Brenton Reef Lightship (LV-39)
We found this one in July of 2004. The Brenton Reef Lightship has
quite an interesting history of service, but its end was far from exciting.
One of the best sources for information on the ship online can be found at
However, I was also lucky enough to meet a local expert on lightships,
Douglas Bingham, an historian with the American Lighthouse Foundation.
Doug was kind enough to give me access to all but one of the photos shown
here, as well as share his extraordinary knowledge of lightship history.
The Brenton Reef Lightship was built in 1875, and served as a beacon at a number of locations around
NJ, southern MA and RI - it's last station was Brenton Reef. In 1905
it was struck by the USS Iowa and subsequently repaired. It was
retired in 1935 at age 60. After that it served a number of purposes
including a restaurant in Gloucester, and as a clubhouse for the Coast Guard
Auxiliary. The picture on the right above was taken during this period
of its life. It sank while being towed to Marblehead in 1975 at age 100.
Today the lightship sits in 175 FSW, listing to
port at about a 30 degree angle. It's in remarkably decent shape,
with all the decking intact, and the remnants of the deckhouse still
standing. It's completely open inside with few obstructions or wires, so one can swim it from bow to
stern. On the first dive, we found a great number of dishes inside the
remains of the wheelhouse and everyone got a souvenir. They turned out
to be a variety of patterns and types, and were probably left over from the
restaurant days. Not exactly "china", but the fact that they were
there helped us to narrow in on this as being the lightship rather than a
fishing boat. Others found a few old copper fire extinguishers inside
the wreck filled with odd brass items - obviously someone was collecting the
brass for sale. A few portholes remained and were also quickly
snatched up. For some lucky diver a perfectly good refrigerator still waits
Both the bow and stern are heavily covered with dragger
nets, making it difficult to view either end. This hampered the ID
process a bit, but the nets were old and allowed us to cut away enough to
get a look, as well as take more accurate measurements of the length which
fit the BRL to the letter.
Donna Chaston has some great photos of the wreck on her
lightship with tug and yacht
From a postcard
A photo of some notes on the BRL compiled by maritime
historian Edward Rowe Snow
The LV-39 actually sunk a few times due to neglect over
the years. This photo shows it at the dock. It was raised each time.
A photo of the submarine bell from the LV-66 (Nantucket
New South Shoal). A similar bell would have been used on the LV-39.
The bell was submerged beneath the vessel and tolled in a unique pattern
such that ships could distinguish the signals from each lightship along