Category Archives: Historic Fleet

Swiftsure and Shipwright Featured in Ballard News Tribune

Brian Johnson Plank horizontal web

Photo by Shane Harms of Ballard News Tribune

‘A boat builds a community, and a community builds a boat’


Heeling in Time: Swiftsure a beacon in maritime history

Two Ballard News Tribune stories share Swiftsure’s stories and the story, passion, experience and vision for the lightship, a beacon of Lake Union.

Ballard shipwright keeping the trade alive after nearly 40 years (reprinted with permission)

By Shane Harms
Stepping aboard Swiftsure, (Lighthouse No. 83), a 109-year-old Coast Guard Lightship, is like stepping into a floating time capsule slowly undergoing a metamorphic rejuvenation.

Onboard a lone figure is at work fitting 500-year-old Doug Fir deck pieces around the huge smokestack. The shipwright listens to Tango music that riots in the bright-lit canopied dome that protects the Swiftsure from the elements while the deck is restored.

Swiftsure Project Shipwright, Brian Johnson, almost 60, is an inquisitive man. He lives in Ballard, and dances the Tango and is a martial artist. But, mostly, Johnson knows boats.
Johnson has been working with boats all his life. He built his first vessel at the age of five. It sank, but the experience spurred a life long love of boats and an ingenuitive passion for the maritime industry.

Northwest Seaport, owner of the Swiftsure, have asked Johnson to use his shipwright expertise in rebuilding the deck — just one piece in an ongoing restoration puzzle.

“I’m a commercial fishermen and a shipwright — you can’t get anymore Norwegian than that. … I’ve been on and off boats for 40 years either on them breaking them or underneath fixing them,” said Johnson.  read more…

Cover June 26 Ballard News-Tribune Shane HarmsBy Shane Harms

Heeling in Time: Swiftsure a beacon in maritime history

Northwest Seaport, a maritime heritage organization, is restoring a 109–year-old Lightship (No. 83) called Swiftsure.

The Swiftsure is to become a floating museum, and in their effort to revive the ship, they hope to discover the rich, nuanced layers of history the ship contains and also share the lore of bygone days with the public by having them actively participate in the project. Swiftsure is open to the public and floats at the Historic Ships Wharf at Lake Union Park.

According to Nathaniel Howe, the Vessel Manager & Nautical Archeologist for Northwest Seaport, 179 lightships were built between 1820 and 1952, and of those, 17 remain, half of which have become floating museums.

Built in 1904, Swiftsure was first forged in the Carnegie steel furnaces in New Jersey. That same year, America gained control of the Panama Canal and engineers started the daunting challenge of opening the earth for naval passage. Indeed, the Swiftsure was fabricated from an era of unprecedented strides in engineering and industry.  Read more…

Northwest Seaport wins Historic Vessel Preservation Award

Historic Seattle Vessel Preservation Award 2014 Swiftsure

Northwest Seaport was honored to received the 2014 Historic Vessel Preservation Award and wish to thank Lake Union Drydock Co. for their support.

The Historic Vessel Preservation Award (presented by Historic Seattle) goes to Northwest Seaport Maritime Heritage Center and its supporting partner for blending maritime history, education and public outreach through the restoration of the heritage vessel and museum, Lightship No. 83.

Historic Vessel Preservation Award (PDF)
Lightship No. 83, “The Swiftsure”
South Lake Union Pier
Supporting Partners: Northwest Seaport Maritime Heritage Center (owner);  Lake Union Drydock Co. (restoration support).
Award was presented May 13, 2014.

(text from program) Lightship No. 83 was one of four original lightships to serve along the Pacific Coast with primary assignments at Blunts Reef, San Francisco and Coast Guard District 13. The vessel relies on a two-boiler steam engine with an indicated horsepower of 325 for propulsion. Originally, the vessel had a centralized stack between two masts with a concentration of oil lamps in each head to serve as lanterns.

