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New Jersey Scuba Diving

Relief - Lightship WAL-505

Sandy Hook Chart

Shipwreck Relief - Lightship WAL-505

shipwreck, lightship, USCG
Named for its job - as the "relief ship" for the other regular lightships along the eastern seaboard.
1904, Camden NJ USA
( 129 x 28 ft ) 631 gross tons, 9 crew
Friday June 24, 1960
collision with freighter Green Bay - no casualties
40°27.144' -73°49.070' (AWOIS 2003)
105 ft, main deck at 90

The lightship is intact and upright, with the masts knocked down. This wreck is interesting because before you dive it, you can tour her near-identical twin, the Ambrose, at the South Street Seaport. And that's probably not a bad idea - the viz here can be deplorable.

The wreck is heavily overgrown with mussels and other marine life. Large skylights that once illuminated the interior have long since collapsed, and shipwreck Relief - Lightship WAL-505the wreck is easily penetrated through the resulting holes in the deck, although the interior is quite silty. After forty years of being picked over, you would have to be very lucky to find good artifacts anyway. A better place to look inside is the large gash on the starboard side near the "L" in the picture, the result of the collision that sank her. Searching around inside the edges of this hole might even produce a lobster. The bottom is mud and silt - pretty nasty.

The wreck of the pilot boat Sandy Hook is not more than a mile away.

Shipwreck Relief - Lightship WAL-505
Under construction, Camden NJ 1904

Shipwreck Relief - Lightship WAL-505
Shipwreck Relief - Lightship WAL-505
Views forward and aft from the top of the fore-mast



BUILT AT: Camden (NJ)


BUILDER: New York Shipbuilding Co


SISTER VESSELS: LV 79, 80, 81, 83

DESIGN: Steam screw; steel hull; 2 steel masts with wood spencers; stack amidships; small wheelhouse ahead of foremast

LENGTH: 129'0" (loa); BEAM: 28'6"; DRAFT: 12'6"; TONNAGE: 668 displ

PROPULSION: Steam - one compound surface condensing engine, 16 and 31" bores x 24" stroke, 325 IHP; two fire-tube boilers 9'3"dia x 16'4"long; propeller 7'9" dia; max speed 10 knots; also rigged for sail

ILLUMINATING APPARATUS: Cluster of 3 oil lens lanterns raised to each masthead

FOG SIGNAL: 10" steam whistle; hand operated bell


1905: Completed vessel delivered by contractor

1906: Submarine bell signal installed

1906: Wireless telegraph equipment supplied, installed and operated. by Navy

1915: Equipped with 375mm acetylene lens lanterns mounted at each masthead

1917: Radio equipment provided and installed by Lighthouse Service

1919: Steam siren added (original 10" whistle retained)

1922: Radio-beacon installed

1926: Illuminating apparatus converted to electric operation

1934/35: Repowered with 600 HP GM geared diesel, 7' dia propeller, max speed 8 knots; auxiliary systems converted from steam to diesel

1945: Fitted with search radar

1954: Listed with 2 500mm lens lanterns, 15,000cp; air diaphragm horn (Leslie 17" typhoon) and AN/SPN-11 radar.

Radio and visual call sign NNGT (1940-1960)


1905-1942: Relief (3d District)
1942-1945: Examination Vessel, WWII
1945-1947: Scotland (NJ)
1947-1960: Relief (3d District)

(1942-1945: Based at Staten Island; used as examination vessel in 1st and 3d Coast Guard Districts, no armament provided)


1905: Mar 2, delivered by contractor to Staten Island Depot; fitted out and supplied.

1905: May 4-25, relieved Cornfield Point; May 27-Jul 5, relieved Brenton Reef; Aug 1-Sep 16, relieved Fire Island; Sep 16-Oct 4, relieved Scotland; Oct 9-28, relieved Brenton Reef.

1906: Wireless telegraph equipment supplied, installed and operated by Navy Dept; submarine bell signal also installed same year.

1906: Apr 16-May 23, relieved Overfalls (DE); Jun 9-Jul 25, relieved Sandy Hook; Jul 30-Aug 28, relieved Fire island; Oct 10-Nov 14, relieved Cornfield Point; Nov 21-Jan 2, 1907, relieved Nantucket Shoals.

