WLV 605 is a 600-class lightship - the last class of
lightship built by the U.S. Coast Guard. The 605 served
in Delaware, off Blunts Reef, and as the Relief ship
for all west coast lightships. Today, after 15 years of
restoration and 20,000 volunteer hours, she is open to the
public at Jack London Square in Oakland, CA
and is a national historic landmark.
The WLV 605 (originally designated WAL 605) was built in
Boothbay, ME at Rice Brothers Shipyard, along with her
sister ship, the 604
(which is now a floating museum
in Columbia, WA). Troubles plagued construction of the
605. She survived a small fire during construction, and
ran aground during sea trials. Despite these difficulties,
the ship was launched May 4, 1950 and commissioned in
The 600-class represented 130 years of experience
in the construction of lightships. The 605 carries a pair of
375 mm 500,000 candlepower lenses mounted one on top of the another
on the foremast - one as the primary light, the other as a backup.
The light was visible for up to 23 miles from the ship's station.
The ship is also equipped with a pair of diaphone fog signals,
a radio beacon antenna, and radar. The ship's hull is painted
bright red for increased visibility as a day mark.
The 605 is equipped with a pair of anchors - a 5000-pound Navy anchor
and a 6750-pound "mushroom" anchor, which was used when the
lightship was on station (i.e. at its designated location).
The ship originally carried 1170 feet of chain, and usually let out
five to seven times as much chain as water depth when on station.
The design of the windlass (the machinery for raising and lowering anchor)
represented an important improvement in design of the 600-class
ships. Previous lightships had their chains pass directly into the
bosun's locker in the bow of the ship to the windlass,
all below deck. Since this hawsepipe could not
be made truly waterproof, the bosun's locker could be flooded
in heavy seas. In the 600-class ships, the windlass machinery was
partially above and below deck. The anchor chain passed through hawsepipes
directly to the main deck, and then passed down from the deck to the chain
locker. With this design, water passing up the hawsepipe went to the
main deck, rather than below deck.
The 600-class ships were built with a pair of enginerooms - on used on station,
the other when underway. The B-1 engineroom used on station is equipped
with a pair of heating boilers, generators, air compressors and water heaters.
The B-2 engineroom contains additional backup systems, as well as the ship's main
The main engine on the 605 is an 550 horsepower Atlas Imperial Diesel
Engine, built in Oakland, CA. The engine is a direct reversible engine.
This means that to reverse direction, the engine must be stopped, the cam
reversed, and the engine restarted. The ship had a top speed of 10.7 knots.
Lightships were not designed for agility - they were built to get to
station and stay there.
The ship's complement was 18, but only 12 were on station at any time.
Crew members typically served two to three weeks on station. The ship's
officer consisted of a Chief Warrant Officer who served as Captain, Senior
or Master Chief Bosun's Mate as Executive Officer, and a Senior or Master
Chief Engineman as the Engineering Officer.
The 605 began service as OVERFALLS off the coast of Delaware from
1951 to 1960. The 605 later served as BLUNTS at Blunts Reef off
Cape Mendocino, CA from 1960 to 1969. In 1965, the ship was
redesignated from WAL 605 to WLV 605. In 1969, the 605 was designated
as RELIEF for all west coast lightships. The RELIEF served as a
replacement for a ship which left station for service or overhaul.
The 605 served as RELIEF until 1975. She was decomissioned on January 1, 1976,
and donated to the City of Olympia, WA. When plans to convert the ship into
a museum fell through, the ship was sold to Mr. Alan Hosking in 1979. The ship
sailed under its own power to Half Moon Bay, CA.
The vessel was donated to the non-profit US Lighthouse Society (USLHS) on
December 31, 1986. The USLHS began restoration of the ship, and in
1989 the vessel was designated a National Historic Landmark. In June, 2002
the ship moved from a pier in Oakland, again under its own power,
to its new home in Jack London Square, and is open
to the public.
In May 2003, the ship became a California State Historic Landmark.
(The information from this site is derived primarily from the Relief
docent training manual, the Lightship Relief flyer by Marie LeBaudour,
the US Coast Guard website, (see links
and conversations with the many lightship volunteers,
especially John Byrne and Bob Kinney of the USLHS.)
The Keeper's Log Winter 1990, Summer 2003, Spring 2004