Historic Seattle Preservation Award Ceremony Program 2014Lightship No. 83 was constructed in 1904 by the New York Shipbuilding Company in Camden, NJ and delivered to Cape Mendocino, CA, to serve as the first floating lighthouse at the Blunts Reef lightship station, the ship’s namesake from 1905-1930. The primary function of the vessel was to occupy a station a few miles from a point of access to a port center and serve as a floating beacon to incoming and outgoing ships. In 1930 Lightship No. 83 was transferred to and renamed “San Francisco.” It occupied a lightship station beyond the Golden Gate Bridge until 1942 when it was withdrawn and reclassified as a WWII examination vessel after the installation of a coastal defense gun. Following WWII, Lightship No. 83 returned to the San Francisco lightship station. From 1951-1960 Lightship No. 83 was stationed in Coast Guard District 13 and renamed “Relief.” The ship served Umatilla Reef, Swiftsure Banks and Columbia River lightship stations.

Lightship No. 83 was decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1961. In 1968, it was purchased by Northwest Seaport (then known as Save Our Ships). It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and in 1996, the vessel was given the name of the most proximate lightship station, “Swiftsure.”

After three months of extensive restoration in drydock, the Swiftsure was re-launched in August of 2013 in South Lake Union, where it currently serves as a floating museum showcasing the oldest surviving lightship on the West Coast. Restoration efforts included replacing the wooden deck; restoring the electrical system; rigging; removal of hazardous materials; and removal of the deteriorated wheelhouse, radio house and wood weather deck.

The hull was cleaned, reinforced, and painted with the distinctive Coast Guard Red color. The restoration provided a unique opportunity for distinguished shipwrights, Nautical Archaeologists and volunteers to work hand-in-hand to maintain the ship in a manner that preserves its historic functionality while ensuring its preservation for future generations. Volunteers are afforded the opportunity to learn and continue the practice of the maritime trade that is so pertinent to coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest. The restoration of the Swiftsure is a valuable model for linking the past, present and future in a manner that is both active and educational.

NOTE:  Northwest Seaport was honored to received the 2014 Historic Vessel Preservation Award and wish to thank Lake Union Drydock Co. for their support.  For a full list of awards, visit Historic Seattle.

The Arthur Foss Turns 125

The Arthur Foss at the Historic Ships Wharf on South Lake Union

The Arthur Foss at the Historic Ships Wharf on South Lake Union – (Photo by Joe Mabel)

Foss tugboats are as an iconic part of Puget Sound views as Orcas or Mount Rainier.

The company was founded in 1889 in Tacoma by Andrew and Thea Foss, starting out with a single rowboat painted in the now iconic green and white livery. Eventually, their growing concern expanded to the rest of the Sound, then eventually to the West Coast and Pacific.

(Blog re-posted from Three Sheets Northwest by Scott Wilson on May 21, 2014:  “2014 is a big year for anniversaries in Pacific Northwest maritime history. This summer, we’re doing a series of articles on some of the significant local organizations and vessels celebrating major milestones.”

That same year, the tug Wallowa was built in Portland by the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company to tow sailing ships across the Columbia River Bar. The steam-powered tug was built stout for the task, but she wasn’t at it for long when the Klondike gold rush gave her a more glamorous and profitable role, hauling barges and ships full of prospective prospectors and supplies for the same up the Inside Passage.

Wallowa went up as far as St. Michael on the Yukon in the employ of the White Star Line of Alaska. But the rush was short-lived, and by the time it was done in 1900, Wallowa was relegated to the mail run between Haines, Skagway, and Juneau.

(Celebrate National Maritime Day 3-8pm today with Northwest Seaport 3-8pm in Ballard)

Although the age of sail was fading, and the gold rush lost its luster, the age of timber wasn’t going anywhere, and Wallowa found gainful employment towing logs on Puget Sound. There, she caught the eye of Foss Launch and Tug Company, which bought her in 1929. One of her first jobs with the company was an unusual one: she was leased out to MGM to star as the tugNarcissus in the 1934 film “Tugboat Annie,” a movie thought to be loosely based on the life of Thea Foss herself.

After her star turn, Wallowa went into the yard for a rebuild and to be repowered with a 700hp Washington Iron Works diesel (the engine that remains in her today). When she came out, she had not only a new engine, but a new name: Arthur Foss. With the additional horsepower and reliability of the diesel, Arthur Foss was a fast and in-demand coastal tug up and down the Pacific Coast.

