For the first time in four decades, a lightship that once played a key role in guiding vessels through waters off Nantucket shone its beacon, this time at an East Boston marina on Friday night.
The beacon of the Nantucket Lightship/LV-112, a former Coast Guard vessel that helped boats navigate the Nantucket Shoals from 1936 to 1975, turned bright at about 8:15 p.m., and its fog horn blasted, to the delight of more than 100 cheering spectators who gathered for the landmark event at the Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina.
The beacon lighting was spearheaded by the nonprofit United States Lightship Museum, which purchased the historic vessel in 2009 with a plan of making it a “floating museum” for the general public.
“It’s one of a kind,” said Robert Mannino Jr., president of the Lightship Museum, which has partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express on efforts to refurbish the lightship.
“It was built to be unsinkable,” Mannino said, adding that the 150-foot ship was in danger of being scrapped in 2008, when it fell into disrepair on Long Island under the ownership of a different nonprofit. He said the ship now resides in Boston.
Mannino said his volunteer group hopes to share a passion for shipping history with younger generations, and that schools and youth organizations regularly come for tours.
“It’s the most historically valuable lightship in the world,” he said. “We’re trying to inspire and motivate young people to become interested in historic preservation.”
Earlier in the evening, visitors young and old toured the interior of the ship, which was dubbed the “Statue of Liberty of the Sea” in its heyday. It had that moniker because it was the first beacon seen by vessels traveling to the East Coast from Europe, according to Mannino’s group.
Visitors on Friday traversed steep metal staircases as they made their way to the captain’s quarters, the piloting area, and other spots on the largest US lightship ever constructed.
Among the visitors was Peter Brunk, 78, of Portsmouth, Va., who captained the ship during the early 1970s.
He said the evening’s celebratory atmosphere was in stark contrast to daily life on the boat, when his crew battled rough conditions while stationed 100 miles offshore.
“I never thought I would do anything to celebrate this vessel,” Brunk said. “It was an interesting job, but it was rough.”
He recalled being stuck on the boat during nasty weather when his father died, and he was unable to attend the funeral.
“The wind was blowing 105 miles per hour,” he said. “It blew that way for a week.”
According to the Lightship Museum, the ship was built in 1936 after another beacon vessel stationed in the Nantucket Shoals was accidentally rammed and sunk by the RMS Olympic, a sister ship to the Titanic.
The Nantucket Lightship in Boston is equipped with a light beacon designed to be seen from 23 miles away, which sits on top of a beam 32-feet tall. It also boasts a fog signal with a 14-mile range and a hand-operated fog bell. The Nantucket Lightship has a tonnage of 1,050.
The museum added in promotional materials that all trans-Atlantic shipping vessels set their course to the Nantucket Shoals Lightship Station before continuing to their final destinations on the East Coast. The station sits about 100 miles offshore.
On Friday night, Brunk’s son, Gerry Brunk, 47, of Weston, said he was thrilled to tour the vessel with his father.
“For him to be able to share that with me . . . in a way that he never was able to [with his own father] was really special,” he said.
Gerry Brunk’s daughter, Skylar, 9, was impressed with the strides the museum has made in renovating the boat since her prior visit last year.
“I think it looks better,” she said.
The ship is open to the public on Saturdays from 10 a.m to 4 p.m., and group tours are available during the week by appointment.Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.