Lightship on the Block for $1
For sale: The largest lightship ever built, paid for by the British government after her predecessor was cut in half and sunk by the sister ship of the Titanic.
The 148-foot, 1,050-ton LV-112 stood sentinel 50 miles off the southeast coast of the island for the better part of four decades, marking the shoals that threatened to tear the guts from freighters and cruise ships bound for New York, Boston and Philadelphia. She is currently docked in Oyster Bay, Long Island.
The price: A very affordable $1. But there’s a catch.
The former Nantucket lightship needs constant maintenance and repair, and she’ll only be sold to a nonprofit organization willing to keep her open to the public as a tangible reminder of the men who spent solitary weeks at sea protecting their ocean-going brethren and the ships they sailed.
“We don’t want it converted into a bar or restaurant,” said Jerry Roberts, a board member of the National Light House Museum, which currently owns the vessel but is no longer able to maintain it.
“We also don’t want some local historical society with no money thinking they can have a free ship. It’s a huge responsibility. I would love to see it return to Nantucket.”
This week, neither the Nantucket Historical Association nor the Egan Maritime Foundation, the two groups most likely to pursue such an acquisition, expressed much hope that they would be able to offer the lightship a home.
“It’s really difficult accepting properties that take so much to maintain,” said NHA executive director Bill Tramposch. “If they fit our core business, and if they come with a good-size endowment, we would be interested. Historically, it’s very, very interesting, but economically and strategically, it’s not a good fit for us.”
Jean Grimmer, the Egan Foundation’s executive director, said she would take the acquisition idea to her board of directors, but she didn’t believe it was something the group would be able to handle at this time.
“We have in the past talked about the lightship and its symbolism of the whole life-saving history and theme,” she said. “I’ll certainly let our board know that she’s available. But beyond that, it sounds way beyond the scope of the Egan Maritime Foundation at this point. It’s so sad that the lightships should end their days this way. They have such a noble past.”
Roberts estimated it will cost approximately $150,000 to haul the lightship into drydock and completely repaint the vessel, and then about $25,000 a year in maintenance and upkeep.
The LV-112 last saw Nantucket waters in the mid-1970s after being decommissioned and then delivered to the island from Boston by a group of Nantucketers affectionately referred to as “The Dirty Dozen.”
The men were led by Captain Mike Todd, a Nantucket selectman who recruited the makeshift crew after learning that Atlantic City, N.J., which had purchased the Nantucket lightship at a government surplus auction, would be willing to exchange it for the (also surplus) Boston lightship if they delivered it to New Jersey. They included Todd and Dan Kelliher, Pete Grant, Les Eldridge, Kenny Holdgate, Bobby Allen, Richard Hardy, Andy Docca, Dr. Roy Stewart, Dennis Dias, Richard Mack and Jeff Marks.
After safely delivering the Boston vessel to New Jersey, they flew home to Nantucket and later brought the Nantucket lightship from Boston to the island, where it was run by the Nantucket Historical Association for nearly a decade before gradually falling into disrepair and debarking for Maine in 1984.
From there, she ended up at the Intrepid Air-Sea-Space Museum in New York City, before being acquired by The HMS Rose Foundation in Bridgeport, Conn. In 1996, she was acquired by the Light House Museum, which was going to dock it at a planned museum on Staten Island. The museum has not yet been built, and the museum’s board can no longer afford the vessel, Roberts said. The last time she saw open water was in 2003, when she traveled to Oyster Bay for the Long Island community’s annual Oyster Festival. There she still sits, and Oyster Bay officials say she’s finally worn out her welcome.
Nantucket plumber David Gray worked on the vessel in high school during marine vocation classes and helped get its engines up and running. He said he’d love to see it return to Nantucket.
“It’s unfortunate these other groups aren’t interested,” he said. “It’s a far-fetched dream, I’m sure. I know it’s a burden, but I would love to see it here. I think the biggest thing is dock space. It’s too much money. If you end up having it in the harbor, you have to have tender service.”
Gray is still hopeful.
“People here spend crazy money on other stuff. Will it go anywhere? I don’t know. I hope so.”
Officially known as LV-112, the lightship was built in 1936 in Wilmington, Del. Aside from serving three years as an examination ship during World War II and two years as a relief vessel, the 112 spent her entire career on the Nantucket Shoals.
The vessel is one of only three Nantucket lightships still afloat: Former state Sen. Bill Golden bought LV-612 on the Internet auction site eBay for $126,100 and sunk millions more into her conversion into an opulent floating vacation home. She has spent decent chunks of the last few summers in Nantucket Harbor and is currently on the market for $7.5 million. Now at her winter berth at Rowe’s Wharf in Boston, Golden said yesterday he is in serious discussion with two potential buyers for the vessel after a deal fell through last year at the 11th hour.
Owned by Jack Baker, a retired Acton businessman who made a small fortune in medical instruments, the 128-foot LV-613 is currently tied up in a Wareham shipyard, where a caretaker maintains her along with a fleet of other vessels. Baker is willing to unload her as well, if he could find a buyer willing to make at least a 10-year commitment.
Serious inquiries about acquiring the LV-112 can be addressed to Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Joshua Balling
I&M Managing Editor