In February 1941, Foss chartered her out to Pacific Naval Airbase Contractors, who put her to work hauling military supplies from Hawaii to the isolated American outpost at Wake Island. The morning of December 8, 1941 (Wake being on the far side of the International Date Line) found her a mere twelve hours out from Wake on a return trip to Pearl Harbor, when news of the surprise Japanese attack was received. Painted in the traditional Foss white and green, and well within scouting distance of one of the primary follow-on targets of the Japanese Navy, the tug and her crew were a big bullseye in a lonely ocean.

The Justine Foss, which was left behind at Wake, was not so lucky. Subject to near-constant air attacks from December 8 on, Justine and her crew were still at the island on December 23 when the Japanese landed. Justine was sunk and most of her crew executed.

Like many workboats during the war years, Arthur Foss spent her time in service of the Navy, renamed Dohasan (after a Kiowa chief) and was assigned to the 14th Naval District in Hawaii, working at hundreds of miscellaneous military towing assignments. In 1946, the war won, she was returned to Foss, and put back to her plodding pre-rebuild work of towing logs around the Pacific Northwest.

In 1968, having set a record for the longest uninterrupted log-towing service in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Arthur Foss had finally outworn her usefulness and was retired.

Most old wooden tugs of that age were broken up or fell to ignominious fates of fire or rot, butArthur Foss caught a break in that Save Our Ships (SOS) — the organization that would later become Northwest Seaport — had been founded only four years earlier (the year Art turned 75).

Though established specifically to preserve the Wawona, the leaders of SOS quickly saw the historical value of Arthur Foss and when that vessel was offered to them in 1970, they snapped it up as well.

On her 100th anniversary, the Arthur Foss was declared a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service (which also makes this year the 25th anniversary of that designation). Today, she is the oldest known wooden-hulled tug still afloat and in operating condition in the United States today.

Although her old Washington Iron Works diesel still turns over intermittently, Arthur is a museum ship now, moored more or less permanently at the Historic Ships Wharf on South Lake Union. Northwest Seaport offers a popular Tugboat Storytime series aboard, bringing children and parents aboard to listen to stories and sing chanteys, and allows just about anyone to spend the night aboard as a part of their Tugboat Sleepovers program.

Recently, the organization received a grant from King County’s 4Culture program to complete the revitalization of the tug’s onboard systems. Provided that Northwest Seaport can match the grant amount, they’ll receive $25,000 to put into her … keeping her in shape to weather the next 125 years.

About Scott Wilson

Scott Wilson lives aboard his Freedom 36 with his doting wife Mandy. He works as a consultant in the information technology industry and occasionally scribbles out an article for Three Sheets Northwest. From time to time, he even goes sailing.

Tugboat Documentary Premier and Tugboat Annie Plaque Re-unveiled

View new Arthur Foss documentary to learn more about its iconic American story.

View, soon, the new Arthur Foss documentary to engage in this iconic American story.

Vaun Raymond Filmmaker Seattle Art Institute

This trailer of the new film Arthur Foss: Iconic Tugboat of the Northwest, provides a taste of the exciting documentary about the 125-year old museum ship.  Full documentary will be released soon.  In collaboration with the Art Institute of Seattle’s Summer Studio Class-2013, Northwest Seaport co-produced this film.

On March 6, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park(PDF) hosted the film’s world premiere, and Watch the Sky musicians, Northwest Seaport chantey singers and representatives from Maritime Folknet entertained the crowd with  music and chanteys, such as “A Hundred Years Ago” (written by Bob Kotta and Mariide Tune). While AIS-student and film director, Victor M. Ramos III, was unavailable, filmmaker and Art Institute of Seattle instructor, Vaun Raymond, introduced the AIS-student documentary and also shared a “the-making-of” film regarding the 2013 class efforts.

Anna Franklin with Memory Book of Captain Franklin webFilm goers enjoyed listing to stories from Franklin family members whose father and siblings captained and crewed aboard Arthur Foss.  Save Our Ships and Northwest Seaport founder, Kay Bullitt spoke briefly about the founding of this organization.  Chuck Fowler, co-author of “Tugboats of Puget Sound” shared with attendees some historical perspective of Arthur Foss and contributions to the Pacific Northwest maritime economy.

