Today I accompanied Captain Clarke Droney of Tow Boat US Indian River to the Lewes Canal. He was assisting the Northstar 10 tugboat owned by Phil Risko and captained by Billy. Hired to pull the Overfalls Lightship out of her slip in the Rehoboth Lewes Canal, and tow her to the Dorchester Shipyard where she will have her hull scraped for barnacle and oyster growth and then repainted. She has not been out of this slip since the Fall of 2008. “The Overfalls Lightship was towed from Lewes to the Colonna Shipyard in Norfolk, VA to repair the hull. Since it had been sitting in salt water and mud for 32 years with no bottom maintenance, the condition of the bottom was of major concern.” Captain Clarke Droney “I have only seen her pulled once in all of my life, and that was to have her hull repaired, this is the second time, and first for me being involved.
I was really excited when Captain Clarke Droney called me and asked if I would like to ride along on this trip. Oh yes I would, I’ll even leave the fishing rods home. I met him at the south side marina in Delaware Seashore State Park, and was very happy to see we were taking the big boat. A ride in the smaller boat, even across the calm ocean today would have been bumpy, that big boat rides real smooth. We set out at two in the afternoon and arrived in Lewes just in time for the Northstar to begin pulling on the Overfalls Lightship. High tide would be around three thirty. The Overfalls Lightship slip had been dredged about a week or two ago, to allow the ship to be pulled into the Lewes Canal. Little did we know she was still pretty stuck to that muddy bottom.
The Northstar 10 put some steady pressure on the first couple of pulls just trying to break her loose and we still had an hour until full high tide. Every inch of water counts with a job like this. The crowd was building in the park as the process continued. After several attempts the Northstar 10 backed in and shortened up the tow rope. By now we could see that the ship had moved some and was actually higher in the water, she was being dragged across somewhat of a mud bar. The ship was said to draw eight feet, which was true up front, but the stern was sitting at a good eleven feet we discovered later. She was like a pig stuck in the mud, but she would break free with enough pressure. Captain Clarke .. “She will break loose if not we have a plan B” … Me … “What’s that?” He just smiled, I didn’t want to know. “We will double up the boats and both pull if need be.” That was not what I was imagining, but sounded like a plan.
Once the rope was shortened and the Northstar 10 reset herself it was time for one last hard pull. It was now or never, the tide was up as high as it would go this evening. The captain gave her some gas and ever so slowly the Overfalls Lightship inched forward little by little, barely noticeable by us in the boat, but all at once she broke free and the crowd cheered. Kids were yelling and dogs were barking. Which come to think of it was kind of weird, not the kids, but the whole in the distance a dog barked thing. The ship broke loose, she was heading into the canal, and then it was our turn.
Tow Boats Us was hired to stand by and help move the ship out of her slip. The Overfalls Lightship does not have an engine or power of any kind, hence the towing. We had to push her side to help turn her out of the slip and keep her off the bulkhead or it would crush the bulkhead or the ships side. So how do you do that? Not exactly ramming speed Mr. Sulu, but it was close enough, besides we didn’t have Scotty in the engine room, and those old diesels aren’t hitting warp speed. Just a little push and hold, and it kept the ship in place for the turn out of the slip. Once she was set, we took on the stern line to help guide her out of the Lewes Canal. Apparently you can’t tow a ship that large out of a small canal without controlling the stern. Which after Captain Clarke explained the obvious it made sense. The ship is longer than the canal is wide in some spots. Also you have to help make turns, and especially the turn into the Roosevelt Inlet. All I could imagine at this point was a ship careening into piers, million dollar sailboats, or the yacht club marina. A small part of me wanted to see that video, a bigger part of me wanted to take that video.
We are cruising down the Lewes Canal headed toward the Roosevelt Inlet, and ultimately the Delaware Bay. We just have to get her to the outside of the inlet, then we can cut her loose, and roll back to Indian River Inlet. We looked along Pilottown road and cars were following us at the same pace, a lot of them, honking their horns. People were on the piers taking pictures and waving, we saw the Mayor. Seriously, I think this was the most exciting thing to happen in Lewes since the drawbridge got stuck. We approached the Roosevelt Inlet, there was a long horn blast from the University of Delaware marina, the crew of the DELRIVER giving her a proper send off. Then we made that final turn, the inlet parking lot was packed with people waving, shouting and whistling. The turn was made like clockwork with no incident, and she was outbound to the Delaware Bay. We cleared the ends of the jetties and cut loose the stern line. Just then a sailboat showed up, the same one we saw at the end of the outer wall fishing for tautog. Nothing says let’s fish and damn the boat like toggin in a sailboat. The captains said their goodbyes and we rolled full-bore to the Indian River Inlet. Four hours and a job well done.
On the way back Captain Clarke asked me … “Do you think those guys on that ship have a generator for power, maybe a grill to cook food?” That was a good question. “They won’t be able to go up the Maurice river until high tide, twelve hours from now (4 am). Maybe they will sit around some old kerosene lamps, eat cold hot dogs, drink rum, and play cards.” Now I wished I was on that ship for that leg of the journey. The Overfalls Lightship had a crew of a few today, to help get her to New Jersey, safe journey boys and calm seas. Thanks for the ride Captain Clarke, it was a fun day.
Check out Tow Boat US Indian River for all your towing needs, they also have a special on the DSF discount card. And as they say on Facebook … #redboatsarebetter.
History of the Overfalls Lightship from the website … “The Lightship Overfalls, known to the men who served aboard as LV-118, was the last lightship built for the U.S. Lighthouse Service (USLHS). She was only one of the two lightships built in the 20th century for which the Congress made a separate appropriation for a lightship to serve on a specific station. She was built in East Boothbay, Maine in 1938 and incorporated the latest features of lightship design at the time, including steel bulkheads to compartmentalize the ship. She was the last lightship commissioned by the USLHS and the last built with a riveted construction. All subsequent lightships, and ships in general, were and are built using welded seam technology. One year after the Overfalls was commissioned, the USLHS and all of its assets (lightships, lighthouses, etc.) in 1939 were merged into the U.S. Coast Guard, so for almost all of the ship’s service life she was a Coast Guard ship with uniformed Coast Guard crews aboard.
The ship had a distinguished career serving on three significant lightship stations.
The first from 1938 to 1957, Cornfield Point in the east end of Long Island Sound is off of Old Saybrook, Connecticut.
In 1958, she was moved to Cross Rip near Martha’s Vineyard just south of Cape Cod.
These stations marked the two ends of the inland passage through the treacherous shoal waters used by ships transiting from New England down to New York and points south.
In 1962, she was reassigned to the Boston station six miles east of the lighthouse marking the entrance to Boston Harbor where she stayed until she was taken out of service in 1972. In 1973, the Coast Guard donated the ship to the Lewes Historical Society (LHS) to serve as a floating museum in Lewes, Delaware. LHS brought her to her current location on the canal in downtown Lewes and painted on a new station name, OVERFALLS, in honor of the lightship station closest to Lewes. The Overfalls station is in the mouth of Delaware Bay where lightships had served as a mid-channel marker from 1898 to 1960 when the station was discontinued.”
Video of the entire afternoon towing the Overfalls Lightship …