LV116 Chesapeake

Lightship 116 Chesapeake

When Lightship 116 "Chesapeake" was completed in 1930, she was among the most modern and capable ships in use with the US Lighthouse Service. Part of the vessel class of Lightship No.100, Lightship 116 was constructed from a standard design and boasted the best in stability, signaling capacity, living accommodations, and engineering efficiency then available.

Lightship 116 was built in South Carolina at the Charleston Machine and Drydock Company at a cost of $274,424. The new vessel featured an efficient diesel-electric power-plant (superseding earlier steam powered designs), all-steel construction, and impressive signaling equipment capable of marking her station in all kinds of weather and light conditions. Electricity for the ship's propulsion motor, lighting and machinery was supplied by four 75-kilowatt diesel engine/generator units located in the engine room. Her signaling apparatus consisted of a 13,000 candlepower electric beacon lamp atop each mast (later consolidated on the aft mast), an electric foghorn (later replaced with a compressed-air diaphone), radio beacon, and fog bell mounted on the main deck. The ship was equipped with two 5,000-pound mushroom anchors (one main and a spare) designed to hold her on station in all but the roughest weather.

Lightship 116 was designed for a crew of up to 16 - though normally several were away on shore leave at any given time. Crew accommodations included two-man staterooms for the enlisted men, a crew's mess, and an electrically powered galley and refrigerator unit (a major advancement for 1930). Officers (1st and 2nd Officer, Engineer and Assistant Engineer) had their own staterooms adjacent to their mess (dining room), and the Captain, or Master as he was called in the Lighthouse Service, occupied his own stateroom immediately behind the pilothouse.

The US Lighthouse Service first assigned Lightship 116 to the Fenwick Island Shoal (DE) Station from 1930-33; after that assignment she marked the entrance to Chesapeake Bay until the beginning of World War II. During the war most coastal lightships were withdrawn for security reasons and were often converted for wartime duties. During 1942-45 Lightship 116 was painted battleship gray, armed with two 20mm cannons, and used as a patrol/inspection vessel near the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal. In 1945, Lightship 116 returned to the waters off Cape Henry (VA) where her bright red hull, beacon light and "Chesapeake" station designation guided maritime traffic in and out of the Chesapeake Bay for the next 20 years.

On two occasions (1936 and 1962) while marking the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, Lightship 116 rode out hurricanes so powerful that the ship's anchor chain broke, forcing the crew to drop the spare anchor and run full ahead into the wind for many hours in vain attempts to remain on station.

Despite some equipment upgrades, such as radar, technology began to overtake Lightship 116 by the 1960s. In 1965, the Chesapeake Lightship Station was replaced by a Coast Guard offshore light tower built on stout pilings strong enough to withstand the roughest seas. Manned by a crew of just four, the light tower was cheaper to run and had a more powerful beacon visible for a distance of 17 miles. After being relieved at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, Lightship 116's final duty station was marking the approaches to Delaware Bay until replaced there by a large automated light buoy in 1970.

In 1971, Lightship 116 was acquired by the National Park Service and was open to the public on the Potomac River. Since 1982, the ship has been part of the Baltimore Maritime Museum, now Historic Ships in Baltimore, and has continued to serve as an important link with the history of American aids to navigation.

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