1907: Apr 1-Jul 11, relieved Fire Island.

1913: Jan, while relieving Cape Lookout, parted chain and adrift; regained station using spare anchor.

1913: Jul, while attempting to transfer mail to passing steamer CITY OF ATLANTA, the 5 lightship crewmen manning the whaleboat were drowned when run down by the steamer.

1915: Apr, equipped with two 375mm acetylene lens lanterns, with clock and cam controller in engine room which in turn applied battery power to a solenoid gas valve in the lantern at each masthead. This arrangement allowed setting any flash characteristic on either or both lanterns; as necessary to relieve any station in the District.

1960: Jun 24, while relieving Ambrose Channel station, was rammed and sunk by SS GREEN BAY.



1960: Jun 24, while relieving Ambrose Channel station; rammed and sunk on station by steamer GREEN BAY.


?-1914: Frank Tilghman, Mate
1914-1918: Sidney Ellis, Master
1918-?: Harry Hansen, Master
1919-1920: Hans Swensen, Mate
1920-?: Peter M Lied, Mate
1954-?: BMC Maxwell Fulcher, OIC

(?)1957-1958: CWO2 (BOSN) W.A. Wicks, CO; BMC Maxwell Fulcher, XO (to 1957)

1958-1959(?): CWO1 (BOSN) G.R. Brower; BMCM Louis C. Carter, XO (1957-1959?)

1959-1960: CWO1 (BOSN) Joseph Young; BMC Joseph E. Tamalonis, XO (was OIC on the night of the collision as Young was on leave.)

Shipwreck Relief - Lightship WAL-505
One of the massive light masts, some 50 ft long and several tons, once a rusting eyesore off Route 35 in Laurence Harbor. Recovered in the 1970's, it once stood in front of a now-defunct dive shop. The mast was finally removed in 2007.

by John Yurga

At the head of Ambrose Channel stands a large steel structure which resembles an offshore oil rig. This platform announces to approaching ships the location of the beginning of the 44' deep, 1000 foot wide channel, which was dredged for large ships entering the port of New York in 1908. The Ambrose Light Tower was completed in 1967, replacing the sentinels which had marked the channel for the previous 59 years. Those sentinels were Light Ships. Today, less than a mile from the Ambrose Light Tower, lies the remains of one of these small but vitally important vessels whose purpose was to guide mariners safely to their destinations. She was run down by one of the very ships she was there to protect.

When the Ambrose Channel was completed, it represented a much faster and wider passage to New York and northern New Jersey ports than the Sandy Hook Channel. A light ship had been stationed at the entrance to the Sandy Hook Channel since 1823; it represented the earliest open-ocean light ship in America. On December 1, 1908, the Sandy Hook light ship was replaced with the vessel Ambrose, which lit the way into the new channel.

In the beginning of the 20th century, there were nearly 50 light ships stationed at various danger spots on our coasts. There were several spare ships whose duties were to maintain the station of a light vessel which needed to go into port for overhaul, or to temporarily replace a vessel sunk by storm or collision. These vessels were called relief ships. The vessel lying in 110' of water off Ambrose light tower is one of these relief ships.

Officers' Mess in the Relief Ship's stern
Officers Mess in the Relief Ship's stern

LV-78, this Relief Ship's official designation, was built in 1904 in Camden, NJ at the New York Shipbuilding Company. One of five sisters built at nearly the same time, she was built for nearly $1000 less than the $90,000 appropriated by the Department of Commerce for her construction. As completed, she was 129' long, with a width of 28'6" and a depth of 12'6". Her compound steam engine could move her through the water at 10 knots with her 7'9" diameter propeller. She was also rigged for auxiliary sail, as were many steam-powered vessels of her day. In appearance, she more resembled a bathtub than a ship. Her short stubby bow, combined with her large relative width, gave her a bowl-like look. This made her very seaworthy; an important factor in the face of what her duties were to be.

