When we happened upon this big red beauty on our Adventure through Coastal Delaware, “Lightship” was just a Star Trek term – however, we quickly learned that these craft are more likely to be found in salt water rather than space.
When the water is too deep, or otherwise unsuitable to construct a permanent light, these floating lighthouse vessels take to the waves to ensure safe passage for others at sea. Little did we know that one of the rarest of them all was located right here in Lewes, Delaware.
The Lightship Overfalls was constructed in East Boothbay, Maine as one of only two lightships built in the 20th Century. After a distinguished career, she was removed from service in 1972 – and that is where the story truly begins.
After being donated by the Coast Guard to the Lewes Historical Society (LHS), the vessel was meant to serve as a floating museum and OVERFALLS was painted on its side in honor of the lightship station closest to its new home. Unfortunately, the next 25 years were tough on the ship as maintenance resources went from scarce to nonexistent and the ship eventually deteriorated badly … but a small and caring community was about to turn that around.
In 1999, Merrill Kaegi, a member of the LHS put an ad in the local paper 📰 inviting anyone with an interest in saving the ship to come to a meeting. On a sticky August morning, 24 individuals showed up to form the ‘Friends of the Lightship Overfalls’. Over the next 13 years, the crew that would become known as the “Dirty Hands Gang”.
The group had one mission: SAVE THE SHIP!
Together they would join forces to put in over 85,000 volunteer hours and raise more than $1.2 million dollars to get her back to shipshape. Finally, in 2011, the Lightship Overfalls was designated a National Historic Landmark and today can be boarded and explored as a museum ship, welcoming patrons and interested individuals to learn about her history and the history of all lightships around the world.
Story: Wally Koval