LS-116 was built by the Charleston Dry-dock & Machine Company in Charleston, SC in 1929 as one of six LS-100 class of lightships for the U. S. Lighthouse Service. The contract price was $274,434. The LS-116 was launched on October 22, 1929 and completed fitting out by August 14, 1930. She was considered “the finest afloat”.
She was driven by diesel electric propulsion, with one 350 h.p. DC electric motor turned by any one or all four Winton 75-kw DC diesel engine/generator units. Top speed of 9 knots came from the 5.9 feet diameter propeller. Fuel oil capacity was 24,000 gallons. In 1956 all 4 propulsion diesel generators were replaced with GM 6-71 sets and the two ships service DC diesel generators with GM 3-71 sets. An AC diesel generator set was added, with a 6-71 diesel engine.
The Chesapeake was initially fitted with a submarine bell, Fog Bell and electric Fog Horn. The Fog Horn was changed to a two-tone compressed-air diaphone in 1935. In 1941 the submarine bell system was removed. The main light beacon was shown from one of two 375mm electric lens lanterns, one on each mast. In the 1950’s RADAR was installed on the Forward Mast and the light beacon on the Aft Mast was changed to a two fixture light, one over the other. In 1933 HF Radio Direction Finding Transmitting equipment was installed prior to moving to the Chesapeake Station.
The LS-116 was built for crew comfort. There were two toilet compartments (Heads), each with its own shower. A water distiller on the upper engine room catwalk converted seawater for use in these areas. She carried 10,000 gallons of drinking water in tanks. The galley stove initially ran off heating oil but was eventually replaced by an Akron Electric Company stove. She was one of the first lightships built with a refrigeration system for the Chill and Freeze Boxes.
The Chesapeake initially had a crew of 17, including two Radio Officers. Under the Coast Guard the Radio Officers were removed and a cook was added for a crew of 16. Coast Guard crews served a one year tour of duty on board and the lightship normally remained on station except when repairs were needed. During those times the District RELIEF lightship would assume the light station until she returned. The Coast Guard granted lightship sailors extra leave and there were usually two to four sailors ashore at any one time. A Coast Guard Cutter would bring stores, food, fuel and water out to the lightship every other week, on Wednesdays. It also returned the sailors from leave and would take more sailors ashore for leave.
LS-116 career details were Fenwick, DE Light Station (1930-1933), Chesapeake, VA Light Station (1933-1942); as an Examination vessel off Sandwich, Massachusetts during the Second World War (1942-1945) when she was armed with two rapid fire 20mm guns for her patrols near the North end of the Cape Cod Canal; Chesapeake Station (1945-1965); and the Delaware Station (1965-1970). The name on the sides of lightships was NOT the ships name. It was a visual Aid To Navigation, showing the name of the light station where the lightship is assigned to.
LS-116 was re-designated to WAL-538 by the Coast Guard in 1956 and then to WLV-538 in 1965. She left her final light station on August 25, 1970. She was formally decommissioned on January 6, 1971. Later that year the ship was transferred to the National Park Service and used as a floating environmental classroom at Hains Point, Washington, DC until 1980.
In June 1981 the Mayor of Baltimore accepted the lightship, on loan from the National Park Service, on behalf of the city. She is currently docked at Pier 3 on Pratt Street. She was painted with the CHESAPEAKE Light Station name as she served that station for most of her career. The Lightship is in the custody of the Historic Ships In Baltimore museum and open for touring along with the other historic ships in the Inner Harbor. In 1989 Lightship 116-538, CHESAPEAKE, was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Hours of operation vary by season, visit the HSIB museum web site for more details
For more information on the Lightship Chesapeake, visit the volunteer we site.
From Points North via I-95: Take I-95 South to Baltimore. Exit at Eastern Ave and travel West. Go all the way to the end of Eastern Ave, and take a right onto President Street. Make your first left onto Lombard Ave then left onto Commerce St and left onto Pratt St. The Lightship is on the same pier as the Aquarium. Both are easily visible from Pratt St at Gay St. There are several parking garages & lots in the area.
From Points South via I-95: Take I-95 North to Baltimore. Take Exit 53, marked Downtown I-395 N. Take the left fork (downtown) and stay in the center lane (becomes Howard Street). Keep straight. You will pass Ravens’ Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards on your left. Make right onto Pratt Street (third traffic light). The Lightship is on the same pier as the Aquarium. Both are easily visible from Pratt St at Gay St. There are several parking garages & lots in the area.
Photo taken March 2009 by A. Pasek.
GPS: 39.285779, -76.608814