Watchers of the Lights

Northern Ensign Wednesday 15th March 1922, author unknown

A tiny ship swaying to a stout anchor would not seem to be the ideal home during the fierce storms that sweep up the coasts in late winter and early spring. But, contrary to popular belief the lightship men would think hard before he would change places with any land lubber.
The full crew of the lightship numbers eleven – two officers and nine men. The men are divided into three classes – lamp trimmers, signal drivers and seamen.
Seven of the crew are actually engaged aboard the lightship. One officer and three men are always ashore, where they are employed in the Trinity House depot or to make the relief boats when required.
At every relief one officer and three men are taken to the lightship. By this arrangement each officer serves one month ashore and one aboard and each man two months aboard, followed by one ashore.
Relief is not so simple as may be imagined. If the weather is fine, all goes well – if a storm is raging communications between the relief vessel and the lightship is established by means of a small boat, pulled to and fro by ropes. Once the exchange is affected the men settle down to their work.
The crew have their own duties. The two lamp-trimmers find plenty of work in filling, trimming and cleaning the lamps of the lantern, especially as they combine with these duties that of cooking for the other men.
The engines that drive the foghorn and the clockwork machinery that causes the light to revolve are under the care of the signal-drivers. Every half hour the light revolving machinery is wound and once every two minutes, during a fog, the warning notes that can be heard or several miles are sent out.
Foggy weather is the time of real anxiety – every man is ready for any emergency. There is no telling when a black shape may loom out of the mist and bear down on their craft. This is an ever present danger.
Drifting from their anchorage is another danger that often befalls lightships. When this happens the lightship immediately communicate with the shore by wireless, to get their true bearings and ask for assistance.
Days are long at sea and on the lightship men hit on many ingenious ideas to while away their time. Many are expert carvers; others construct models of ships, while a few make hats and pictures in coloured wools.
Often too these men are great readers – they reckon if nothing that their newspapers are a month old, their wireless sets enable them to get all important news at once.
All lightship men have an able seaman’s discharge certificate and only men of good character are employed – it is a popular position and vacancies are soon filled.
The pensions received from Trinity House enable them to end their lives in peace.