Vineyard Sound Lightship

Find information on this shipwreck and dive site managed by the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources (BUAR).

BUAR classifies certain shipwrecks and other underwater archaeological resources as "Exempted Sites" for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to): commonly known location, previous salvage, recreational value, educational value, or lack of significant archaeological or historical value. Recreational diving activities on these sites, including casual artifact collection, do not require a BUAR permit. However, any major disruption of the site is prohibited. The intent of creating an exempted shipwreck site is to preserve such sites for the continued enjoyment of the recreational diving community, who is encouraged to protect these sites for the continued enjoyment of all.

Note: All dives are conducted at your own risk. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts accepts no responsibility for loss of any kind, including personal injury or property damage. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts assumes no liability for inaccuracies in dive information contained in these pages including site locations and dive conditions.

Vessel Details

Description: lightship; steel.
Dimensions: length - 123 ft., 9 in. width - 28 ft., 6 in. depth - 14 ft, 9 in.
Tonnage: displacement - 693.
Propulsion: steam propeller; rigged with auxiliary sail when built.
Machinery: single 400 indicated horsepower compound engine.

The Shipwreck

Date Sunk: September 14, 1944.
Cause: hurricane.
Location: three miles west of Cuttyhunk Island.
Coordinates: latitude, 41° 23' 47.40" N; longitude, 71° 01' 12.60" W.

The evening of September 14, 1944, hurricane force winds whipped seas to a mountainous furry off the southern New England coast. Safe in their homes, residents of Westport Harbor witnessed bright lights in the sky west of Cuttyhunk, near where the Vineyard Sound Lightship, marking the entrance of Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound, was moored. The next morning, the light vessel was gone. At first, Coast Guard officials reported only that the lightship was "off station." As it was wartime and the government feared public hysteria, a media blackout was in effect until the exact cause of the vessel's sinking could be determined.

Were the lights witnessed that evening a desperate attempt by the lightship's crew to signal for help? Was the ship rammed and sunk in the gale, a fate not uncommon to lightships? Or, did a lurking German U-boat torpedo the unarmed vessel?

The steamer's fate was not determined until September 23rd when Navy divers found the sunken hulk. Although its masts and funnel were snapped off at the deck, the mooring chains were still secure, indicating the lightship foundered while on station.

It was theorized that the doors used to load coal through the hull had collapsed under pounding seas, flooding the ship. However, when sport divers first located the hull nineteen years later, this theory could not be substantiated. It was discovered that the hull plates in the area near where the storm anchor once hung were stove in. Normally, the three to five ton mushroom anchor was deployed in heavy weather. If the crew was unable to drop this anchor, it is likely that high seas would have slammed it against the hull.

Dive Site Conditions

Depth in feet: maximum - 80; minimum - 46
Visibility in feet: average
When first investigated in 1963 by Brad Luther and members of the Fairhaven Divers Club, the bow and stern of the lightship were intact. The main deck had deteriorated exposing the second deck and sand, filtering into the engine room, had blocked access. At that time, the ship's binnacle and compass were recovered.

Historical Background

Constructed: in 1901 at Baltimore, Maryland by Spedden Shipbuilding Company.
Construction details: steel hull; tow masts; stack amidships.
-1910: Submarine bell signaling device installed. -1919: Outfitted with two-way radio. -1920: Illumination device changed to three "oil lens lanterns" clustered together and hoisted to each masthead. -1928: Fitted with radio beacon. -1929: 375mm electric lens lantern installed in gallery at each masthead replacing oil lanterns. -1931: Fitted with new coal bunkers; 2 oil engine driven compressors; water tube boilers replace originals; fog signal changed from steam to air whistle.
Crew: 17 Master: WO Edgar Sevigny (1943-1944)
Owners: United States Government
Station assignments:
1902-1913: Pollock Rip Shoals
(Aug. 19, 1913 Pollock Rip Shoals station renamed Pollock Rip Slue)
1913-1923: Pollock Rip Slue
1923-1924: Pollock Rip
1924-1944: Vineyard Sound

Official number:LV 73; WAL 503 Country: U.S.A.

Other Comments:Contract price of $79,872; same hull plan as LV 72. -1913, June 8; took aboard two exhausted men who had been adrift and lost in fog for three days from the fishing schooner Washakie.
-1923: Officers and crew commended for rescuing two men lost and adrift from fishing schooner Rob Roy. -During WWII, remained on Vineyard Sound station, no armament provided.
-1944: Lost with twelve of its seventeen crewmen (five on leave).
-1963, September: using an experimental "side scanning" sonar device he recently developed, Professor Harold E. Edgerton of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, located the lightship in eighty feet of water.

Salvage

Property of the United States Government - salvage prohibited.

Sources

Automated Wreck and Obstruction Information System. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Lightships and Lightship Stations of the United States Government. Willard Flint. 1989.
The Fisherman. August 11,1988.

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