The Swiftsure also-know-as Lightship Number 83 is located on Lake Union, at the Historical Ships Wharf, just outside of MOHAI (Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry). The Swiftsure is the oldest lightship in the US. It was built in 1904, eight years before the Titanic. Lightships were extremely seaworthy vessels that anchored offshore as floating lighthouses and guided ships in and out of safe harbor channels. When Lightship 83 was retired in 1960, it was marking Swiftsure Bank, on the approaches to Seattle.
I was invited onboard by one of the men working to restore it. According to him, it had already undergone two dry-dockings to restore its hull. It floats now without the aid of pumps. This is a good thing, because when the Coast Guard decommissioned her, they removed her propeller and capped all of her bilge plumbing. They didn’t want anyone joyriding about in what everyone else would take as an official lightship. With a million dollars already plowed into her, there is a lot more money needed to get her at least ship shaped enough to be the floating museum that is her eventual destiny. Her next door neighbor, the Virginia V is a fully restored working ship, but she cost $16M to retrofit.
They just haven’t raised anything like that kind of money for the Swiftsure. Right now all of the wooden deck planking is torn up. I walked about it on creaky old plywood. I asked my host when the restoration would be complete, at first he gave me a laundry list of things yet to be done. Then he capped that list by saying it depended on how fast the money came in. Finally, he said, “It’s a boat. It’s got a bow and a stern and no end.”