The Lewes landscape is missing one of its most iconic and cherished pieces of history for at least the next month.
The Lightship Overfalls was towed out the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and across the Delaware Bay Nov. 29, to undergo repairs at the Dorchester Shipyard northwest of Cape May, N.J. Work is expected to take six weeks, but it could be prolonged due to winter weather.
“Mother Nature runs on her own schedule,” said Dave Bernheisel, an Overfalls member overseeing the project. “We were figuring on being there earlier. If weather like this holds, it could be back soon, but we can’t count on that.”
The Overfalls was supposed to head to New Jersey in October 2016, but a series of events led to continued delays. First, the foundation had trouble acquiring the necessary permits to dredge the canal to allow the boat to be tugged out. With permits in hand, dredging equipment was brought to Lewes and set to start in mid-September. But the dredge needed repairs before ever being put to use, again delaying the project.
Then, when the dredging was finally complete, an automobile accident claimed the life of the tow operator set to take the ship to New Jersey.
With a new tow company on board, the long-awaited departure finally commenced Nov. 29.
A small number of Overfalls Foundation members gathered about 2:30 p.m., but as the crew from Northstar Marine got into position with its tug boat, it piqued the interest of passersby. By the time the boat floated out of its berth just before sunset, crowds stood on both sides of the canal to watch the ship begin its voyage.
Bernheisel said the trip across the bay was likely to be slow because the arrival had to be timed with high tide.
Once at the Dorchester Shipyard, the ship will be pulled out of the water and work will begin on the hull. Zinc blocks attached to the hull, designed to protect the steel from electrolysis, will be replaced. There are about 40 in all.
The boat will also get a fresh coat of paint from top to bottom along with other minor repairs.
The last time the Overfalls was out of its slip was from October 2008 to Memorial Day 2009.
The Lightship Overfalls is one of only 17 remaining lightships of the 179 built from 1820 to 1952. In 1973, the Coast Guard donated the ship to the Lewes Historical Society to serve as a floating museum in Lewes. The historical society brought the ship to its permanent location on the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal and painted on a new station name, Overfalls, in honor of the lightship station closest to Lewes. The Overfalls station is in the mouth of Delaware Bay, where lightships had served as mid-channel markers from 1898 to 1960, when the station was discontinued.
The Overfalls is open for tours seasonally from Memorial Day through the end of the season in October. For more information, go to overfalls.org.