Light ships were anchored at all times at their designated locations. They had to be on station in fair weather or bad, on fine spring days and in the Nor'easters and hurricanes of the late year. Their presence was vital to the well-being of the ships that sought out these beacons to guide them safely on their way.

As a relief ship, LV-78 was assigned to the Third Lighthouse District, whose area of operation included New York and New Jersey. She made her way from one station to another, allowing permanent light ships to go into port for overhauls and upgrades. Over the years, she too was upgraded in performance.

When commissioned, LV-78 had a cluster of three oil-lens lanterns, which were raised to the masthead every night as a beacon. She had a 10' steam whistle, and a hand-operated, 3' diameter, 1000-pound bell. These last two items were used in fog and poor weather to assist ships in locating her position. It was not until 2 years later that a wireless unit was installed on the ship, and it not until 1917 did she have radio equipment installed. In 1922, she finally had a radio beacon installed, so ships could home in on her regularly transmitted signal. All this time, her main beacons were her lamps. The three oil lamps had to be lowered daily from the masthead to be refueled, and to clean the black soot of smoky oil from the lenses. In 1926 LV-78 had her lamps replaced with electric lights, considerably easing the workload of the crew.

The relief ship's biggest changes occurred in the 1930's. During 1934-1935, she had her steam power plant removed and replaced with a 600-hp GM diesel engine, and all her auxiliary systems were converted to diesel as well. Her coal bunkers were rebuilt to contain the fuel for these engines. She was outfitted with a slightly smaller propeller, which could drive her at 8 knots. On July 1, 1939, she had a change of ownership, so to speak. The government organization that oversaw lighthouses and other aids to navigation was absorbed into the newly formed US Coast Guard. The name Relief remained painted in large white letters on her red hull, but her official designation was changed from LV-78 to WAL-505 under Coast Guard ownership.

World War II brought a change of duties for WAL-505. She became an examination vessel, boarding ships entering harbor for inspections. She carried no armament other than small arms for this duty. She was equipped with search radar in 1945.

With the end of the war, WAL-505 spent 2 years at the Scotland Lightship station off the New Jersey coast. In 1947, she regained her previous duties as a relief vessel in the Third Coast Guard District. In the next 10 years, she had her beacons upgraded to 1500-candlepower lamps with a range of 8 miles, received upgraded radar, and was equipped with a 17" air horn. Still, as a relief ship, her equipment was not as good as that of the vessels she replaced. For instance, Ambrose light ship had lamps with a 13-mile range, over a third brighter than the ship which relieved her for a month or so each year.

It was during this relief duty of the Ambrose that WAL-505 met her demise. Early in the morning of June 24, 1960, with Ambrose at St. George, Staten Island, for her annual overhaul, WAL-505 was stationed at the approach to Ambrose Channel. The relief ship was anchored with a 7500-pound mushroom anchor and had 600' of chain out. Twice a minute, she transmitted the call sign of the ship she had replaced. Due to the thick fog that morning, her foghorn was also blaring out the signal normally employed by the Ambrose.

The freighter Green Bay, owned by the Central Gulf Steamship Corporation, was outbound from New York at this time. The freighter was bound for Massawa, Eritrea, with general cargo. At 10,270 tons, the C-2 cargo ship dwarfed the 660-ton lightship, whose station was between the Green Bay and the open sea. Captain Thomas Mazzella of the Green Bay saw the image of the lightship on his radar and steered directly for it, thus keeping to the center of the deep channel. At what he thought was a distance of one and a half miles, he ordered a slight course change to go around the anchored light ship. He then went out to the bridge wing to watch for the fog-shrouded light to pass by off to the side. What he saw instead was the light ship suddenly materialize out of the foggy gloom directly ahead of his ship. Mazzella had misread his radar. He rushed back into the wheelhouse and ordered full astern on his engines, but it was too late. At 4:05 AM, the Green Bay struck WAL-505 at almost a 90-degree angle on the starboard side, just aft of amidships.

