1904 Lightship: No. 83, Swiftsure

Lightship No. 83 "Swiftsure" re-launched Aug. 21 2013 in Lake Union.  Restoration continues at Historic Ships Wharf.

Lightship No. 83 “Swiftsure” re-launched Aug. 21 2013 in Lake Union. Restoration continues at Historic Ships Wharf.

NEWS ALERT!  Public boarding of lightship No. 83 “Swiftsure” began October 5, 2013 after “around” two decades.  Stay tuned for future boarding.

The lightship No. 83 “Swiftsure” is a heritage vessel and museum ship, and in 1989 the vessel was declared a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.  Today, Lake Union Park visitors enjoy viewing her from the Historic Ships Wharf (open 24 hours/day), MOHAI’s maritime gallery or the lake.

The Seattle Times 2013

The Seattle Times 2013

One of the oldest lightships in the country and the only one to have her original steam engines, LV83 was launched in Camden, New Jersey, in 1904 and steamed around the tip of South America to her first station at Blunts Reef in California.  While on station at Blunts Reef, she saved 150 people when their ship ran aground in dense fog.  LV83 had numerous names on her sides, all of which indicated the location of her station.  The lightship once served as a floating lighthouse and was stationed in the open ocean a few miles off the mouth of a bay or inlet, a beacon to ships entering or leaving the waterways.*

The Lightship No. 83 has made its home in many ports, and has had many names — first “Blunts Reef,” then “San Francisco,” then “Relief,” and finally “Swiftsure,” in the tradition of assuming the name of the nearest lightship station.

Blunts Reef, 1905-1930: Built in 1904 in Camden, New Jersey, the Lightship No. 83 was one of hundreds of floating lighthouses that guided ships and boats safely along American Coasts. After making the journey around South America to California, the No. 83 took her position at the Blunts Reef lightship station off Cape Mendicino.

Lightship, No. 83

San Francisco, 1930-1942 & 1945-1951:  After almost 30 years at Blunts Reef, she was transferred to the San Francisco lightship station outside the Golden Gate Bridge. During World War II, the Coast Guard recalled lightships to protect American coastlines from submarine attack. The No. 83 was painted grey, was fitted with new deck guns and fold-out bunks for up to 50 crewmen, and patrolled the San Francisco Bay for the Navy.

Examination Vessel, 1942-1945:  During WWII withdrawn from station and based at San Francisco as examination vessel; armed with an Army 3-pounder. Classed as “YN” – net tender during the period.

Relief, 1951-1960: Following the war, the No. 83 returned to lightship duty as the “San Francisco,” then was transferred to the Coast Guard District 13 in the Pacific Northwest. Serving the Columbia River, Umatilla Reef, and Swiftsure Banks stations, the No. 83 was a relief vessel at these posts for regular vessels during their yearly maintenance and resupply.

Swiftsure: In 1961, the Coast Guard retired and decommissioned the L.V. No. 83. Northwest Seaport (then Save Our Ships), purchased the vessel in 1968. In 1996, she was named the “Swiftsure” after Seattle’s closest lightship station and to commemorate her status as the last remaining lightship to serve at the Swiftsure Banks station.

Swiftsure Weather Deck with deck, radio house and wheelhouse removed (c) Jeff Caven & Northwest Seaport

Swiftsure Weather Deck with deck, radio house and wheelhouse removed (c) Jeff Caven & Northwest Seaport. August 16, 2013

Northwest Seaport is in the process of a restoration project that includes replacing the wooden deck and restoring the electrical system. Swiftsure recently completed a 90-day shipyard period and had a celebrated re-launch on August 21, 2013.  Program plans are to open the ship’s upper deck to the public while restoration is underway, creating a unique opportuity to view, visit with and work side-by-side with shipwrights.  The lightship is open to viewing from Historic Ships Wharf in Lake Union Park.  Read “New Life on Lake Union for Brave Old Lightship Swiftsure” The Seattle Times, July 11, 2013.

Swiftsure at Lake Union Park

Swiftsure in Seattle in 1999.

Today, Swiftsure serves as an important link with the history of American aids to navigation.  Do wish to become involved with her restoration?  Please contact Northwest Seaport.

Help Northwest Seaport restore one square foot of Swiftsure’s hull and contribute to making her a beacon of Lake Union and symbol of renewal.  One square foot of the hull costs $20. It’s easy, just click Donate.  Membership to NWS is FREE with $100 donations and greater to this effort.

Northwest Seaport would like to acknowledge and thank Lake Union Drydock Co. for the extraordinary in-kind support valued at over $20,000.  Please learn more about them and their extraordinary maritime history at their website.

Recent Grants:
$23,000 September 2013, 4Culture, Facilities Construction & Fixed Asset Purchase
$30,000 July 2013, 4Culture, Landmarks Capital Grant  Read more about this program and how 4Culture supports Northwest Seaport.
$5,000 June 2013, Lighthouse Environmental Programs for Lightship Skylight Window Replacement Project.  Purchase a lighthouse WA license plate to support this program.

Swiftsure Steam Engine Room (c) Jeff Caven & Northwest Seaport

Swiftsure Steam Engine Room (c) Jeff Caven & Northwest Seaport

Shipwrights, steam engine enthusiasts and many more interested parties anxiously wait for Swiftsure to return to Historic Ships Wharf to begin actively volunteering aboard her.  Join Northwest Seaport as we begin to rehab. this museum ship from the keel up.

*Sources: USCG

*Resource: Quick Lightship LV 83 Swiftsure History