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Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Nantucket Lightship and the "The Old Man"

Good evening, all ♥
I apologize for not having posted in awhile;
ever since returning from Spring Break,
school has been incredibly hectic.
... but I'm back (for now!)
and would like to share with you a very
interesting experience I had a few hours ago.

My mom and I, while doing the laundry in Oyster Bay,
took a short drive to one of my favorite
Long Island beaches: Beekman beach.
Docked at Beekman, for quite a few years now,
floats The Nantucket Lightship.
This ship was once used as a protection barge
to warn other incoming ships that they were
entering into the perilous Nantucket Shoals.
 It lit up during the night to mark the barrier,
and continued to do so for 26 years
until it was moved here to this spot on Long Island.

Mind you, although I've seen this ship many times in the past,
I never knew any of this information until my visit today
(and no, I didn't read any plaque or brochure)
... that's how the story gets interesting!

While standing on the dock adjacent to this colossal ship,
I see a little old man walking towards us from afar.
Thinking he's just another local enjoying the sunset,
I turn around and continue snapping pictures.
Once he gets closer though, he immediately asks,
"So, do you know anything about her?"
Shaking our heads politely, the old man, 
in a heavy Maine accent, dives right into 
the history of the Lightship, and his own intriguing past.

He tells us that he grew up on the coast of Maine,
and has been fishing for as long as he could remember;
"My dad was a fisherman, my grandfather was a 
fisherman, and my grandfather before him was a fisherman too."
He left school early to continue fishing, 
and soon joined the Merchant Marines.
He told us everything I wrote about the ship previously;
how the Nantucket Lightship stood guard for 26 years
at the Nantucket Shoals, the site of many a shipwreck;
and was moved here a few years ago to await restoration.
He read in Newsday that it was bought for $2 from 
some group up in Boston who wanted to restore it. 
It was scheduled to be towed a week or so later 
from the date of the article, "but that was already 3 months ago,"
he told us, so he wasn't exactly sure what was going to happen.
 He predicted, though, that they'd probably send the ship out 
some time in the next couple of weeks, which was the
reason why he was here, "to take one last look at her."

Now why I'm telling you all of this is not
because of the accounts he gave about the ship,
but rather the wonderful accounts of his own life that followed:

 He told us that his grandfather took frequent trips to sea,
and was his habit to bring his daughter (the old man's mother)
back a doll from every port he visited.
One time he was coming back from a long voyage,
and heading for Boston harbor, when the ship 
he was on edged near the Nantucket Shoals 
and veered off course. The ship floundered on the shoals 
but the men were able to get a small boat out with 
which to get to shore. His grandfather got into the boat, 
but jumped up suddenly, telling his mates he had forgotten 
something and would be right back. His mates tried to stop him, 
warning him about the waves and the danger surrounding them, 
but he didn't seem to hear. He jumped back into the battered ship, 
thinking he could outsmart the wind and the water; all to get his 
little girl the doll he had promised her. Just as his hand grasped 
the souvenir, the ship slid off the shoals, and sunk with 
the old man's grandfather still aboard... both lost at sea forever.


We asked him how he ended up in Long Island,
and he answered that he "heard down here that
the rich people needed seamen to guide their yachts,"
so he came and did just that for quite some time,
eventually becoming a Captain of one of them.
He told us it was "because of a girl" that he
continued residing on Long Island for good.
Laughing, my mother said, "That'll do it!"
Not returning her laughter, the old man
lowered his eyes to the wooden planks
of the dock and said, very sadly,
that his wife died three months ago.
Expressing our condolences, the tone
of our exchange visibly dimmed down,
 and after a few unmemorable words,
we decided then to say our goodbyes.

Giving us one last feeble wave, 
the old man turned around and
walked towards the end of the dock,
looking over his shoulder occasionally 
at the limitless, vacant stretch of Long Island Sound.

We never got his name.



  1. That was one of those serendipitous moments in life where you realize that if you had not been there at that time and that place, you may have missed something wonderful. He was an interesting fellow, and I wish I had gotten his name. Maybe we will run into him again.

  2. What an incredible story. I love the photos you captured of him as well.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this story with us. I was so excited I had to share it with my husband (in my own words..ha) These are amazing moments in time, when you 'run' into someone like that and are able to share something so wonderful. The photos are do such a great job capturing all things!

    xoxo Gert

  4. What a wonderful moment you shared with some one as they walked the past of thier life . You and your Mom are such dear people to open up and let a stranger in to tell you his story and to re tell it to all of us! I am so glad you have a moment to catch your breath in the hustle-n-bustle of the last part of the school year. Big Hugs to you and your Mom !

  5. You do your laundry in Oyster Bay?!! The home of my hero, Theodore R! How I'd love to visit the house and grounds. Someday, I hope. Your story was so wonderful. Thank you for telling it.

  6. What a story Erin~ I bet he was so happy to have you listen and it probably brightened his day so much. Happy Week-end, Cindy

  7. What a great story of the sea, as an old sailor that sailed on a Lightship in my youth, I say "Well Done, Sir!"

  8. Nice post. And your photos are excellent too.
    Last I heard, they are still in the process of preparing her for transport to Boston.

  9. Great writing and pictures my friend. The NANTUCKET is tied to a dock near the old Navy Yard in Boston - saw her when I got back from Denver last week. Not sure what is up ...!


Thanks for your thoughts!

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