1919 Apr 24, rammed and sunk on station while relieving
Cornfield Point (CT). Struck by Standard Oil Co barge under tow; ship went down
in 8 minutes; crew picked up by tug, saving only the log and fog signal book.
Damage compensation from Standard Oil paid for later construction of LV 111

The following report provided by;

Honorary Chairman
President
Honorary President
Flag Report: Documentation of Relief Light Vessel (LV) 51
off of Cornfield Point, Connecticut in Long Island Sound

Flag #150
March 21, 2003

Submitted by Peter Johnson MN'01


The Lightship LV-51 expedition departed from the UCONN campus at Avery Point, Connecticut on March 13, 2003 aboard the University of Connecticut research vessel RV Connecticut.
Purpose:
Throughout human history, boats and ships have been lost at sea, and rising seas have buried ancient cities and harbors under water and silt. Shipwrecks have a popular appeal - connecting mystery, excitement, and history; they also represent an incomparable and irreproducible physical record of the past interaction between man and water. There is a true need to officially and publicly recognize the significant shipwrecks in Connecticut waters as archaeological preserves.

The expedition to the lightship LV-51 was a cooperative partnership the Connecticut Office of the State Archaeologist, the State Historic Preservation Office, the University of Connecticut at Avery Point, the United States Coast Guard, The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Office of Long Island Sound Programs, and the National Underwater Research Center (NURC). The primary purpose was to verify the location and document the current condition of the wreckage of the Lightship LV-51.

An additional objective is to show how public institutions and private divers can organize together so that the strengths of booth working in cooperation can result in benefits to all that are greater than can be accomplished by either individually. It is hoped that this cooperation can be transferred and used as a model for other locations in the US and abroad. In this regard, the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office will consider the designation of the LV-51 as Connecticut's first underwater State Archaeological Preserve later this year.


Background:
Lightship LV51 was the first lightship in the world to have used electrical lighting as an aid to navigation. The LV51 was also the first US Lightship to have an engine for propulsion. As such, the LV51 represents a technological turning point for Lightships throughout the world. Other "Firsts" for this ship are, first lightship with the hawse pipe located through the stem, first lightship constructed of steel, first lightship built on the Great Lakes for ocean service.
Construction of LV-51 and 3 non-electric sister ships was authorized in 1891 and all three were launched at the F.W. Wheeler & Co. West Bay City, Michigan yard in 1892. The LV-51 then went to New York where the steam powered electrical systems were installed. After that the LV-51 spent two years on the Cornfield Point light station in Long Island Sound. After having proved the reliability and easy maintenance of the electrical systems, the LV-51 was moved to the Sandy Hook lightship station in the approaches to New York harbor. The LV-51 remained on this station from 1894 through 1908 when she was assigned as the relief lightship for the 3rd Lighthouse district. She remained as the Relief lightship till 1919. On April 19, 1919 the LV-51 was back at the Cornfield Point station where she had started when she was struck on her port forward quarter by the Secony Oil Co. barge #58 while it was under tow by the Standard Oil Co. Tug Standard. Lightship LV-51 sank within 8 minutes. All of the crew was able to get into a lifeboat but only the ships log and signal book was saved during the evacuation.
Wreck Location and Diving Conditions: The wreck of Lightship LV-51 is now approximately 2 miles south of Long Sand Shoal in Long Island Sound at a depth of 190 feet at 41_ 12' North and 72_ 22' West. The wreck was originally located after research with the Coast Guard Historians office was used to develop a high probability search box. The wreck was found in November 2000 after a search by sidescan sonar. The historical research and physical search on and for the wreck was conducted and funded by individual divers and marine historians without any aid from governmental sources.

Due to the wrecks location, diving conditions in the area are considered extreme and hazardous. This is due to the depth, lack of any light on the bottom and limited visibility due to suspended particles in the water column coming from the mouth of the Connecticut River, and high tidal currents. The local currents generated by the tides limit the available slack water times to less then 30 minutes on each tide. The average speed of the current is 1 knot 1hour prior to slack and 1.5 knots 1 hour after slack. The expected visibility on the bottom is estimated at about 2-3 feet but could be as little as 6-10 inches. Any divers attempting to dive the wreck must be fully experienced with decompression diving and diving in low visibility and high current.


Expedition Findings: Planed dives to the wreck on SCUBA were not conducted due to weather problems in November through February. The expedition to the lightship aboard the RV Connecticut was funded by a grant from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection Office of Long Island Sound Programs.

We were able to document that the wreck is upright and down slightly by the bow. The wreck is intact to the main deck but the fore deck has collapsed with only the bulkheads remaining and almost all of the wooden decking has deteriorated. Additionally, the forward 15-20 feet of the bow are buried in an underwater sand dune.

We were also able to document the ships propeller and rudder, main anchor winch, electrical generation equipment, and break in the portside from the collision (see attached photos).

As the video record is reviewed, it will be used to plan future SCUBA dives to document areas of the wreck missed so far. We are also beginning the planning for a return to the wreck by the RV Connecticut in October or November.

   

 

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