Aboard the diminutive light ship, Boatswain's Mate Bobby Pierce was alone on duty in the pilothouse. At about 4:03 AM, he heard the foghorn of the approaching freighter and saw the masthead light looming over his vessel. He sounded the general alarm, stirring his fellow crewmen from their bunks only seconds before the impact. When the Green Bay struck, the light ship rolled 15 degrees to port, then slowly righted herself. A triangular gash, 12' high andShipwreck Relief - Lightship WAL-505ranging in width from nearly 2' to about 6", allowed water to pour into the stricken vessel at such a rate that there was no thought of trying to save the ship. As the collision had disabled WAL-505's lifeboat, the crew had to abandon ship into an inflatable life raft. They were able to do this without injury to any of the nine-man crew. As the ship began to go under, Chief Boatswain's Mate Joseph Tamalonis, commander of the lightship, ordered his crew to paddle away using their hands. The four oars were lashed down, and Tamalonis feared that the raft would be caught in the undertow if the men took the time to free them. WAL-505 disappeared less than 10 minutes after the collision. The crew then unshipped the oars, and rowed around in the thick fog for an hour before being picked up by a lifeboat from the Green Bay. The larger ship had only some slight damage to its forepeak from the collision, and had dropped anchor and launched a lifeboat to search for survivors from the light ship.

Soon afterward, the relief ship's crewmen were transferred to a 95' Coast Guard patrol boat and brought to St. George. There they found several crewmembers of the Ambrose working to get their vessel ready to return to station 2 weeks early. When the Ambrose crew saw Chief Boatswain's Mate Tamalonis, they yelled out to him "Come along, we need a chief!" Tamalonis replied, "I need a ship!".

Only 2 hours after the sinking of WAL-505, the Coast Guard cutter Yeaton was on station beside a buoy marking the resting place of the sunken vessel. The cutter's lights and foghorn served as a beacon for incoming and outgoing ships until Ambrose could get back on station later on in the day. Green Bay continued her interrupted voyage across the Atlantic, apparently unaffected by the collision. Navy divers visited the wreck of WAL-505 to ascertain the extent of the damage and the possibility of raising her.Shipwreck Relief - Lightship WAL-505 their report indicated that the necessary effort would not be cost-effective, and it was decided to knock down the sunken vessel's masts and superstructure using a wire drag.

Today, WAL-505, more commonly known as the Relief, rests on the muddy bottom at about 110 feet. The wire drag did its job well; the masts and much of the superstructure lie off the wreck to the port side. The hull of the ship sits upright, with the deck at a depth of about 90 feet. The hull remains intact, and one can drop off the starboard side amidships and find the triangular opening torn into the vessel by the Green Bay. Much of the wooden decking has been eaten away over the years, leaving only steel cross braces for a diver to contend with if he chooses to drop down into the crew deck. Two square hatches, one forward and one aft, allow even easier access to this deck, but can be difficult to find again from inside, as they are in the centerline of the wreck. Navigation is easiest along the hull. Almost all of the interior partitions are gone, with the exception of the engine room casing. This rectangular shape turns the inside of the wreck into a donut-shaped area. Forward are the winches used to raise anchor, and along the starboard side is the galley, where the stove is still visible. Crew bunks line both sides of the hull, while aft of the engine room casing are the officer's quarters and dining room. In years past, divers entered the engine room casing through doors on this deck, or through the now-missing engine room skylights. Another deck lies below, with the various artifacts one would expect to find in an engine room. Unfortunately, silt has filled much of the lower deck, denying access to that area. However, the crew deck, even after over 30 years of visits by divers, is still strewn with artifacts ranging from small arms ammunition and medicine bottles to cage lamps and the odd porthole or two.

ship's bellIn years long past, the 1000-pound bell and the 6000-pound light masts were recovered, but you may still manage to find a spoon in the galley debris, or a whistle with the words 'USN 1944' on it. However, one of the most exciting things about diving this wreck is the opportunity to make a dry run before you even get wet!

