Category Archives: Swiftsure

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.

President’s Message April 2014

Andrew Bennett Northwest SeaportApril 25, 2014

Dear Northwest Seaport Supporters and Volunteers,

After serving on the Board of Directors for the past five years, I have been given the chance to lead Northwest Seaport for the next two. In this role, I stand on the shoulders of my predecessors and will continue the process of growing the organization that has been underway since I came aboard.

Northwest Seaport 50 Years

Thanks to Joe Shickich, president when I joined the board, we were able to preserve the memories, history, and construction details of the schooner WAWONA. Thanks to our maritime heritage partners, WAWONA artifacts continue to educate people about the importance of our shipping and fishing industries. In addition, the documentation procedures developed by Northwest Seaport have set the standard for other maritime museums around the world that cannot afford to keep all of their historic vessels afloat.

More recently, we have invested over $1M in grants and matching funds to preserve the hull and abate the lead and asbestos on Lightship 83. We have started installing her new deck and are embarking on a capital campaign to complete her restoration. This success has been due in large part to the commitment of Immediate Past President Shannon Fitzgerald. Shannon made sure we got the most from our money and took on the monumental task of completing all the grant paperwork when we lost our project manager.

125 Years Arthur Foss NWS

Over the last year, we have heard from many segments of the maritime industry that there is a need to encourage more young people to consider maritime careers, both at sea and on shore. To help meet this need, we will be integrating job skills training into our restoration and educational programs and promoting opportunities with our industry and heritage partners. Our vision is to be a centrally located, highly visible gateway to maritime careers and, with our partners, provide opportunities for basic training. Being moored just outside the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in Lake Union Park, we are also in a great location to showcase the importance of the maritime industry to Seattle’s future, as well as its past.

To bring this vision to life, we will be working with shipyards, vessel operators, and labor to promote the industry to high schools, colleges, and the public at large; with social service agencies and vocational organizations to develop effective educational and training programs; and with the heritage and arts communities to preserve our fleet and bring it to life.

Vigor Seattle MARTIME FESTIVAL logo webI am excited to take the helm for the next leg of Northwest Seaport’s journey and look forward to working with our Board of Directors, staff, and the diverse communities of Seattle to create the place where industry, education, and heritage converge, raising all of our boats. I welcome your suggestions and ideas as we plot our course forward and I look forward to seeing you at our May events, including the Stories of the Sea contest on May 8th and the Maritime Festival on May 10th &11th.

Andy Bennett

President, Northwest Seaport
(View signed letter(pdf): Northwest Seaport Presidents Message April 25 2014)

Northwest Seaport LogoNew slate of officers for Northwest Seaport:

Colleen Browne, Treasurer, retired in 2009 from the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, where she was the Pro Parks Levy/Major Maintenance Manager. As a Capital Projects Manager at Seattle Parks, she was the lead on the Historic Ships Wharf, Lake Union Park, Luna Park, and the multi-million dollar Seattle Aquarium makeover project completed in 2007.

Shannon Fitzgerald, Secretary, is the Manager of the Coordinated Seabird Studies Group at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he has been a biologist and scientist for 23 years.

Jim Flies ,Vice President, is the Quality Systems Manager for Harley Marine Services, Inc.  Previously, he served as the Academic Dean and the Dean of Students at Seattle Preparatory School, where he taught for twenty years.


Future USCG Academy Cadet becomes Seaport Member

Megan Rice stands aboard LV83 and in front of a Registered National Historic Place plaque, which states: "Under the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of October 16, 1966, this property possesses exceptional value in commemorating or illustrating American history."

Megan Rice stands aboard LV83 and in front of a Registered National Historic Place plaque, which states: “Under the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of October 16, 1966, this property possesses exceptional value in commemorating or illustrating American history.”

Member Spotlight and Guest Blog:
Megan Rice became a Northwest Seaport member before she even stepped aboard the Lightship No. 83 “Swiftsure.”  Seaport staff welcomed her aboard both the lightship and tug Arthur Foss last week to discuss membership and ways to become involved with Northwest Seaport as a young adult.  During the discussion, she agreed to share her story and goal of serving the country as a naval engineering officer and designer of the Coast Guard cutter fleet.  She also writes, “I only wish I’d found out about NWS a lot sooner.”

Washington State can be proud that she will represent the State and her community at the United States Coast Guard Academy with the graduating class of 2018.

“Hello, I’m Megan Rice and I’m 21 years old.  My interest in engineering, the maritime industry, the U.S. military, and the Coast Guard inspired me to attend the United States Coast Guard Academy, where, as a cadet, I’ll get closer to my goal of serving my country as a naval engineering officer and designer of the Coast Guard cutter fleet.

Megan Rice holds her USCGA acceptance letter with images of USCG Barque Eagle.

Megan Rice holds her USCGA acceptance letter with images of USCG Barque Eagle.

Since my early fascination with the Titanic, I’ve immersed myself in studying ships and the art of integrating many complex systems into one functional, buoyant vessel. This passion has led me to pursue a career in naval architecture and marine engineering.

After diligently contacting over 25 local shipyards and engineering firms without any contacts in the maritime world, I became employed at Jensen Maritime Consultants. At this prominent NA&ME firm, I work in both Continue reading

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

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.