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LIGHTHOUSES, SACRED OBJECTS OF THE SEA

The lighthouse Irbenskiy came to Kaliningrad on the night of 30 June 2017 and was moored at the quay of the Museum of the World Ocean. It was the first time over the last ten years the vessel had sailed in the sea. And two years before that there were concerns the unique ship, the last Russia’s lightvessel, would be cut for scrap.

Irbenskiy Lightship Needs Your Support

Hardly has the lightship Irbenskiy been moored at the museum quay, when its restoration and museumification began. The first exhibits arrived during the vessel’s three-month mooring. A steering wheel, a pilot cutter and the Fresnel lens took their position on the ship as well as did an engine telegraph, a sonar, a chart table and other objects. Moreover, a 400-kg fog bell, installed on the embankment opposite the Irbenskiy and considered to be one of the oldest bells in Kaliningrad region, is going to be moved on the boat soon.

But still a lot of work is to be done inside the lightship in the nearest future. The rooms and cabins will house new exhibitions and artifacts. So, the Museum of the World Ocean is looking for new exhibits and items for expositions to be and seeking for support among those who think the Irbenskiy means something to them and consider this lightship a symbol of the sea region. If you have got any items related to the sea or/and lightships the museum would be very much grateful for your donation or loan for temporary display. You support can breathe new life into the lightship Irbenskiy and you may proudly tell your kids and grandchildren about your personal contribution to preservation of maritime heritage.

 

PLEASE, MAKE A DONATION NOW AND HELP TO RESTORE THE LIGHTSHIP IRBENSKIY Bank details

The Federal State Government-financed Institution for Culture “The Museum of the World Ocean”
1 Petra Velikogo Embankment, Kaliningrad, Russia 23600
Director General – Svetlana Gennadievna Sivkova
Phone.: 007.4012.53.89.15, fax: 007.4012.34.02.11
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
ИНН 3906027695
КПП 390601001
ОКПО 01138396
ОКТМО 27701000001
ОКАТО  27401368000
ОКВЭД 91.02
ОКОГУ 321000
ОКОПФ 75103
ОКФС 12
ОГРН 1023900990080
КОПУК 115204 
л/с 20356X24130 в УФК по Калининградской области
р/с 40501810140302004001  Отделение  Калининград  
г. Калининград,  БИК   042748001

 

 

The First Lightships of the Empire

The first position of a lighthouse appeared in the Gulf of Finland nearby a new capital – Saint Petersburg – in the 1810s. Only half a century later, in 1858, the first lightvessel was positioned near Cape Domesnes (Kolka) where the Baltic Sea meets the Gulf of Riga. But due to extreme conditions it was very soon decided to build and artificial lighthouse island on an underwater reef and the lightships was removed. In 1910, a new lightvessel was positioned near Cape Ovīšu later evacuated and substituted by the trophy lightboat Laima in the 1930s.

In 1940s–1950s, old lighthouses on the Baltic shore were restored or rebuilt, a few new ones appeared as well. But they were not enough to provide safe navigation since tonnage of foreign vessels sailing to Riga was growing. In 1961–1962, the USSR ordered Oy Laivateollisuus Ab (Turku, Finland) to build two sister lightships of Project 852Т.

The first boat, Astrakhanskiy-Priyomniy, set off to the Caspian Sea to replace the old prerevolutionary lightvessel. The second one, Irbenskiy, was positioned at the Irbe Strait as a mark for ships going to the Gulf of Riga via a deep-water channel. It is notable the Riga Stock Exchange Committee was the first to solicit for a lightship at Mikhailovskaya sandbank as early as the 1860s, a century before the current events.

A Lighthouse Calling Ships Through a Cold, Thick Fog

The lightship Irbenskiy is the last one built of the kind in the world. Its length is 43.4 m and displacement – 672 t. The construction of Irbenskiy has incorporated the experience of building and exploitation of lighted boats. Special attention was paid to cruising capacity as well as safe and comfortable service that used to last 8-9 months at the cold and freak Baltic and significant distance from a shore and a port.