At the South Street Seaport Museum in lower Manhattan, one of the museum's display ships is a virtual sister to the Relief. It is the Ambrose, one of several ships to bear that name. As you walk through this floating museum, you can get an idea of what you will see on the ocean floor. Take away the upper deck superstructure, masts, and rigging, and you will get an idea of what the Relief looks like. Mentally remove most of the portholes, for divers before you have gotten there first. Walk the crew deck, imagining what this area would look like with all of the thin steel walls gone. Note the location of the galley; it will be in the same place on the sunken Relief. Look up at the porthole and deadlights used as galley skylights, but don't make plans to recover a porthole nobody noticed; someone already did. Note the location of the square hatch behind the wheelhouse relative to the bell davit; will this be your entry point? Did anyone think to look for that cage lamp over the winch assembly in the bow? As you walk through the ship, you can come up with many ideas for what to do on your dive - probably enough to occupy several dives!

Shipwreck Relief - Lightship WAL-505The Relief ship lies in an area of heavy traffic; care must be taken to avoid having your boat become a future destination of wreck divers. Visibility at the site varies greatly, depending on weather conditions and the tide. With clean incoming water, visibility can exceed 20 feet, but with conditions against you, you can be nearly blind on the bottom. Generally speaking, if you are planning to visit the interior of the wreck, you would be much better served on a good visibility day, when the green patches of light show the way back to the exit. If you choose to stay outside the wreck, check out the steering quadrant on the stern, or the bell davit forward of where the wheelhouse was. Inspect the tear in the side of the ship, look at the rounded bow, examine at the machinery around the engine room casing topside as well, you get the picture. There is plenty to do anywhere on the wreck, especially if you have taken the time to acquaint yourself with the floating version of this ship first. The time it takes to make a visit to the Ambrose will be well rewarded when you reach the bottom.

Original NJScuba website by Tracey Baker Wagner 1994-1996

USCGThe Sinking of USCG Lig htship RELIEF LV 78 / WAL 505

Survivor Bobbie R. Pierce, Boatswain's Mate 3rd. Class, recalls the collision in his own words. As told to J. F. "Jay" McCarthy with excerpts from the Official U.S.C.G. Joint Marine Board of Investigation into the sinking.

Date: 24 June 1960.

Location: Ambrose Channel Lightship Station ...

The station was located in the Atlantic Ocean at the extreme eastern edge of Lower New York Bay at the head of Ambrose Channel, approximately 19-20 miles from the tip of Manhattan, New York City, and positioned nine miles southeast of Rockaway Point, New York, and 10 miles east of Sandy Hook, New Jersey ... at 40d-27.1' north latitude and 73d-49.4' west longitude.

Weather: Dense fog / zero visibility

Vessel: SS Green Bay
Type: Freighter-single screw
Built: 1943; Oakland, California
Length: 438' 9"
Tonnage: 6,125 gross
Vessel: USCG Relief LV 78 / WAL 505
Type: Lightship - single screw
Built: 1904; Camden, New Jersey
Length: 129' 0"
Tonnage: 566.0 gross

In the early morning hours of 24 June 1960 the United States cargo vessel Green Bay was outbound from Port Newark, New Jersey to Bombay, India and the Middle East with 8,100 tons of general cargo. After clearing the Narrows and entering Lower New York Bay and Ambrose Channel, visibility decreased to zero in fog and remained so up until the time of collision.

During this same time period, the U.S. Coast Guard Lightship Relief LV 78 / WAL 505, was anchored on Ambrose Channel Lightship Station. She was relieving Ambrose Lightship WLV 613 which was in USCG Base St. George, Staten Island, New York for overhaul. The vessel was anchored with a 7,500 lb. mushroom anchor and 600 feet of chain out. The fog horn and mast light were ON. The radio beacon was operating properly.

All Times are Approximate:

0345 ... aboard Relief LV 78/505 ... I, Bobbie R. Pierce, entered the wheelhouse to relieve the mid-watch from Seaman Blaine Kuhn. I discussed the events of the previous watch with Kuhn and reviewed / made log book entries. A dense fog covered the area, there was a light wind, and the sea was calm with a slight swell. Visibility was zero. The fog horn was on; the mast light beacon and radio beacon were all working properly. I then relieved Kuhn and assumed the deck watch.

0400 ... aboard Green Bay... The Green Bay was drifting on a heading of 035d True with engines stopped, when the Pilot Boat Launch pulled alongside. Before the Pilot departed, the Master took a radio direction finder bearing on Ambrose Lightship and a radar bearing was taken by the Pilot. Both bearings were determined to be 070d True. The Pilot estimated that at the time he took the radar bearing the range was 3/4 of a mile. The Master, on the other hand, estimated the lightship to be 1 1/2 miles distant, but this was not verified by any means.

