She greets you as you cross the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal from either direction. Especially at night, when the ship masts are brilliantly alight. Lightship Overalls is not only an icon adored by residents and visitors: she is a reminder of Lewes’ important maritime history.
Lightships are essentially floating lighthouses, serving to warn inbound and outbound vessel of dangerous shoals and weather, and as a beacon for trans-Atlantic ships. Vessels were equipped with powerful foghorns for use to warn of dangerous waters, or during inclement weather and fog that reduced visibility to less than two miles.
Serving on lightships could be treacherous with unpredictable weather or collisions with shoals, or even other vessels. Lightships were typically manned by a crew of fourteen with two weeks on and one week between journeys.
While the Overfalls never patrolled local Delaware waters, was renamed in Lewes after the nearest lightship station. It now serves as a living museum as a reminder of the importance and dangers patrolling our waters presents. It
The Overfalls (formerly known as LV – 118) was retired from the Coast Guard until 1973, when it was donated to the Lewes Historical Society. Rather than sell it or have it demolished, it was thankfully saved.
As only one of 16 surviving lightships that were commissioned by the US Coast Guard, the Overfalls is now a National Historic Landmark following its meticulous restoration that began in 1999 and took eleven daunting years. Tens of thousands of volunteer hours were performed to transform and preserve the vessel. It is now one of the most photographed scenes in the area, and is painted in so many variations by local artists.
The ship and museum are operated as a nonprofit foundation, staffed entirely by volunteers. Continual financial support comes through private donations, grants and museum entrance fees.
Located in Canal Park in Lewes’s waterfront, Lightship Overfalls is safely moored and maintained year round. The museum, its shop and ship tours are only open in peak season, spring through fall. Admission is $5 for adults, free for foundation members and children 14 and under.
This year, Opening Day is May 20th in conjunction with the annual Lewes Maritime Festival. There will be plenty of vendors on hand, demonstrations and tour taking place in town, emphasizing our area’s unique location and relationship with the sea.
John Bolster, foundation board member and its current curator explains how vital additional volunteers are always needed. Responsibilities range from being a docent for public tours, the staffing the museum store and admissions and even becoming part of their crew fondly called “The Dirty Hands Gang” who clean and maintain the ship.
“The vast majority of our volunteers are definitely seniors,” he says proudly. “But we are always in need of more.” Typically, volunteer “shifts” are a few hours in the morning or afternoon (10-1 or 1-4). Museum hours are Thursday through Sunday, 10 – 4.
A volunteer informational session will take place at the Virden Center (University of Delaware’s campus center), adjacent to the landmark wind turbine and Pilottown Road, from 6 pm until 8 pm.
Are you a landlubber unfamiliar with lightships and the inevitable questions tour guides and other volunteers will be asked? Don’t fret. Training and literature are provided. If repairs or anything maintenance-related are more your style, you can volunteer for the Dirty Hands Gang for a unique opportunity to work on a seafaring vessel.
For more information, contact John Bolster, (203) 770-6695, or email an inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.