A day in the life of a crew member aboard the Spurn Lightship

Published: Wednesday 11th January 2017 by Rich Sutherland

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We’ve teamed up with Hull Museums to bring you a weekly series of historical facts and tales. This week, we look at a familiar landmark that sits alongside Castle Street.

Built in 1927, the Spurn Lightship served for almost fifty years as a navigation aid to ships approaching the Humber Estuary and Spurn Point. Currently anchored at Hull Marina, the historic vessel can be accessed by interested members of the public from April 2017.

A typical day for crew members

Life aboard the ship included four-hour watches, cleaning and maintaining the vessel, making reports and keeping journals.

During the day, men carried out several duties to keep Spurn shipshape. If the weather was fine, these tasks would comprise of painting and varnishing, splicing, and general cleaning of the boat.

One man, who would have been nicknamed Lampy, had the crucial role of preserving the lighting equipment. Keeping the light burning bright meant that trawlers could pass by safely. In the meantime, the engines and generators would be looked after and serviced by another group of men.

During worse weather, jobs became even more vital. Working to maintain the ship would have been a lot more rigorous and time-consuming.

Cables would swing in strong gales and winds, and the crew would have to ensure that they did not break loose. The men needed to keep regular check of how long these wires were, as well as note down the weather conditions, tide times and other passing ships.

Meanwhile, the master of the ship had to keep a journal and log thermometer and barometer readings during high and low tides. If these duties failed to be carried out, things would quickly turn sour on the vessel, and in turn, for any ships approaching Hull.

This is why the code of conduct aboard Spurn Lightship was so strict. On top of all this, the crew members could not consume any alcohol whilst aboard the vessel.

Instead, they would keep themselves amused by reading, playing darts and cards, and practising crafts like woodcarving and putting model ships in bottles. Some of the men would even make things out of old rope lying about the ship.

Later, a television was installed onto the boat, which provided some much-needed entertainment after a long shift.

They were almost completely self-sufficient

As well as having responsibility over the ship, crew members were almost entirely accountable for their own lives aboard the vessel.

There wasn’t a cook on board, and each man was expected to bring provisions to make his own food. Usually, the men pooled together and made a stew.

If they ran out of supplies, a service craft that visited every Wednesday would bring fuel, fresh water and anything else they may need. Often, wives and families would send their men some extra grub, as well as passing on letters and mail.

For this reason, rationing was very important, so food was stored away for emergencies and in case the supply boat couldn’t make it due to bad weather. Sometimes passing trawlers would give the men fresh fish, but this could never be relied upon.

The crew even had to treat their own injuries. Many would get hurt when working with the ship’s mechanics, but if it was only minor, the injury would be treated on-board.

More serious accidents, of course, would be dealt with on shore, and in most cases compensation would be granted from the Board.

To discover more about the Spurn Lightship and how you can book a tour, visit the Hull City Council website.

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Published: Wednesday 11th January 2017 by Rich Sutherland

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