0403 ... aboard Green Bay ... The pilot disembarked.

0404 ... aboard Green Bay ... The engines were ordered to slow ahead (3.75 knots).

0405 ... aboard Green Bay ... The engines were ordered to half ahead (7.5 knots), and the helmsman was told to come right to 070d True, in order to "head the vessel directly towards the LIGHTSHIP".

0406 ... aboard Relief LV 78/505 ... I went aft on the weather deck, to the radio beacon shack to monitor the radio beacon. On the way I heard a distant fog horn on the starboard side. I couldn't see a thing.

0408 ... aboard Green Bay ... The bow lookout heard the lightship's foghorn.

0408 ... aboard Relief LV 78/505... As I was returning to the wheelhouse, I saw a big black outline with a dim white light heading straight for us on the starboard side. I ran back to the wheelhouse and yelled down the ladder for the duty engineman, Edward J. Rothaug EN3, to come up on deck.

At this time, Rothaug was just below the wheelhouse on the Mess (second) deck, had a cup of coffee in his hand, and was on his way up the ladder to the wheelhouse to check on the weather. Rothaug quickly agreed with me, "a ship was headed directly at us and we were going to be hit".

0409 ... aboard Relief LV 78/505... As I went forward to sound the General Alarm (siren). Rothaug ran down below to wake up Joseph E. Tamalonis, Boatswain's Mate Chief. BMC Tamalonis was Officer in Charge at the time, as the Commanding Officer, Boatswain Warrant-1, Joseph Young, was ashore on leave.

0409 ... aboard Green Bay... The loom of the lightship's light was sighted dead ahead by the lookout and Chief Mate who was also on the forecastle head. The Chief Mate relayed this information to the bridge by telephone. The Master upon receiving the report of the loom dead ahead went to the wing of the bridge but could see nothing. Moments later the thin loom of the light was visible ahead whereupon he ordered the rudder hard right to 090d True to clear the lightship and the engines FULL AHEAD (11.25 knots), to increase the swing. According to the helmsman the vessel had not yet been steadied on 070d True when this order was received.

Within seconds the light ahead became intense and realizing the lightship was closer than he had originally thought the Master rang up "FULL ASTERN" ..

By then it was too late!!

0410 ... aboard Relief LV 78/505...Of the nine crewmen aboard, seven had been sound asleep. After I sounded the general alarm, within what I feel, was no more than a minute, all hands mustered on the weather deck (a few arrived wearing only their skivvies) ... The exception was Tamalonis, BMC and Rothaug, EN3, who were still below deck.

As we could see the impending disaster emerge before us, each man was fully awake, alert and ready to spring into whatever action was necessary to save both ship and shipmates. The discipline was excellent. There was no panic. Survival instincts kicked in!

0411 ... COLLISION

Aboard Relief LV 78/505 ... Topside, on the weather deck: We all braced ourselves, as we watched in horror, the much taller bow of the freighter first strike and "splinter" the motor life boat, then strike our starboard side, just aft of amidships between the letters "R" and "E". We were struck on almost a 90d angle and rolled about 15d to port as a result of the impact. Directly afterwards, I did a quick head count of all hands on deck; all were OK, with no injuries.

Below, on the second deck starboard passageway: Rothaug was on his way to wake the Chief when the impact occurred. He witnessed the "bow of the Green Bay penetrate inside the hull of the Relief, " then as the Green Bay backed out, large volumes of water poured in.

Chief Tamalonis awakened by the general alarm, was making his way from his bunk in the stern when the collision occurred. After the impact, he went forward to determine whether all hands had been awakened or if anyone else had been injured. Chief Tamalonis had received minor injuries to his knee and hip. ... All hands had been accounted for and there had been no other injuries.

Aboard Green Bay ... Shortly after impact, the Green Bay picked up sternway and backed clear of the Relief into the fog. Visual contact with the Relief was lost.