Plaque 1 Dedicated to Tugboat Annie 1940 Pioneer Spirit of Puget Sound webNearly 75 year-ago tug Arthur Foss seemed to have starred in another Hollywood sensation event, Northwest Seaport now believes.  On Oct 18, 1940 Tugboat Annie Sails Again actors Ronald Reagan and Marjorie Rambeau with Henry Foss of the Foss Launch and Tug Company presented the City of Tacoma at the city’s Roxy theater (now  Pantages Theater)  with a bronze plaque which includes the words, “Dedicated to Tugboat Annie – 1940 – Pioneer Spirit of Puget Sound.” (pictured).  

Northwest Seaport and Foss Waterway Seaport Crew 2 Foss Waterway Seaport curator, Joseph M. Govednik tracked it down the commemorative plaque at the Broadway Center For the Performing Arts, who kindly loaned it for transport and display at the March 6 event.

NPS ArrowheadThe plaque was unveiled, and the audience seemed to “gasp,” one observer shared.  Viewing the plaque for the first time, Northwest Seaport Nautical Archaeologist, Nathaniel Howe, shared his belief that the plaque’s central-placed tug with “Narcissus” inscribed on its bow was in fact Northwest Seaport’s Arthur Foss tug. 

During the event, the 2014 Arthur Foss Tugboat Campaign was launched, with a donation from Fremont Boat Company.  Additionally, the grandchildren of Thea and Andrew Foss made a significant contribution to the production and distribution efforts of the documentary.  Please watch for Campaign Cards and contribute to help keep Arthur Foss alive for the next generation.

Arthur Foss Documentary World Premiere 3.6.2014 Bruce Sherman photo web
Nearly 70 Attendees at World Premiere at Klondike web Kay Bullitt founder of Save our Ships and Northwest Seaport web

Vulcan Inc. Sponsors Lighting of the Lightship

Vulcan IncToday’s Lighting of the Lightship event would not be possible without the generous support from Vulcan Inc., a member of the South Lake Union business community and supporter of Northwest Seaport. Thank you, again!

Lighting of Lightship Beacon of Lake Union, Nov 30, 2013

Lighting of Lightship No. 83 “Swiftsure” (aka) Beacon of Lake Union Nov 30, 2013. Event sponsored by Vulcan Inc.

At 5:00 pm., Greet the Season attendees and South Lake Union community members gathered for an official Lighting of the Lightship 2013, the sunset tradition since 2012 when Vulcan Inc. began supporting this signature holiday event at Lake Union Park.

A short ceremony recognized lightship sailor’s contributions to the our nation through service with US Coast Guard.  Otto Loggers, Executive Director of Northwest Seaport, also shared that the Seaport will turn 50 years in 2014 and that tug Arthur Foss will also celebrate 125 years.

Northwest Seaport crew provide station-based tours under holiday lights and aboard Swiftsure's deck outfitted with catwalks.

Northwest Seaport crew provide station-based tours under holiday lights and aboard Swiftsure’s deck outfitted with catwalks.

After also recognizing the many volunteers (15+) which made today’s Open Ship education program possible and the evening’s event sponsor, Vulcan Inc., a hearty countdown ensued and finished with the crowd yelling: “Light That Lightship!” The Vessel Manager hit the switch to the hundreds of light bulbs and ship’s beacon and a rousing cheer and applause filled the Historic Ships Wharf and south end of Lake Union.

Visitors participating in the event streamed aboard the lightship which was opened only for the second time to the general public for Continue reading

RV JOHN N. COBB Temporarily Joins NWS Fleet

John N Cobb arrived July 2nd to Lake Union Park's Historic Ships Wharf and docked with 1889 tug Arthur Foss.

John N Cobb arrived July 2nd to Lake Union Park’s Historic Ships Wharf and docked with 1889 tug Arthur Foss.

Northwest Seaport and the Seattle Maritime Academy have collaborated to temporarily move the NOAA vessel JOHN N. COBB (decommissioned) to the Historic Ship Wharf  in time for the 2013 Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival, July 4-7. She arrived July 2nd at Lake Union Park (right).

View Flickr photos of her at Lake Union Park, courtesy of Sally Mizroch.

Northwest Seaport board members Captain Michael Francisco and Shannon Fitzgerald are orchestrating the visiting vessel program to ensure the ship joins the annual festival where thousands of visitors will be able to view her and possibly board her.  Both Francisco and Fitzgerald are associated with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Fitzgerald is the Manager of the Coordinated Seabird Studies Group at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, where he has been a biologist and scientist for 23 years.

