A Tale of Two Lightships – Part 1

Part 1 – Lightship Barnegat

Several years ago, while working in New Jersey, I embarked on a mission to photograph all of the lighthouses (and lightships) in the state. Most New Jersey lighthouses are along the Atlantic coast or in or around the Delaware Bay. One, the Lightship Barnegat, however, was fewer than five miles away in Pyne Point Marina in Camden, New Jersey.

That was close enough for a quick afternoon photo shoot, which I planned for the following weekend.

My first view of boats in the Camden marina.

My first view of boats in the Camden marina.

Quick. Not! Finding it was the first challenge. Using a combination of Google maps and GPS navigation, I finally located an unmarked drive-lane-road that seemed to match the images I had studied (after not finding the marina on my first trip out). The road wound through dense brush until it finally emerged at the marina. Pyne Point Marina did not fit my image of a boating facility. There were many boats up on dry land. There were others in the water. My impression was that most of the boats had not been out on the water in many years.

Lightship Barnegat

Lightship Barnegat

But the lightship was the most prominent vessel moored on the near side of the marina. The current owners intend/intended for the vessel to be refurbished and placed on display at the Camden, New Jersey waterfront, where the USS New Jersey battleship is moored.

The Lightship Barnegat was commissioned in 1904, and was initially assigned to Barnegat Station, some fifteen miles from the Cape May Lighthouse to mark the Five Fathoms Bank that was a potential hazard to shipping.

The beacon atop the light mast was illuminated for eight seconds, off for two, identifying the vessel to shipping.

In addition to the light, the ship was “equipped with a submarine bell…placed in a position low in the ship so the sound could be transmitted through the water…and then struck with a prescribed frequency. To receive the sound, ships typically used a microphone suspended in a tank of water. One of these tanks was mounted to each side of the bow inside the ship. When the captain aligned his vessel so that the sound received at each microphone was of equal intensity, he knew his ship was pointing towards the lightship.”[1]

Lightship Barnegat

Lightship Barnegat

During World War II, Lightship Barnegat was moved to the Delaware Bay where it was an “examination vessel.” The lightship would “intercept” each vessel entering the Delaware River and verify its registry and cargo.

After the war, it returned to its Barnegat station and remained in service until 1967 when it was decommissioned. Since then it has changed hands several times, each time to organizations/foundations that intended to preserve the history and heritage of the lightship.

Lightship Barnegat

Lightship Barnegat

It was obtained by a foundation in Camden in the late 1980s that intended to refurbish the ship and move it to the Camden Waterfront. But no work has been done to the vessel and it continues to sit in the mud in Camden, in dire need of maintenance and repair work.

The Lightship Barnegat’s station has been replaced by a sea buoy, forty feet in diameter, held in place by a 20,000-pound concrete sinker and a 7,000-pound steel mushroom anchor.

Station Assignments
• 1904-1924: Five Fathom Bank (NJ)
• 1924-1926: Relief (3rd District)
• 1927-1942: Barnegat (NJ)
• 1942-1945: Examination Vessel, WWII
• 1945-1967: Barnegat (NJ)
• 1967: Decommissioned

It is sad to see this one-hundred-year-old-plus piece of American marine history languishing in anonymity in a isolated corner of a New Jersey marina.

Coming soon: Part 2 – Overfalls Lightship, Lewes Delaware – A Happier Story

[1] For more information on the Barnegat Lightship I recommend: http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=657

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6 Responses to A Tale of Two Lightships – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Renaissance Musings Table of Contents | Renaissance Musings

  2. Bob Warchol says:

    Thank you for your pics of the Barnegat Lightship. It is a real shame to have her sitting there idling so long and headed to the rust pile. She would surely make a great attraction somewhere if the right person was in charge of her.

  3. Tyler Drown says:

    Thanks for posting this! Hopefully something will be done before it’s too late.

  4. As my daughter says, Let it go. There are plenty lightships preserved for posterity. Spend your money on the living, not on the dead!

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