Aboard Relief LV 78/505 ... Chief Tamalonis then checked to ascertain the extent of damage. He determined the impact on the starboard side resulted in a jagged hole, at least 12 feet long and at least 2 feet wide, from what was visible to him. Also, the engine room was rapidly flooding and the ship was sinking! Shortly thereafter, the generator ceased operation. Almost at once, "all the lights went out, the radio died" and the ship changed from a "live vibrant active ship" with the fog horn braying and all the associated normal sounds, to a "dark, strange eerie silence".

The only sound now was the sea rushing in through the gash in her side.

Take Note: the Relief having been built in 1904 was built without much attention to the subject of watertight compartments. The engine room was mostly one big open space. The (02) deck above the engine room was just iron grating; all open and exposed to the (01) weather deck skylights, from which light filtered down through the open grating into the engine room. It was impossible to make the engine room space water tight!

"The damage was extensive and the flooding so swift, there was no hope to save the ship".


Chief Tamalonis then passed the word to abandon ship. With the motor life boat damaged, it was decided that it would take too long to put the pulling boat over the side. The Chief ordered me to launch the "self-inflating rubber life raft" over the port side, aft. Meanwhile, the men who were missing their pants, rushed below deck to retrieve them and their wallets. Without delay, they returned topside to assist in launching the life raft.

0416 ... aboard Relief LV 78/505...After launching the life raft, I put the Jacobs ladder over the side and promptly climbed down into the raft, followed one at a time down the ladder by the remaining crew. The Relief by this time had sunk to the point that she was down by the stern, as the last man off the ship; Chief Tamalonis, didn't use the Jacobs ladder. "He just stepped directly from the deck onto the raft". We paddled away as fast as was humanly possible with our hands ...

The four raft paddles were fastened down to avoid there being washed away during launching, the skippers idea was to get away quickly without taking time to unfasten them ... The ship was sinking so rapidly, we feared the "undertow / whirlpool" would take us under, or if she rolled over, her masts or rigging might have struck us.

The Relief sank so swiftly, there was "NO TIME TO SEND a MAY DAY", or to save anything. No Log Books or personal effects were salvaged by the crew. Only what each man had on him.

0417 ... aboard Green Bay ... Stopped engines.

0421 ... aboard Green Bay ... Let go the port anchor.

0421 ... aboard Relief LV 78/505 survivor's life raft ...

We witnessed "USCG LIGHTSHIP RELIEF LV 78 / WAL 505 SINK" and disappear beneath the waves, approximately 10 minutes after the Green Bay collided with her. The Relief 78/505, being the gallant lady she was, went quietly to her watery grave. She did not pull us under, nor roll over as we had feared. Rather, she remained upright, sank stern first, and went down on a roughly 30-35 degree angle with the bow sinking last.

After the Relief sank, and the adrenaline rush subsided, for a brief time, we felt temporarily paralyzed and just drifted in silence, each of the nine survivor's to his own thoughts. We were adrift in dense fog in one of the busiest shipping channels in the world, our ship had just been sunk, and we had no idea what ship had just collided with us.

Shortly afterward, we heard the Green Bay drop anchor, but we couldn't see her in the heavy fog. Her crew was yelling to us and sounding their horn and bell. We yelled back, blew our hand whistles and Chief Tamalonis, fired flares in an attempt to raise attention to our position. We kept paddling towards the freighters sounds. Nevertheless, due to the thick fog, we were unable to locate the Green Bay.

0515 ... aboard Relief LV 78/505 survivor's life raft ... During all this time, I stayed fairly calm ... However, after about an hour of paddling and drifting, a ship appeared out of the dense fog and almost ran us down. That ship was the "Ocean Liner Queen Elizabeth!" She towered over us and came so close; I could have spit on her side. Chief Tamalonis fired off about 30 flares and the crew blew whistles and yelled in earnest after that near miss. We were able to read her name as she slowly passed by us. She did not stop!

The consensus among us was, the " Queen Elizabeth's crew" must have all been looking forward and "They never saw us or our flares". Her wake rocked our life raft back and forth afterwards ... As a result, "I got really scared and life threatening fear settled in among the crew on the raft"!