Captain Francisco aboard COBBCaptain Francisco was a NOAA Corps officer for 22 years. His assignments included three years as skipper of the John N Cobb, Commanding Officer, NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, and Executive Officer NOAA Marine Operations Center, Pacific.

According to an Alaska Fisheries Science Center vessel description document about the COBB, one of the most memorable times of the Cobb’s remarkable career as a research vessel was after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound on 29 March 1989. Before the spill the Cobb was in an inactive status but was quickly mobilized to play a key role in this major research response. In subsequent years the Cobb supported numerous studies evaluating lingering effects of this damaging oil spill to the Prince William Sound ecosystem. The Cobb’s career also included at least two high-profile rescue operations and one burial at sea.

John N. Cobb Vessel DetailsBased on a West Coast purse-seiner design by W. C. Nickum and sons, she was constructed in 1950 for the Fish and Wildlife Service at Tacoma, WA. The 93-foot vessel was named after John Nathan Cobb (1868-1930), an author, stenographer, clerk, magazine editor, conservationist, naturalist, canneryman, and founding director (1919-30) and later dean of the University of Washington’s College of Fisheries.  Specifically designed for exploratory fishing and gear development, the vessel was capable of trawling, long lining, gill netting and oceanographic sampling. On board was modern navigational equipment, which included radar, a LORAN navigation system, depth-finders, and an electro-mechanical steering system.

The John N. Cobb was slated to sail until mid-August 2008, but a broken main crankshaft in her original 1931-designed Fairbanks-Morse locomotive engine force her to become idle in June, sooner than expected. With the estimated cost of $245,000 and 4-6 months for repairs it was decided to end her lengthy service. She was decommissioned on 13 August 2008 at the Sand Point facility in Seattle as the oldest existing wooden boat in the (NOAA) fleet. (Alaska Fisheries Science Center document)

COBB at Farragut Bay by Kurt Zegowitz

John N Cobb at Farragut Bay, Alaska. Photo: Kurt Zegowitz

John N. Cobb was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 11, 2009. She was the oldest ship and the last wooden ship in the NOAA fleet.

Northwest Seaport is seeking volunteer docents from NOAA and the research community to help share the vessel’s story during the Wooden Boat Festival.  Please Contact Capt. Michael Francisco to volunteer 1000-1400; 1400-1800 (July 4-7).


Shipwright Brian Johnson driving a new beam section under the wheelhouse.

Shipwright Brian Johnson driving a new beam section under the wheelhouse.

Keeping any wooden boat watertight against the rain is an essential and ongoing task. This is particularly true for the historic tugboat Arthur Foss. “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” is a multi-year Northwest Seaport preservation project of the vessel’s decks funded by 4Culture, the cultural services agency for King County.

Brian Johnson working on tug deck June 2013

Laying up a batten to fair up the curve along the edge of the boatdeck.

Even when Arthur Foss was new, it took maintenance by the whole crew to keep the decks and deckhouse watertight. At 124 years old, rot damage from rainwater leaks has made it necessary to replace planks and timbers. Seattle’s wet climate is harsh on the Douglas fir decks and house. While the cold freshwater of Lake Union is beneficial for the boat’s lower hull, rainwater and air on the upperworks feeds rot fungi. It is very important to stop rainwater leaks before rot spreads. Rot damage to important structural timbers and high-traffic areas requires extensive repair. This was the case with the starboard edge of the boat deck.


Brian Johnson Jeanette Hayman and Saxon Bisbee working on tug

Brian Johnson, volunteer nautical archaeologist Jeanette Hayman and nautical archaeologist-in-residence participant Saxon Bisbee tacking down the last piece of canvas on the boat deck.

Beginning in late May 2013, two nautical archaeologists and a professional shipwright began removing the badly deteriorated wood from the edge of the boat deck on Arthur Foss. This involved removing the rails, coverboards, canvas, plywood, and tar paper layers for access to the actual deck planks. Several planks along the edge had to be replaced. Then the new planks are fitted and fastened. New plywood and canvas are then put on and the railing re-fitted. This repaired area will last at least another 100 years if properly maintained.

All work performed on the Arthur Foss has direct public benefit to all visitors at Lake Union Park. The tug occupies a prominent position on the Historic Ships Wharf, with her bow facing towards a row of shaded benches often occupied by visitors. During restoration, staff, volunteers, shipwrights and nautical archaeologists engage the public and address their questions. Often, a visitor will find themselves with a tool in their hand to help in the restoration project.

