeles as a private home, and having its light tower removed, looks like a normal house if you did not know it used to be a dwelling for a lighthouse.

Ediz Hook Lighthouse

This dwelling, along with its octagonal shaped light tower, was originally located on the three-and-a-half-mile sand spit, Ediz Hook, which protects Port Angeles Harbor. The tower was completed in 1908, and the dwelling was added in 1909. Today you can see the engraving of 1908 on the front door.

Ediz Hook Lighthouse

Going back in history, located at the far end of Ediz Hook, the original way the sand spit was protected by a “lighthouse” was that “driftwood was burned atop a tripod by private enterprise as early as 1861 to provide light for navigation.”

Prior to the 1908/1909 lighthouse and dwelling, but replacing the burning driftwood, the first lighthouse located on Ediz Hook “resembled a country schoolhouse, consisting of a two-story dwelling with a short, square tower protruding from one end of its pitched roof. A fixed, fifth-order Fresnel lens…was first shown from the lantern room on April 2, 1865.”

Ediz Hook Lighthouse

This original lighthouse was in use for over four decades until the 1908/1909 replacement became necessary, as over time the original lighthouse and dwelling was in need of repairs, but was replaced instead.

The original 1865 lighthouse was torn down years later in 1939. In 1946 a modern beacon on top of a control tower at the Coast Guard Air Station located at the end of Ediz Hook replaced the 1908/1909 lighthouse and dwelling. After seeing nearly four decades of use, the 1909 dwelling was sold and relocated to its current location as a private residence.

Ediz Hook Lighthouse

My husband and I drove down to near the end of Ediz Hook spit, which has a well-established road as well some industries, where the Coast Guard Air Station is located to see if we could see the modern beacon, but we could not get into the property as the area is secured from visitors. Today, there are also beaches and the Ediz Hook Reservation for Native Birds on the spit.

Located on the corner of Albert and Fourth Streets in Port Angeles we were, however, able to take pictures of today’s Ediz Hook Lighthouse dwelling from the outside of the fence. I happened to notice when I took a picture of the front door that there is a lighthouse etched in glass in the window next to the door!

Ediz Hook Lighthouse

Sweet Travels!

Quotes and information for this blog from Lighthouse Friends-Ediz Hook, where you can also view historical pictures on this website.

Lighthouses Visited from the Schooner Zodiac

Patos Island Lighthouse

Considering myself a pharologist, one who has a strong interest in lighthouses, I was thrilled when I was able to see eight lighthouses while sailing with the Schooner Zodiac on their four-day Spring Lighthouse Tour around the San Juan Islands in Washington State back in April. Here are some of my favorite pictures of six of these lighthouses taken during this exciting adventure.

Patos Island Lighthouse

Patos Island Lighthouse

Patos Island Lighthouse (above).

New Dungeness Lighthouse:

New Dungeness Lighthouse

New Dungeness Lighthouse

New Dungeness Lighthouse

Lime Kiln Lighthouse:

Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Lime Kiln LighthousePoint Wilson Lighthouse:

Point Wilson Lighthouse

Burrows Island Lighthouse:

Burrows Island Lighthouse

Burrows Island Lighthouse

Burrows Island LighthouseTurn Point Lighthouse:

Turn Point Lighthouse

Turn Point Lighthouse

Turn Point Lighthouse

You may read more about my exciting sailing adventures with the Schooner Zodiac on my previous three blogs:

Sailing with the Schooner Zodiac and their Spring Lighthouse Tour

Learning Some Sailing Skills Aboard The Schooner Zodiac

Kayaking, a Cat, and a Few Other Random Schooner Zodiac Photos

In addition, you may read more about these lighthouses from my previous travels to them, including walking 10 miles round trip to the New Dungeness Lighthouse, Christmas at the Lime Kiln Lighthouse and volunteering in the restoration of Burrows Island Lighthouse. (See, I am a pharologist!)

Patos Island and Turn Point Lighthouses
Point Wilson Lighthouse
New Dungeness Lighthouse
Lime Kiln Lighthouse
Burrows Island Lighthouse

Sweet Travels!

I was provided this excursion courtesy of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism and the Schooner Zodiac, but all opinions are my own. For more information about sailing with the Schooner Zodiac, please visit their website, www.schoonerzodiac.com, which includes a list of all upcoming cruises from now through October, from their day sails, to their three day trips, to trips of longer durations, from the San Juan Islands to the Canadian Gulf Islands. The ship carries up to 26 passengers on overnight cruises in berths or private rooms, and up to 49 passengers on day sails.