Five Fathom Lightship - Delaware Bay off Cape May, NJ


The Five Fathom Bank Lightship station was located in the Atlantic Ocean about 14.7 miles and 100 degrees from the Cape May Lighthouse.While records indicate the station was established around 1837, there are some records that indicate it could have been as early as 1835. The first vessel stationed on Five Fathom Bank has not been identified, but contemporary accounts describe the vessel as "decayed and leaky."

In 1839, LV18 was assigned to the station and remained on the site until relieved by LV37 in 1869. LV18 was eventually sold to the Navy Department for use as a torpedo target.

In December, 1869, LV37 replaced LV18 on the station. LV37 was built of live oak, white oak, and yellow pine. Her bottom was sheathed in copper. She was 98 feet in length with a beam 23'6" wide and a draft of 10' 6". Sail-powered, she had two masts each with 8 oil lamps. There was a 1,000 pound fog bell that had to be rung by hand. During 1876-1877 LV37 was relieved on her station by Relief LV24, LV7 and LV39. LV37 was removed from the Five Fathom Bank station in 1877, but remained with the Lighthouse Service until 1893, serving on Winter Quarter Shoal (Virginia), Fenwick Island Shoal (Delaware) and as a relief vessel for the district. On August 24, 1893, while relieving LV40 at Five Fathom Bank, she foundered at her moorings during a hurricane and was lost, becoming the first lightship in the United States to do so. There were only two survivors among the crew.

LV40 took up station upon Five Fathom Bank on June 19, 1877. She was built by the Blythe, Jackson & Sharp Company of Wilmington, Delaware for $39,200. LV40 was 114' 6" in length and sail powered. In just one year in this exposed location she lost three mushroom anchors, 195 fathoms of chain and was blown off station at least 33 days. The following excerpts are from the Annual Reports of the Light-House Board.

244. Five-Fathom Bank Light-ship,No. 40, about five and a half miles from Delaware Bay, New Jersey.--December 26, 1880, during a gale of wind, the vessel shipped three heavy seas, which flooded the cabin and forecastle, stove one boat, and parted the mooring chain. On the 2nd of January 1881, after a very rough time at sea, the vessel arrived off the Capes of the Delaware, where, meeting heavy ice, a tug was employed and she was towed into the Delaware Breakwater. The slight damage to the lantern, house, &c., was repaired, a chain and anchor were supplied, and she was returned to her station January 7th, by the tender Arbutus. A 4,000-pound mushroom anchor and 120 fathoms of chain were lost when she broke adrift. On the 18th of June she was removed from the station, and Relief Light-ship No. 24 took her place. She is now under repairs at the works of Pusey & Jones Company, Wilmington, Del. [Annual Report of the Light-House Board to the Secretary of the Treasury for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1881, (Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1881), page 34.]
247. Five-fathom Bank Light-ship, No. 40, off the entrance to Delaware Bay, New Jersey.--New fog-signal boilers were put in, and the ship has received new try-sail masts. Her launch was repaired, a new hawser was furnished, and certain minor repairs were made. She is now in good order. [From the Annual Report of the Light-House Board to the Secretary of the Treasury for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1883 (Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1883), page 45.]

LV79 later known as WAL506/WLV 506, replaced LV40 on Five Fathom Bank in 1904. LV40 was built at the New York Shipbuilding Company, in Camden, New Jersey. She was completed in 1904. She served on Five Fathom Bank from until 1924 when she assumed relief duties for the Third District. In 1927, she was moved to the Barnegat Lightship Station where she served until her decommissioning. For this reason she is best known as the Barnegat Lightship. She was decommissioned on March 3, 1967, and she was donated on October 13, 1967 to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. For many years sje was owned by the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild and used as a tourist attraction while docked at Penns Landing. She had "BARNEGAT" painted on her sides. In the 1990's ownership of the vessel passed to Rod Sadler and the non=profit Camden Museum and Learning Center. It is currently as Sadler's Pyne Point Marine Services in north Camden, New Jersey.

Five Fathom Bank Lightship No. 79 was described as "Flushed-deck, stell, steam vessel, schooner-rigged; hoop-iron day mark at each masthead. Two fixed white lens' lantern lights, visible 12 1/2 miles. Moored off the entrance to Delaware Bay, about 6 1/4 miles south-southeasterly from the shoalest part of Five Fathom Bank. The fog signal is a 12-inch steam whistle; blasts, 4 seconds; silent intervals 56 seconds."

Lightship LV 79
Cost $89,000
Machinery 1 diesel
Hull displacement 558fl
BHP 300
Length 129'6"
Beam 28'8" max
Performance 6 knts, 4,600 mile radius
Draft 11'9" max
Complement 1 warrant, 14 men
Radar SO-1
Design Steel hull, wooden superstructures

LV108, later known as WAL 530/WLV 530 was built at the Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine. Her keel was laid on July 8, 1921 and she was commissioned on September 17, 1923. She was decommissioned on August 31, 1970 and donated on December 29, 1971. She was of the 132 foot lightship class, and cost $200,000 to build. LV108 took over duties at Five Fathom Bank in 1924 and served there until 1942, when, due to the war, the station was marked by a buoy for 3 years (1942-1945). In 1945, LV 108 was again returned to the station where she remained assigned until 1970.

Lightship LV 108
Cost $200,000
Machinery 1 GM diesel
Hull displacement 770fl
BHP 400-500
Length 132'4"
Beam 30' mb
Performance 6,5 knts, 8,750 mile radius
Draft 15' max
Complement 1 warrant, 14 men
Radar CR-103
Design Steel

LV110, also known as WAL532/WLV 532 was a sister ship to LV108. Her keel was laid on on the same day, and she was commissioned on January 24, 1924. She marked Five Fathom Bank from 1970-1971. She was used until her decommissioning on November 3, 1971. She was donated on March 30, 1972.

The last Five Fathom Bank Lightship was LV189 (later called WLV189) which was built in 1947. She served at Five Fathom Bank from 1971-1972, when the station was discontinued. She was sent to the Boston station where she served until being decommissioned in 1974. She was being towed from the Boston station to Gardiners Basin in Atlantic City when she was rammed by a tanker. A large hole was ripped in her port side, which was never repaired. LV189 remained docked at Gardiner's Basin for seventeen years, practically ignored, until she was donated to New Jersey's Artificial Reef Program. On February 29, 1994 she was sent to the bottom to provide habitat for fish and other lifeforms. She had previously also served stints on the Diamond Shoals, and New Orleans stations.

A large navigational buoy replaced the departing Five Fathom Bank Lightship #189 which marked a main shipping channel to Delaware Bay, 20 miles off Cape May, New Jersey.

2006 NJLHS