The Little Red Lightship that brought a Big Aircraft Carrier to a Stop

By James F. (Jay) McCarthy  


A Short Story

A Lightship on Station faces many daily challenges. Some life threatening, some exciting, some routine and others like the following “True Story”, just plain different.  

The date was somewhere around April 1958.

Location: AMBROSE Channel Lightship Station, relieving AMBROSE Lightship WLV 613

I was standing the 04:00-08:00 Deck Watch

Weather: Cool, calm seas and ½ mile visibility with early morning haze

Vessel in Status “Alfa”

06:00 … Called duty cook

06:50 … Secured Main and Anchor lights

07:00 … Reveille, called all hands

07:35 … Approaching out of the early morning haze on the Port Side, with a heading that would take her into New York Harbor, was the U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier Roosevelt.

Shortly after observing her, she began signaling us with her signal light.

As I couldn’t read her message (signal was too fast ), I tried to reach the Roosevelt on the radio, but was unsuccessful.

I notified OINC, Louis C. Carter, BMCM, as Commanding Officer, Mr. Brower, CHBOSN W-1, was ashore on leave.

Chief Carter and the rest of the ships crew came up on deck.  By now the Roosevelt had stopped all engines and was dead in the water, a little less than a ¼ mile off our port side.

Now, there are many things we on Lightships can do, however, if there was one thing on the “Old Relief 78/505” that we had difficulty with. It was reading a message from a fast and fully experienced Signalman. Chief Carter didn’t have to ask if anyone could read the message, as the blank look on our faces told him “we didn’t have a clue” as to it’s content.

Chief Carter went below and came back up with a signal manual. He then climbed on top of the Wheelhouse to the signal light, and using the manual, attempted to signal the Roosevelt back.  Obviously the Navy Signalman, being used to “blinding speed” was unable to read the “slower” message Chief Carter was sending, or perhaps, not all of the dots and dashes we sent were in the proper order.

Whatever the reason, and unable to reach the Roosevelt by radio, an exasperated Chief Carter, gave the order to “lower the small boat”. In the finest tradition of a USCG Chief Boatswain Mate (I shall leave out, a large portion of the actual words used,) Chief Carter ordered the small boat crew to go over to the Carrier and ask them what we could do to help them. He also gave instructions to tell them our “Signalman” had an appendicitis attack, was hospitalized ashore, and we had not received a replacement. In reality, there are NO billets on Lightships for a Signalman.

“Away the small boat”!  The “motor whale boat” traveled over to the Roosevelt, which by this time had a gangway lowered; an officer and several enlisted men climbed down to greet our small boat.

After a short discussion, the small boat got under way again.

When she returned and while the small boat crew was still handling the “falls” …

Everyone was shouting over the side at them, “what did the Roosevelt want?”

They’re looking for the Pilot Boat and wanted our help to locate it, was the reply!

The Pilot Boat!  We were incredulous, and couldn’t believe it. All that, for the Pilot Boat!

With out any further hesitation, we contacted the Pilot Boat.

A short time later, the Pilot Boat arrived and a Pilot boarded the Roosevelt; she got underway again and headed into New York Harbor.

And that, is the story of how; A Little Red Lightship brought a Big Aircraft Carrier to a Stop.



Year Built 1904 … Year Sunk 1960

At approximately 04:11 on 24 June 1960, while anchored on AMBROSE Channel Lightship Station in heavy fog and zero visibility.  A collision occurred between the anchored RELIEF 78/505 and the freighter SS GREEN BAY. Approximately 10 minutes later, the RELIEF 78/505 sank. All 9 of the crew aboard, managed to abandon ship safely.



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