The lightship was equipped with a diesel engine of 375 hp made in GDR and developed maximum speed of 8.2 knots. The spacious engine room housed three diesel-driven generators and a steam generator of the heating arrangement. Fuel capacity reached 90 t thus enabling 10-day operation of the main engine and 120-day operation of the generators (steam and electric). During one voyage the boat could cover up to 1,800 miles at 7-point waves and wind force 10.

The lightship was supplied with 46 t of fresh water and 850 kg of meat, fish and vegetables thus providing 50-day cruising capacity. Sailors and pilots lived in double cabins, senior officers and a captain – in six single cabins. There were 13 cabins on board Irbenskiy. The interior accommodation spaces are finished with light-coloured coated plywood. Furniture in the cabins (beds with storage spaces, wardrobes and tables) was made of finewood. Of course, Finns made a small sauna here as well.

There was a pilot boat on board Irbenskiy as well as a 2-ton jib crane to put the cutter on water. Unlike Astrakhanskiy-Priyomniy, Irbenskiy provided no pilot service. The hull was divided by seven waterproof bulkheads. The boat could stay unsinkable with up to two adjoining compartments of eight flooded. The crew could evacuate on two rowing life sloops.

A beacon mast is a hollow metal tube with stairs both inside and outside. Light height above the sea level is 17.5 m and visibility range is 12 miles. An AGA light-optical device with a 50-cm-diameter drum lens provided 12-mile visibility range. The lens was stabilized horizontally at rocking conditions by a pendulum system. In case of emergency the red light was on.

Irbenskiy was also equipped with a nautophone and a radio beacon which were switched on at fog conditions. Navigation instruments comprised two radio stations, a radio direction finder, a sonar and a radar station.

 

Beam of Light over the Irbe Strait

The lightship took its first position on August 2, 1962 and left it on January 19, 1963. Since May 5, 1963, Irbenskiy was positioned 57 51 N and 21 37 E on a constant basis.

The 24-year service at Mikhailovskaya sandbank was relatively smooth. The lightvessel was positioned annually in April-May and removed in January-February depending on ice conditions. During the offseason the boat was repaired at Ventspils or Liepāja. There were only two significant incidents: in November 1969 the lightship was broken away from anchors by a hurricane and in January 1983 the after mast was broken off.

In 1985, a lighthouse Irbenskiy was built and the boat finished its navigation in 1986-1987. After two-year repairs in Liepāja was renamed as Ventspilsskiy and the ship was positioned to mark the fairway to the port of Ventspils. But the lightship was broken away from anchors twice in 1989-1991 and was replaced by an ice-class buoy.

Later the boat served for the hydrographical services of the Russian Fleet another 15 years.

By the year of 2008, a part of the equipment had been already removed, but the things were going well: there were heaps of papers on a captain’s desktop, people walked back and forth along corridors and a cook prepared lunch for the crew. Several months later, the captain passed away and life on board Irbenskiy followed him, too…

 

Struggle for Life

Shortly after, the lightvessel quit the Baltic Fleet. The boat was up for auction as scrap metal but at the same time, the struggle for saving the vessel began – the ship attracted press coverage.

In 2010, we for the first time heard about the lightship Irbenskiy at the conference The Maritime Heritage of Russia. The abandoned lightvessel was located in the town of Lomonosov and Kronstadt was supposed to take it. But five years passed and the boat issue had not been solved: there was no room for it in Saint Petersburg, Lomonosov and Kronstadt. Everybody understood the lightvessel was in such a poor condition that sooner or later it could not be ever restored. “The vessel had a list already, there were holes and leakages”, Director General Svetlana Sivkova recalls.

Each year, the abandoned and electrically dead boat was becoming dilapidated. Sudden media popularity and audience attention saved the humble boat from scrapping, but we still lot was to be done: finding new owners who would save the last Russia’s lightship built and preserve it for the future generations.

