Category Archives: Lighthouse



(click to enlarge)

Lake Union Park, Seattle

Lightship 83, now called Swiftsure, was built for the U.S. Lighthouse Service, in 1904, as the Blunts Reef, California lightship. She is the oldest surviving example of an American lightship with its original marine steam engine. She weathered severe storms and heavy damage from ramming by a steam schooner during her first six years of service. She later rescued 155 survivors from a stranded coastal steamer. Sails were used to help keep her on station in the early years. Replaced at Blunts Reef in 1930, she became the San Francisco lightship.

Swiftsure came under Coast Guard jurisdiction in 1939. During the WWII, the No. 83 was painted gray and served as an examination vessel for the Coast Guard. Her armaments included a 3″ deck gun on her foredeck, two .50 caliber machine guns, and a depth-charge-firing Y-gun on her stern. Carrying a wartime crew of 40, the No. 83 patrolled from San Francisco to the Farallon Islands and challenged incoming ships to San Francisco to confirm their identities. Her notable war action was firing a warning shot across the bow of the converted Ile de France troopship. This famous passenger ship failed to signal the recognition codes to the No. 83 and steamed into San Francisco Bay unheeded. She was carrying wounded marines from the Battle of Guadalcanal.

After the war and serving as the San Francisco Lightship until 1951, the No. 83 was transferred to the 13th Coast Guard District in Seattle. Her designation was changed to Relief and she served as the relief vessel for the Columbia River, Umatilla Reef, and Swiftsure lightship stations. She was one of the longest serving lightships on the west coast and one of the few to serve at all of the five West Coast lightship stations.

Swiftsure was decommissioned in 1960, after 56 years of continuous duty, and purchased by Northwest Seaport in 1966. The Swiftsure can be viewed at Lake Union Park in Seattle. Lightship Swiftsure is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

  • Historic Ships (
  • Northwest Seaport, Seattle, Washington, at nig...
    Northwest Seaport, Seattle, Washington, at night. The visible boats are (left to right) the Virginia V, Arthur Foss, and Swiftsure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Admiralty Head Lighthouse at Sunset

The light house was established in 1861. In 1890, Fort Casey was created on several hundred acres around the lighthouse. It’s battery of 10″ guns guarded the entrance of Puget Sound until the start of WWII when the development of aerial warfare rendered such installations obsolete. The guns were unmounted and shipped to the war front and installed on rail cars as mobile artillery. After the war, one of the guns was discovered in a scrap yard in Subic Bay, the Philippines. It was returned to Fort Casey where it is on display in it’s original gun pit.

The lighthouse was extinguished in 1922 and the fort was decommissioned in 1950. Both are now part of a terrific state park.

This view looks across Admiralty Inlet to Port Townsend and the Olympic Mountains. Directly behind the trees is the Juan de Fuca Strait which separates Vancouver Island, B.C. and Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Slightly to the right of the trees and exactly a hundred miles out is the opening to the Pacific Ocean.

The only place to get this shot was from the middle of a thick bramble patch under some trees. After picking my way in, I stood there for half an hour waiting for the sunset to reflect off the front of the tower. I would have thought the tripod would have made it obvious but people kept coming up and asking me what I was doing in the bushes.

This image is available for purchase as a print