The John Sebastian Lightship

The following is taken from ‘The John Sebastian Light Vessel 55 – A History’ collated by Jackie Corcoran and available on the Cabot Cruising Club website.

The John Sebastian Lightship, currently the home of Cabot Cruising Club, was built in 1885 and was responsible for saving hundreds of seamen in her hard-working life. Built in the same dock as the SS Great Britain, she was never meant to be grand or glamorous and was certainly not unique. Without an engine, she was towed to the areas of greatest need and her crew lived there only to keep her light in good working order and make sure no ships floundered on the hazards she marked. A welcome sight for sailors on their way back into port.

At the end of her useful life, she was sold for scrap. Her lantern and other valuable parts were removed and, with no residual value, was set alight. She burned for days but did not succumb. She floundered, wounded and abandoned where she lay.

A new club had formed and were using local hostelries for meetings and were looking for a new home. Like-minded pleasure cruisers wanted to get together to set off on discoveries and adventures as part of a small flotilla. Moorings in the Bathurst Basin were basic, but the erstwhile sailors formed a merry band looking for the best way to socialise and use their boats and have fun. They had all passed the wreck that bobbed with the tide and made enquiries about purchasing her. Some of them knew her as a working girl and had delivered papers and groceries to the crew.

Just a deck and hull remained, but they had the vision of a cosy clubhouse if they could just obtain the hull. For £275.00 (this was 1954 so this was quite a sum for an old wreck) it was theirs. Working throughout the seasons, begging and borrowing tools and materials, they gradually turned her from an empty, blackened shell to a usable space. Working by torches and doubtful electrical supplies, a bar was born.

She finally opened her doors in 1959. She has evolved. She has been maintained and improved by members throughout the years and work continues. They called her John Sebastian after the father and son who left these shores some 462 years earlier and who the Cabot Cruising Club were proud to be named for.

She is now the last remaining wooden lightship still afloat in the world. Yes. She’s a bit shabby and overshadowed by more glamorous vessels, but without her the Bristol Channel would have been a far more treacherous place to navigate.