0530 ... aboard Relief LV 78/505 survivor's life raft...

Around this time, a motor lifeboat from the Green Bay, located us and towed us over to the freighter Green Bay. Shortly thereafter, the USCG Harbor Entrance Patrol Boat, CG-95308 arrived and took us aboard. The 95-footer then headed back to USCG Base St. George.

0615 ... The white hulled CGC Yeaton (WSC-156), equipped with flashing light, radio beacon and fog horn, took up the vigil, and substituted for the lightship until Ambrose Lightship WLV 613 could return to station. Coast Guard officials expressed concern for the Yeaton, because its 125-foot hull was all white and it might not be seen by moving vessels in fog.

0745 ... USCG Harbor Entrance Patrol Boat, CG-95308 arrived at USCG Base, St. George Staten Island, New York with the survivors from Relief Lightship LV 78 / WAL 505.

... Later that day, CGC Firebush (WAGL-393), a buoy tender, located the sunken Relief LV 78 / WAL 505. The Relief was located by the sight of the extreme tip of its foremast showing above the water surface. The sunken vessel was marked by a suitable lighted gong wreck buoy.

1600 ... Under emergency orders, USCG Lightship Ambrose WLV 613, under tow from the CGC Tamaroa (WAT-166) departed USCG Base St. George enroute back out to AMBROSE Lightship Station.

Ambrose Lightship WLV 613, engines were being overhauled in Base St. George when the Relief was sunk; consequently she could not get underway under her own power.

Note: Yes, that's the same CGC Tamaroa that 31 years later on the night of 28 October 1991, rescued the Air National Guard helicopter crew that crashed into the sea during the height of the infamous "Perfect Storm", off the New England coast.


Survivors: No survivors leave was granted. Each man was issued a new sea bag, with uniforms, etc. Compensation for personal items lost, varied by individual. I don't believe anyone received more than $500.00 in recompense. Within a week, one at a time, all survivors were reassigned northward to either Massachusetts or Connecticut. Some went to Boston, and were assigned to weather ships, others went to buoy tenders. All received ship board duty.

The exception was for myself. I remained at Base St. George for three months pulling gate guard duty.

After three months lightship Relief LV 84 / WAL 509, was brought up from the Jacksonville, Florida 6th District. She assumed the duties of Relief LV 78 / WAL 505. Myself and CW01 (BOSN) Joseph Young, former commanding officer of the Relief 78/505 were re-assigned to this ship. "We went back out to AMBROSE Lightship station." I had apprehension and mixed feelings about returning to that station, but stayed on the Relief LV 84/509 until my discharge on 11 August 1961.

Underwater Inspection:

5 July 1960...A U.S. Navy diver made a dive to the Relief. Without entering the Relief, his underwater inspection indicated a jagged hole in the shell plating just aft of frame 29. Starting at the weather deck a hole at least 2 feet wide extended downward to the second deck. Below the second deck, the hole narrowed and ranged in widths from approximately one feet six inches down to approximately five or six inches for a distance downward of approximately 12 feet. The keel area was not visible. The rivets holding the frame had let go ...

Commandant's Action on Joint Marine Board of investigation:

"It is considered that this casualty was caused principally by the Green Bay being directly headed toward the Lightship in zero visibility. Contributing to the casualty was the failure of the vessel to fix her position either by radar or radio direction finder bearing before setting her course. It is considered that half speed under the existing visibility was an immoderate speed and that the Master was negligent in permitting his vessel to be navigated at such speed. This negligence contributed to the collision between the Green Bay and the Relief and the subsequent sinking of the latter vessel ..."

In 1983 the last U.S. lightship weighed anchor and sailed back into port and into history.

Modern maritime technology through the use of light towers, huge buoys, satellites and GPS are but some of the replacements for these great ships. Of the over 180 U.S. lightships that sailed the sea's, from 1820 thru 1983, only about 15 or 16 are left. Of those, about 11 or 12 (mostly in maritime museums) stand the best chance of survival. The remainder are endangered and are being sold or are in various stages of deterioration.

-- from Coast Guard historical records

USCG Report on the sinking



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since 2016-09-11