Co Winner Lightship of the year Award

Nantucket Lightship reborn as luxury yacht berthed in Boston


By Joshua Balling
I&M Managing Editor

Photo by Jim Powers
The Nantucket Lightship that once kept vessels off the shoals southeast of the island has been completely restored into a floating home and vacation charter boat.

   The 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.”

For rent

     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 Golden said.

     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 the project.”

     But it’s worth it to keep a piece of history alive, he said.


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 in Boston.

     “The 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 themselves.”

 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 Golden said.

     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.”

Opulent interior

     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.”

Home port?

     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.”

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