With these pages we would like to tell you stories and describe parts of the life on board. From these texts you can see how hard the life on board of the light ships sometimes was. It must have been a very special kind of men who served on this special kind of ships.
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Life Aboard The English Lightvessels
Falls Lightvessel by Brian Packham
When I served aboard the `Falls' Lightvessel, I served with some characters indeed. There were Robbie, from Yorkshire, who was the Master, Colin, a South African, who lived on the Isle of Wight, Dick, also from the Isle of Wight and `Bungy' who lived in Ramsgate.
`Bungy', who had served in the Royal Navy prior to his Trinity House career, was a natural practical joker. The tradition aboard the Lightvessels was to always make your relief watch keeper a cup of tea when you called him. `Bungy' would always oblige with this, except you normally spent about twenty minutes trying to find your tea after he made it. Whenever I relieved him on watch, I found my tea in all kinds of places; it could be hidden in the galley oven, on top of pipe work, in cupboards, even in the freezer compartment of the galley fridge.
On one occasion, I relieved `Bungy' at midnight to take over the `middle watch' (Midnight to 06:00 hrs). To my surprise, my tea was on the galley worktop, where normal people would expect to find it. I also noticed a saucepan, containing six eggs, was boiling away on the galley stove. I thought no more about it, until I went and relieved `Bungy' of the watch in the Radio Room, after exchanging the usual pleasantries and being appraised of what was going on and what shipping was in the area, I casually asked why was he boiling six eggs at midnight. The reply was "they're not my eggs, they're Colin's". As Colin was tucked up in his bunk, he was relieving me at 06:00 hrs, I was a bit confused but didn't question the matter any further.
About a week later, when I was on daywork duties for a week, I was sitting in the crew messroom at lunchtime, `Bungy' came rushing in and called for me to follow him outside. Thinking he was going to show me something interesting, I followed him out onto the after deck, up the ladder to the boat deck, into the wheelhouse, back down into the main accommodation, where `Bungy' whispered, "You remember those eggs I was boiling the other night?" I nodded, `Bungy' then told me to keep quiet and follow him. We crept into the galley to find Colin preparing his lunchtime meal. I can't remember what he was supposed to be cooking, but I know it involved using eggs. You've probably guessed, he tried to crack the eggs into a mixing bowl, momentarily bewildered as to why his eggs weren't breaking as expected. The penny dropped when he spotted us in fits of laughter. I cannot repeat what he said but I can only assume he was swearing in Afrikaans!! Colin then placed the box of hard boiled eggs back into his food locker.
But, this story does not end there. There were another two weeks, or so, before it was our relief day. On the day of our relief, we were all in the Radio Room, waiting for the call from the helicopter, all our personal gear were handy waiting to go. `Bungy' then noticed, laying on the top of Colin's holdall, was the box of hard boiled eggs, without anyone noticing, he managed to exchange two boiled eggs for two raw eggs, which had been left by another crew member for use by the oncoming crew. It subsequently transpired that, after travelling from Ramsgate to London, where Colin caught his train to the Isle of Wight. It would appear that during the course of the journey, Colin decided to eat his nice hard boiled eggs. Apparently he `tucked into' the two eggs he had previously discovered to be hard boiled, then assuming the rest of the box were also hard boiled, he discovered, to his peril what `Bungy' had done, and had to complete the rest of the journey with raw egg stains down his trousers.
Needless to say, when we were all reunited after our leave, myself and `Bungy' were not exactly Colin's favourite shipmates. However he did forgive us eventually.
© Brian Packham
An extract from the diary of the German lightship "Aussenjade 2" in a storm
A report of the Captain of the Lightship “Aussenjade 2 ”, Klaus Stockhorst, November 1977:
After the Radio Beacon transmitter was repaired the Aussenjade departed early on the 11th November 1977 from the depot in Wilhelmshaven to return to her position TW/Ems. In the early afternoon the Jade marker buoy was passed. Already the wind blew strongly, with force 7, from the southwest; air pressure was 1007 mb and falling. When, later in the afternoon, the buoy DB/8 was passed, the storm was blowing at force 8 and the sea was getting rough. In the evening the weather forecast predicted heavy gusts of wind from the southwest with force 8 to 9.