New boat deck cover boards are down June 24, 2013

New boat deck cover boards are down June 24, 2013

If you are interested in contributing to the restoration, or for more information, please use contact form to express your interest.


Where is Lightship No. 83 “Swiftsure?”

Western Tugboat Company's tug "Flyer" providing support to Lightship No. 83 "Swiftsure"

Western Tugboat Company’s tug “Flyer” providing support to Lightship No. 83 “Swiftsure”

If you are planning to visit Lake Union Park soon, you will discover an empty slip where Northwest Seaport’s lightship is moored.  Lightship No. 83 “Swiftsure” (LV 83) is undergoing important work at Lake Union Drydock Company, just across the lake. The rotten upper deck, wheelhouse, and radio house are being removed. The steel beams underneath are being cleaned for a new deck.

This work is part of the multi-year “Lightship Rehabilitation Project” to restore LV 83 to its 1947 configuration and reopen it to the public. When the ship returns, a new deck will be installed as part of a public program.

Swiftsure with wood deck removedDuring May 2013, two maritime archaeologists and a professional shipwright carefully studied the construction details and created blueprints of the ship’s deteriorated wheelhouse. These plans will guide the reconstruction of a new wheelhouse. All of the original fixtures such as the ship’s wheel and engine telegraph were removed and will be put back in the new structures.

Over the past month, documentation work has focused on the 1937 wheelhouse. “It is a lot more work than it looks,” said Nathaniel Howe, Northwest Seaport Vessel Manager and Nautical Archaeologist. “There are a lot of complex structural details in that wheelhouse and it takes a saw to get at them.” To get all the work done, Howe was joined by Saxon Bisbee through the seaport’s Nautical Archaeologist in Residence Program.

Removing Swiftsure Wheel webBisbee is a recent graduate of East Carolina University’s nautical archaeology masters program and is spending several weeks assisting with documentation of Lightship No. 83’s wheelhouse while staying aboard Northwest Seaport’s other vessel, the 1889 tugboat Arthur Foss. Bisbee is also assisting with documentation and restoration work on that vessel. Aboard Lightship No. 83, Howe and Bisbee worked alongside shipwright Brian Johnson to carefully measure and record the entire wheelhouse, its joinery, to produce drawings, and remove all salvageable artifacts for preservation and later installation in the new wheelhouse.

The San Francisco at sea.

“San Francisco” is one of a number of names given to LV 83.

LV 83 was built in 1904, at Camden, New Jersey (eight years before RMS Titanic). It was one of 179 lightships built in the U.S. to serve as floating lighthouses. They were stationed in places where it was too difficult to build a permanent lighthouse. LV 83 successfully made the journey around South America in 1905 (before the Panama Canal was finished). During the next 55 years, it served on all six West Coast lightship stations—Blunts Reef; San Francisco (above); Columbia River; Umatilla Reef; and Swiftsure Bank.

During its years of active service, LV 83 rescued shipwreck victims, narrowly survived collisions, and made the transition from oil lanterns to electric lighting, radio, and radar. During World War II, it was converted to an armed training ship on San Francisco Bay, painted wartime gray, and fitted with heavy weapons. LV 83 returned to normal duties after the war, and was retired in 1961. In 1968, Save Our Ships (now Northwest Seaport), purchased the vessel for preservation and gave it the station name “Swiftsure”, after the closest light station to Seattle. It is a National Historic Landmark and the last lightship to retain its original steam machinery and many other historic features.

If you are interested in contributing to the restoration, or for more information, please contact Northwest Seaport.  Continue to see updates via NWS Facebook and this website.

“Swiftsure” to Undergo Major Rehabilitation

Northwest Seaport is in the midst of a major project to put an entirely new and historically accurate upper deck on its National Historic Landmark vessel, Lightship No. 83 “Swiftsure” to ensure its continued preservation.

Swifture bell removal May 20Over the last two weeks, nautical archaeologists, such as Archaeologist-in-Residence Saxon Bisbee, have generated blueprints by documenting existing structures on the lightship’s upper deck. They have also spent hours extracting artifacts, such as the ship’s wheel, deckhouse windows, ship’s bell and more.

