Lightship Umatilla (WLV-196), Ketchikan, Alaska

Thanks to Tom LeCompte for these two closeup photos of Lightship WLV-196 moored near Ketchikan, Alaska. Lighthouse fans usually call this ship Umatilla, the name of its last duty station, but the hull of the ship carries its more recent name Marine Bio Researcher.

WLV-196 was built by Devoe Shipbuilding at Bay City, Michigan, in 1946. The new ship sailed through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway and served off the coast of Massachusetts, first at Pollack Rip from 1946 to 1958. In 1958 it was redesignated as a relief lightship; for most of the next two years it was stationed at Nantucket Shoals in relief of LV-112 (WAL-534), while that ship was being overhauled. (LV-112 is now in New York, to be exhibited at the National Lighthouse Museum on Staten Island.)

In 1961, WLV-196 was refurbished at Curtis Bay, Maryland, and then sent through the Panama Canal to the west coast. From 1961 to 1971 it served the lightship station at Umatilla Reef, off the coast of Washington. It was decommissioned on September 30, 1971.

Photo copyright 2005 Tom LeCompte; all rights reserved. Used by permission.

The history of WLV-196 after its decommissioning is much less clear. Apparently the ship was still in Seattle as late as 1980. We do not know when it acquired the name Marine Bio Researcher, nor when it came to Alaska. The ship was bought by Tom Faro, owner of Southeast Stevedoring, as a remote longshore camp for crews loading log ships. It is moored at Pennock Island across the harbor from Ketchikan.

After it left Seattle, the ship was forgotten by lighthouse fans until late 2000, when Cheryl-Spencer Collin, a member of the USCG Lightship Sailors Association, spotted the vessel. Despite its rusty exterior, the ship is in fairly good condition and has its original masts; the light was displayed from the cage at the top of the foremast. Our photographer, Tom LeCompte, lives nearby and keeps an eye on the ship; he has said he can conduct tours by prior arrangement.

Photo copyright 2005 Tom LeCompte; all rights reserved. Used by permission

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Posted January 10, 2005; second photo added January 28. Checked and revised November 28, 2017. Site copyright 2017 Russ Rowlett and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.