At 23:00 hrs the wind was already at force 10, the size of the waves had increased accordingly and water was breaking over the deck and cabins. The ship could only proceed at 4 knots.
On the 12th November 1977 the light ship reached it’s position at 1:00 hrs, but could not pay out the anchor chain, because of the weather conditions. The storm had reached force 10 to 11, which increased during frequent and heavy hail showers to force 12 to 13 (65 – 70 kn). Seven to nine meter high waves flooded the ship constantly and it had to heave to. The ability to stir was hampered because of the heavy seas and the ship was in danger of capsizing. To keep the ship on course to sea, it was run at 1 kn.
At 12:00 hrs, nearly 11 hours later, the storm still raged with force 9 to 10 and heavy gusts and hail showers. Through west-northwest seas the ship rolled heavily. About 16:45 hrs the glass dropped to 992 mb, the lowest, the wind turned to westerly and diminished. The position of the ship was approximately 20 nautical miles southwest of it’s station “TW/Ems”.
On the 12th November 1977 at about 19:40 hrs the required position was reached. The storm blew with a force 8 now and the ship was working hard in the big swell. At 20:00 hrs they started the anchor manoeuvre. At 20:30 hrs the technical aspects of the seamark were activated and the marine safety office in Cuxhaven was notified that the lightship “TW/Ems” was on position again. Despite the strong storm and constant hail showers 280 meters of chain were paid out by 22:00 hrs. The crew must have worked extremely hard. The storm did not abate until the 13th November 1977.
The behaviour of the ship in heavy seas and bad weather, despite it’s great age, weak engines and rudder construction, was astonishingly good.
During and after the storm the ship rolled in the heavy sea and swells and tipped on average 25° to 35°. The rolling periods were 8 to 10 seconds.
Life on board WLV 612 San Francisco
My name is Russ Helberg, and i was aboard 612 from Aug 1962 to Feb 1964.
I have an excellent memory of almost all my days abord the lightship.
I remember when President Kennedy got shot our ship swung around and faced the east for the whole thirty days that his body laid at rest in the Rotunda at Washington D.C. The day he went in the ground she swung around and faced the west once again. These things are in the log book from that time.
I remember the storm of 30 Nov 1962 with sustained winds of 90 knots with gusts to 120 knots. I remember when she stood on her nose you could walk on the forward bulkhead of the bridge. The masts snaped so hard that we lost the drive belt off the radar. We got solid green water down our fog horns and lost them to. When the pilot vessel California went by they put their murcury light on our hull and could see our zinc plates.
I remember a russian trawler standing off our port bow waiting for a helicopter to take a sick seaman off. You could see her radar mast and the hammer and sickle flag through the tulie fog.
I remember once a little duck showed up at our ship one day. He was hurt and our crew made every effort to try to bring him aboard, to nurse him back to health. We even tryed to catch him in a salmon fish net. We were concerned about his safty because he would swim to close to the engineroom discharge tube, which had oil coming out of it. In those days there were no rules about polution. But alas one day he did swim under the tube, and because he was not able to move very fast we were able to catch him. But the poor little guy died on us, even though we tryed everything in the book to save him. Then we decieded to make him a member of the U.S. Coast Guard and bury him at sea. We put him in a homemade flag, put him in a plastic bag, tied a salmon fishing weight to it and lowered him into the sea. A true story.
I remember whales rubbing their backs on the barnicles on the bottom of the ship and then sounding on the anchor chain. We were in three hundred feet of water, with eight hundred feet of chain out. On the whales, we were anchored twelve miles out from the Golden Gate Bridge in what is known as the Humbolt Current.
Lots of great white sharks abound in that area also. We had humpbacks and sperm wales go by all the time. Once in a great while we would get orcas but not very often.
Baby albatross are known as goony birds when they become adults. They would land on our deck and become seasick. They would hit a guide wire with one of their wings and instead of recovering like a normal bird, they would leave the wing folded up and crash into the sea. At night when the main light would go off you could see them trying to take off running on top of the water right at the ship. Then they would make a thud sound when they were greeted by the side of the ship.
All these stories and many many more are in the history of 612.