During one afternoon’s pull-a-part session, Shipwright Brian Johnson found a brass plate once lost under the chart table. It is stamped with the bell-pull signals. Johnson said, “If the engine telegraph was not functioning, orders could be sent to the engine room using bell signals, for example, “Ahead,” “Stop,” “Back,” and “Faster.”

plateMost recently, Northwest Seaport contracted with Lake Union Drydock Company to complete a ship survey, remove the rotted wooden deck and deckhouses and more. Northwest Seaport Board President, Shannon Fitzgerald, said, “The shipyard will conduct hazardous materials abatement and cleaning of the steel deck framing.”

Today, after completing documenting existing structures and removing relevant artifacts from the upper deck, the ship headed to the Lake Union Drydock Company’s shipyard.

Lightship No 83 Swiftsure Making Transit on Lake UnionNorthwest Seaport staff and volunteers escorted the lightship from the Historic Ships Wharf at Lake Union Park to the Lake Union-based shipyard. The Western Towboat Company tug “Flyer” provided complementary propulsion and steerage.

Hobie Stebbins, Lake Union Drydock Company Vice President, said, “Our company is grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the efforts to restore the Lightship No. 83. In continuous operation on the shores of Lake Union since 1919, we have witnessed the evolution of the maritime industry and embrace efforts to preserve history for future generations.”

Lightship No 83 Swiftsure at Lake Union Drydock CompanyStebbins said, “The restoration of the Lightship No. 83 provides a bridge between past and present marine construction technology. Skills which were common at an earlier time but are no longer commercially relevant will be used in the restoration of the vessel.”

Lightship No. 83 is hard to miss at the south end of Lake Union. Its tall smoke stack, bright red hull, and brilliant beacon light grab the eye and spark the imagination. It is a quintessential steamship bearing the signature lights, foghorns, and six-foot white lettering of America’s steadfast lightships.

At 109 years old, Lightship No. 83 needs significant restoration. Northwest Seaport Vessel Manger and Nautical Archeologist, Nathaniel Howe, said, “When the ship returns to Historic Ships Wharf, the deck rebuild project will be on display for the public to observe as shipwrights and their apprentices lay, fasten, and calk the new wooden deck.”

Howe said, “Northwest Seaport envisions a vibrant working waterfront at the Historic Ships Wharf. Today, our employment training programs provide participants with the ingredients with which to begin a career.”

Northwest Seaport’s Executive Director, Otto Loggers, said, “This project is Northwest Seaport’s top priority as it is the keystone for all other stabilization and preservation projects on the ship.”

Loggers said, “We are creating a shared community vision for the lightship’s future. We’re asking the public to help us answer questions, such as: “What’s relevance of this lightship tomorrow?” and “What business or organization could you imagine working out of it?”

Colleen Browne, Northwest Seaport Treasurer, said, “The Seaport has raised over one million dollars to complete this lightship rehabilitation work. Raising another million will enable us to create a museum ship for families to board and discover the region’s maritime heritage.

Pinhole Photography Onboard Arthur Foss

Guest Blogger, Jana Uyeda May 2, 2013,

Jana Uyeda Arthur Foss wheelOn April 28, 2013 some pinhole friends and I got together to celebrate Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, a global event that continues to grow year over year. I can personally attest to the surprising growth of pinhole photography in my corner of the world in Seattle.

This year, there were six of us and most had at least 2 or more pinhole cameras. It’s funny how each camera has it’s unique quirks so that one pinhole camera is not enough. Great to see other photographers picking up the pinhole camera and embracing its aesthetics.

For WPPD 2013 we headed for Lake Union Park and the Northwest Seaport Maritime Heritage Center, and we climbed on board the Arthur Foss.  She’s a wooden-hulled tugboat famous for appearing in the 1933 MGM movie Tugboat Annie. What made the trip even more special was a Seaport volunteer guide on the vessel who was an avid pinhole photographer! I was greeted with, “Hello, I like your pinhole camera!” as I approached the tugboat.

Jana Uyeda Arthur Foss galleyThe boat was still covered in white tarp but I was allowed to walk freely through the cabins, the sleeping quarters, the deck and the galley with my tripod and pinhole cameras. Here are some 4×5′s from the trip. Enjoy! —

View more of Jana’s pinhole photos of Arthur Foss at her site.