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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 http://www.nightbeacon.com/zlightships/LV39_(BrentonReef)_Lightship.htm.  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 inside.

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 site at: http://www.classicdive.com/brenton_reef.htm


The 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 their route.