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.
Over 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.”
Most 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.
Northwest 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.”
Stebbins 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.