Posted by: janeofall | November 25, 2009

Lighting Up the Lightship

I spent this afternoon “clearing my desk.” Now, I’m sure that I am only one of millions of people to do this in preparation for the long holiday weekend, but I expect that most others actually mean clearing their in-boxes and finishing their to-do piles. In my case, it meant stringing holiday lights up on Northwest Seaport’s 1904 vessel, the Lightship No. 83:

Lighting up the Lightship at Lake Union Park

Our lightship, now designated SWIFTSURE, is moored on the Historic Ships Wharf at Seattle’s Lake Union Park next to our 1889 tugboat Arthur Foss. As has quickly become tradition, we are teaming up with other non-profit and heritage organizations at the park (visit for an ever-growing list) to put on a series of holiday events for the public, and this weekend will be our Historic Ships Holiday Open House. The Seattle Times wrote a nice little article about it last Sunday (Sail back in time with festive ships), and it coincides nicely with the beginning of Argosy’s Christmas Ships Festival. We invite all of you to come down to the park on Saturday the 28th and Sunday the 29th for a festive afternoon aboard historic ships, and what better way to set a festive mood than to put up holiday lights?

Anyway, back to my afternoon. After stopping by the schooner Adventuress (a winter visitor to the Historic Ships Wharf this year) and seeing their own festive preparation, we headed out to the Lightship. It won’t be open this weekend, but it’s the biggest boat at the wharf and bright red to boot, so it definitely needs to be as festive as the other boats.

We had a bag of light strings, a bag of zip ties, an extra extension cord, a volunteer eager to help, and a massive century-old navigational aid. What I didn’t have was the ship’s extensive electrical system: its anchor and deck lights, its beacon, and its external outlets. The lightship is scheduled for an extensive rehabilitation project starting early next year and restoring these features is high on the list of planned tasks, but for now we plugged the extension cord into a splitter from the shore-power cable that powers the bilge pumps and work lights inside.

I had already made the curatorial decision to use the white icicle lights on the Lightship and colored strands aboard on the Arthur Foss, so we set to work stringing them along the railings as Seattle’s long autumn twilight fell.

lighting the lightship

Now, it turns out that a 136′ vessel has a lot of railing – more than I realized, and I’ve not only been working here for two years, but I’ve participated in several surveys of the vessel. Our five strings of icicle lights, which would have easily decorated all the eaves of my house, barely stretched around the curve of the bow. I was sorely tempted for a few moments to go buy all the white icicle lights from all the drugstores within a mile of Lake Union Park so we could stretch them all the way around the perimeter, but I restrained myself in the interest of time – and a promise to do so next year.

For this weekend, though, the lightship looks dramatic from the wharf, and pretty festive beside the Arthur:

Lighting the Lightship at Lake Union Park

We’ll get the Arthur‘s own lights up on Friday. Meanwhile, mark your calendars and come on down to see both vessels all lit up with the Virginia V and the schooner Adventuress. We’ll all be open from 1630 to 1900 on Saturday and 1600 to 1830 on Sunday, so drop in for a festive time aboard these historic ships – and maybe for some hot spiced cider, too.



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