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

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.

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

Schooner Zodiac Kayak

Not only did I get to see eight lighthouses in the San Juan Islands of Washington State from the point of view of the seas, and not only did I learn some sailing skills that I did not have before, I also had a chance for a brief kayak one evening just before the sunset hours during the Schooner Zodiac’s four-day Spring Lighthouse Tour. We were anchored in the very still waters of Hughes Bay at Lopez Island, so my husband and I put on life jackets and went kayaking around the peaceful bay. These are a few photos I took of the Schooner Zodiac during our paddle.

Schooner Zodiac Kayak

Schooner Zodiac Kayak

For sleeping, my husband and I each had a berth (like a bunk bed) in a room that could sleep up to eight. This room was also used as a reading room, sitting room, and a dining room. There were berths in other areas of the ship, as well as private rooms.

Schooner Zodiac Interior

Schooner Zodiac Interior

This is a photo of another dining room.

Schooner Zodiac Dining

And this is the galley, where our delicious meals were prepared.

Schooner Zodiac Galley

On board the Schooner Zodiac was Abby, the resident cat, who decided she liked to sleep in my husband’s berth or against his backpack during the day. (My husband is a cat person, and loved this!)

Schooner Zodiac Cat Abby

Schooner Zodiac Cat Abby

When the Schooner Zodiac is not on one of their sails, they are docked at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.

Schooner Zodiac Bellingham

A big thank you to the captain and the crew of the Schooner Zodiac for making my sailing experience a wonderful one!

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.

Learning Some Sailing Skills Aboard The Schooner Zodiac

Schooner Zodiac

From someone who tried to take a sailing class back in college, but did not succeed at it, I must say that in four days’ time aboard the Schooner Zodiac, I learned more about sailing and navigation and ships and weather from the perspective of the seas than I personally ever have in my life. I think my favorite part about it all was seeing the majestic white sails of the Schooner Zodiac breathing in the wind against the baby blue skies, that I helped hoist.

Schooner Zodiac

When the calls “all hands on deck” and “prepare to make sail” were issued, there was a flurry of activity, under the direction of a crew member. We were on our four-day Spring Lighthouse Tour in the San Juan Islands in Washington State, and we were getting ready to hoist those majestic sails. All of us passengers had each been given a “sailing station” when we first boarded the Schooner Zodiac, so we reported there first. My station was the “staysail,” a single triangular sail towards the front of the ship. My instructions from the one crew instructor that I was teamed up with had to do with untying a line, pulling the line to raise the sail, and belaying the line with a locking hitch to complete the process. Well, there was more to it than that, but for my first time doing this, and with a lot of good guidance and assistance from my crew instructor, and from me asking a lot of questions, and from having my crew instructor double and triple check my work, I was able to raise the staysail!

Schooner Zodiac Sails

Schooner Zodiac Sails

But not before the majority of passengers and crew participated in the hoisting of the “mainsail.” We teamed up together on one of two sides of the ship, the “peak” and the “throat” sides, which correlated with the “port” and the “starboard” sides of the ship respectively. Each team had a thick line (halyard) to pull, which upon command from a crew member, raised the heavy sail up into the wind. Sometimes the peak side pulled, other times the throat side, other times both sides pulled. It was tough to pull that line, so I can see why many people were needed.

Schooner Zodiac Sails

At one point, I asked my crew instructor how many people minimum have they ever hoisted the sails with? He replied that they once did it with five people! I then asked him, “and what is the ideal number of people?” To which he replied, “Everyone!” There must have been at least 20 of us hoisting the sails this time.

Schooner Zodiac Sails

Once all four sails were hoisted, the jib, staysail, foresail, and mainsail (although I think we only raised three), and the excess lines were coiled and neatly put away, we were all then told, “all hands stand down.” I asked my instructional crew member well, I have always either stood up or sat down, but I had never stood down before. So what did that mean? It meant that I could go back to doing whatever I was doing before the call was made for “all hands on deck.” So I usually returned to taking lots of photographs, staring in awe at the raised sails, relaxing, or going back to my one of four “watch rotations.”

Schooner Zodiac Hoist Sails

Schooner Zodiac Hoist Sails

Schooner Zodiac Hoist Sails

All passengers also had the opportunity to learn a lot more about sailing other than hoisting the sails through four voluntary “watch rotations” of a half-hour each. These rotations rotated throughout the passengers and over the four days, so each of us had several rotations of the watch rotations in order to keep building our sailing skills. Our first rotation was a navigation lesson in the chart room with a crew member. I was taught navigation skills about charting (maps in nautical terms), use of latitude and longitude, and figuring out how long it takes to get somewhere using the formula I learned back in grade school of “rate times time equals distance,” using a Nautical Slide Rule. I learned that buoys have different colors and flash patterns, just like lighthouses. I learned that 1 knot is about 1.1 miles per hour, therefore 10 knots is about 11 miles per hour. I learned that one fathom is six feet. I learned about the use of a compass, a caliper, and a simple number 2 pencil. To some, this might be basic knowledge, but to me I found it quite interesting to gain some good understanding about sailing that somehow I didn’t quite get back in college.

Schooner Zodiac Navigation

Schooner Zodiac Navigation

Schooner Zodiac Navigation

When the navigation lesson was over, I had a turn at our second rotation, steering the helm. Aided by the captain or a crew member, I learned how to use a landmark when the weather was clear to steer by, and by using a compass when there was fog. I learned that it is not quite like driving a car. Yes, to go left, you steer left, and to go right, you steer right, but a 160-foot ship is much bigger than a car, and it takes time to respond, and then it over responds, so corrections need to be made to bring the ship back to sailing straight ahead. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous about doing this, being responsible for making sure I was on course, but of course they weren’t going to leave a beginner like me alone at doing this, so I felt at ease when the captain or another crew member was nearby.

Schooner Zodiac Helm

Schooner Zodiac Helm

Doing a bow watch from the front of the ship looking for debris, logs, crab pots, kayaks, other boats, whales, or anything that might be in the way, was our third rotation. It was quite a different experience doing the bow watch if the skies were clear and you could see quite a lot ahead of you versus if it was foggy, and you couldn’t see much. In either case, if we spotted something we were to whistle into a brass tube at the bow of the ship which was connected to a brass tube near the helm at the aft of the ship.

Schooner Zodiac Bow Watch

Schooner Zodiac Bow Watch

Schooner Zodiac Bow Watch

Schooner Zodiac Bow Watch

Then the quarterdeck messenger, our fourth rotation, would answer the whistle, and then the two would communicate the message, informing the person at the helm. It was kind of like that telephone game you played when you were a kid with two cans at each end of a rope. Of course, it really wasn’t a game, and was quite useful, especially because when you are standing at the helm, with the 160 feet of ship in front of you, you really can’t see what is directly in front of the ship.

Schooner Zodiac Messenger

Another lesson that all passengers contributed to were the preparations of getting the Schooner Zodiac ready in the morning for the day. This included cleaning the deck, wiping down the wet sitting areas (that was my job), and polishing the brass. It was a lesson to show how much dedication and care is needed to make sure the ship stays clean and looking sharp, and everyone on board is comfortable.

Schooner Zodiac Brass

Schooner Zodiac Brass

Now I know I have a lot more to learn about sailing, but what I learned in four days aboard the Schooner Zodiac on their Spring Lighthouse Tour, I felt was a great foundation. Much, much more than an entire class in college. Whether you are an experienced sailor, or a beginner like me, I would recommend a cruise with the Schooner Zodiac not only to learn some sailing skills, but to also travel to some great destinations!

Schooner Zodiac

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.