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…
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…