original crew of the Nantucket lightship would be amazed.
After lying in a state of rusting, hulking disrepair for
more than a decade, the vessel that once stood sentinel 50 miles
off the southeast coast of the island marking the shoals that
threatened to rip the guts from freighters and cruise ships
bound for New York, Boston and Philadelphia has been reborn.
Former state Sen. Bill Golden and his wife Kristen two
years ago purchased the lightship on the Internet auction site
eBay for $126,100, and have completed a deck-down restoration
that converted the former utilitarian workboat into 4,000 square
feet of floating opulence.
Where once there were undecorated steel passageways,
spartan crews’ quarters and a functional mess area, there are
now five staterooms that comfortably sleep 12, a grand salon
with burnished wood flooring and trim, leather furniture and a
large-screen TV, and a galley kitchen with marble countertops.
The ship even comes with its own chef.
Following a two-year restoration that involved a crew of 11
master craftsmen, the lightship two weeks ago made its way from
the docks of New Bedford to its winter home at Rowes Wharf in
Boston, cruising through the Cape Cod Canal at speeds that
reached 12 knots (14 mph).
It began with a bet
It all began with a piece of sushi. At a Christmas party
several years ago, Kristen Golden bet a family friend he
wouldn’t eat a piece of raw fish. He said he would, if she
agreed to live on a boat for five years. She agreed, and
promptly forgot about the wager.
Until a phone call some time later.
“Our friend literally called up and said ‘Your ship has
come in,’ that the state had put the Nantucket up for auction,
and we should go down and take a look at it,” Bill Golden said.
“My wife and I both grew up on the South Shore, on the water,
and were familiar with lightships and their noble purpose, and
what seemed like a sad end for them. We looked through the
ship, but we weren’t in the
market to buy that day. I went back to the office, and I could
think of nothing but the ship. I went back down as they were
closing the doors, and the fellow who was captain when the state
owned it agreed to take a little more time and show me around.
That’s where I think I fell in love with the ship.”
Golden came home, talked it over with Kristen, and they
started making phone calls.
“We made about 150 phone calls trying to find what you
would do if you owned a lightship, where you could get it
repaired. About 20 minutes before the end of the 10-day auction,
we began bidding, and won the bid. We didn’t even tell our
families that we were doing it until we were successful. That
began the two-year odyssey to refit the ship.”
The Goldens plan to live and work on the ship while it’s in
Boston, and bring it to Nantucket in the summer, where it will
be offered for charter. The couple have already booked the
vessel for several holiday parties at Rowes Wharf, Kristen
While they declined to say how much was spent on the
restoration, the amount was obviously substantial. For example,
Bill Golden said they replaced the vessel’s aging engines with a
single state-of-the-art Caterpillar power plant “the size of my
Ford Explorer and seven times as expensive.”
The couple need to run the boat as a commercial operation
to recoup some of their investment, said the environmental
attorney who in 1990 ran for lieutenant governor and in the
1980s led the charge to clean up Boston Harbor.
“Let me just say that the project cost much more than we
anticipated,” Golden, 54, said with a laugh. “We’re not at a
level where we could do this and not have a commercial aspect to
But it’s worth it to keep a piece of history alive, he
Photo by Jim Powers
Attorney and Nantucket Lightship owner Bill Golden in the
crow’s nest of the ship, which is now moored at Rowes Wharf
whole intent here was to figure out a way to save it from the
scrap heap,” he said. “When we went down to Marina Bay in Quincy
to look at it, the first thing that struck me was that there
were people chipping paint. They were scrappers, trying to
determine what kind of metals they could get. It was somewhat
disturbing. We had to come up with a way to preserve this kind
of marine icon. In the past, the only opportunity to save it
would have been to have a government entity or nonprofit buy it,
and have public funds subsidize its maintenance. Those kind of
efforts have largely failed. There are only a handful of
lightships left in good condition. They don’t really pay for
While on Nantucket, the
vessel will rent for a minimum of one week at a time for “rates
comparable to what similar
vacation space on the island rents for in the summer,” Bill
But don’t expect to take the 128-foot vessel for a sunset
cruise. The lightship will stay firmly moored or docked while
under charter. It’s not a cruising vessel, Golden said.
Last of the lights
Nantucket Lightship WLV-612 was built in 1950 at a Coast
Guard shipyard in Curtis Bay, Md. She served off San Francisco
for 18 years, at Blunts Reef, Calif. and in Portland, Maine
before finally coming to Nantucket, where she served as the last
manned lightship in the country from 1975-1983. She was replaced
with a signal buoy, and briefly functioned as a
security-communications vessel for then Vice President George W.
Bush before being acquired by the state’s Metropolitan District
Commission in 1987. She was then berthed at Marina Bay in Quincy
before being purchased by the Goldens in March 2000.
On the outside, the lightship stays true to its historical
legacy. Berthed at Rowes Wharf, its bright red hull with
NANTUCKET painted in tall white letters and twin light towers
that stretch toward the Boston skyline are instantly
recognizable from just about
anywhere in Boston Harbor.
It is the third-oldest ship currently in the harbor,
superseded only by the USS Constitution and the USS Cassin
Young, a World War II destroyer.
“It’s been amazing, the response we’re getting,” said
Kristen Golden, 40. “Everybody stops and takes pictures. They
say congratulations, good luck and welcome to Boston. We watch
people come off the commuter boats, and they are just amazed. My
brother was up here with his 11-year-old twins last week, and he
said they’ve never felt so special, standing on the deck with
people waving at them and smiling all the time.”
It’s on the inside where the differences are immediately
apparent. Stepping aboard the ship is like stepping into a
British gentlemen’s club. There is polished wood everywhere:
mahogany, cherry, oak. Even the steel stairways are being
wrapped in oak and mahogany.
“We kind of wanted a wooden interior inside a steel-hulled
ship,” said Kristen Golden, who served as the designer and
general contractor on the restoration. “It’s all American cherry
with mahogany trim on the main deck. We went for a gentlemen’s
feeling. There are tall wing-backed chairs, earth-toned colors,
a 12-seating tiger maple dining table is just spectacular. There
are white painted beadboard ceilings throughout the entire ship
and wrapped mahogany beams. The galley has granite countertops,
a five-foot by three-foot island and a butler’s pantry, a
36-inch refrigerator, double-wide oven, six-burner cooktop, two
trash compactors and an ice machine.”
Living on the boat for the past two weeks has been an
amazing experience, Kristen Golden said.
“The only time you feel like you’re on a boat is when
you’re looking out a porthole,” she said. “You don’t get that
claustrophobic feeling like you do on some boats. We’ve never
slept better. It feels like you’re sleeping in the world’s
largest waterbed, no tossing or turning. My family aren’t
boaters, and they slept like babies through a nor’easter.”
The Goldens haven’t yet secured a spot to tie up the boat
on the island but said they’re confident they can find a place.
After all, Nantucket is her home, Bill Golden said.
“Judging by all the calendars, postcards and posters you
see, the lightship is one of three or four true island icons,”
said Golden, a frequent island visitor who first came to
Nantucket in 1966 to work at the White Elephant as a busboy.
“We were very concerned when we thought of bringing it to
Nantucket that it be wanted. We asked around, and were told it
was, if it didn’t cost public funds, that it be in great shape,
not a deteriorating hulk, that it have zero discharge and be
well-operated. I think we’ve been able to achieve all those
things. We’ve heard from all kinds of people, businesspeople,
people that remember her, that think this is her home.”
Table of Contents