On the Waterfront: Floating nightclub plans sunk

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TRINITY House light vessels (often referred to as lightships) have been a reassuring sight for mariners around the UK coastline for many years.

Anchored in positions where it would almost be impossible to build static lighthouses, these vessels generally warn shipping of shifting shoals and sandbanks.

Although originally manned, the few that remain in service are now fully automated.

Lying derelict on a mudbank alongside Neath Abbey Wharf, on the River Neath at Swansea, the 116-foot-long ex-Trinity House Light Vessel No 72 is one of five such craft built during the early-1900s by John Crown and Sons of Sunderland,

Launched in 1903, she was stationed at various locations around the English coast, until temporarily withdrawn from service upon the outbreak of the Second World War.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Vessels, she is of historical significance for two reasons.

Firstly, she retains components of equipment from the eras of both oil and electric light vessels, with an electrically-powered light having superseded her original paraffin oil fuelled lamp in 1948.

Secondly, during the D-Day landings of 1944, bearing the name “Juno” and paired with the lightship “Kansas,” she performed a vital role in marking a safe channel through minefields for allied invasion forces landing at the Normandy beaches.

In 1945, No 72 was placed on station at Le Havre, later that year moving to Smith Knoll, where she stayed until 1949.

That year, she transferred to the Varne, off the Kent coast, remaining there until 1952.

Her final station became the English and Welsh Grounds in the Bristol Channel, where she served from 1953. In 1954, she broke her moorings, but was secured by a spare anchor.

She was withdrawn from Trinity House service in 1972 and laid up.

The following year, she was purchased for breaking up by Steel Supply (Western) Ltd. At that time, she was the oldest lightship in the fleet.

Fortunately, she was reprieved from the scrapyard when the company decided to use her as a floating office, although subsequent plans to convert her into a floating nightclub failed to materialise.

Several years ago, Sunderland Maritime Heritage raised the possibility of returning Light Vessel 72 to the Wear for restoration, but nothing became of this.

Other light vessels built by John Crown and Sons at the turn of the 20th Century were Lightship No 70 (1903), Lightship No 71 (1903), Lightship No 73 (1904) and Lightship No 77 (1910).

No 73 had a very short-lived career, foundering in Morecambe Bay on July 16, 1903, after a collision.

Today, lightships remain active at the following eight stations: Channel, F3, East Goodwin, Greenwich, Sandettie, Sevenstones, Sunk and Varne.