Several years later, after active work, the ship’s fortune was solved at last. The Museum of the World Ocean with extensive experience in restoring and displaying unique ships in Kaliningrad and Saint Petersburg, adopted Irbenskiy as a new museum family member and, moreover, managed to make the vessel a maritime heritage object of Russia and obtain financing its dry dock repair. On October 29, 2017, two tugs moved the lightship Irbenskiy to the Kronstadt Shipyard.

 

All By Ourselves

The vessel was put to the dry dock where its hull was welded and painted. But money ran out, so welding and assembling the inner rooms was not possible. Then the Kaliningrad team understood everything should be done with their own hands.

Only a few people worked on board the lightship: Alexey Shutkin, Deputy Director for Fleet, Boris Presnyakov, experienced captain, two sailors and Svetlana Sivokova, Director General of the museum, personally.

“We cleaned the ship wearing masks and gloves but it did not work. We were itching because glass wool was everywhere. When we were going to live Kronstadt, it was necessary to change the doors as well as to foam up and putty everything as required before the transfer. We bought sealing foam every day. It was necessary to fasten all the equipment before the towing. I remember I saw an old torn armchair the last moment and I could not throw it away. Well, I was told to take a hammer and nail it then. Everything should be done properly, so nothing could move during the towage… In late June, weather started changing. We realized that if we delayed the towing to Kaliningrad for a day or two we would get caught in a storm. Early in the morning on June 25, we set off with great relief”, Svetlana Sivkova recalls.

On the night of 29 to 30 June Irbenskiy was towed to Kalininigrad and moored at the museum quay.

Director General Svetlana Sivkova strongly believes the issues of lightships’ future as monuments of engineering and navigation is particularly relevant since in the age of communication technology and navigation development many lighthouses were closed and destroyed. Lighthouses are an integral part of the sea exploration history and their loss can be compared with disappearance of an important part of the past. That’s is why it is so important to preserve the last Russia’s lightship and draw public attention to the history of disappearing profession of a light-keeper and the corresponding constructions – monuments of engineering and culture.

When the lightship Irbenskiy arrived to Kaliningrad, it was decided to sanctify and christen the boat according to the fleet traditions that was done in July, 2017. N. Alekperova, President of the LUKOIL Charity Fund, became the lightvessel’s godmother because thanks to her the towage of the boat was possible.

So, the lightship Irbenskiy took a rightful place at the historic fleet embankment of the Museum of the World Ocean. The vessel has entered a new era in its biography, a new permanent watch.

Irbenskiy: a New Watch

Today the boat museumification, restoration of interiors and creation of permanent exhibitions on board are supported by the History of the Fatherland Foundation (the Russian Historical Society).

“When the ship arrived to Kaliningrad at night, I entered a caboose and spotted a big red plastic star, as those decorating a Christmas-tree in the past, on a sideboard near the mess room. Where did it come from? Probably, someone came here from a tug to see if everything was all right and to check if there was water here and left the star. Now I keep it in my office. Not many things have been left on the lightvessel – almost nothing. These are two books, a few magazines, and some lamp and curtain rod fragments. We have started the lightboat’s new life from a scratch. I’m glad so many people want to help to restore the ship. It is necessary to repair life-support systems, install electricity, equip alarm system and, of course, create a permanent exhibition here”, Svetlana Sivkova says.

A grant made by the History of the Fatherland Foundation (the Russian Historical Society) won by the museum in July 2019 was a great assistance in restoring the ship.

The Museum of the World Ocean has got many ideas about what Irbenskiyl is going to become. It will be back to life; there will be tables and couples will promenade here. The museum staff will put new life into the vessel. The caboose will regenerate as well as the cabins where guests can stay – hydrographers and oceanographers. Visitors will be able to enjoy watching a pilot cutter on board the ship. The museum staff is also going to restore a navigation room and a meteorological laboratory.

We also plan to restore a splendid mushroom anchor which used to decorate the bow but then vanished and, of course, the lighthouse itself.

“A lens has been left, that’s the most important thing. Today a small lamp installed on City Day is switched on. We dragged a cable there, installed and switched the lamp on so citizens understand it is a new symbol of the city and region. We will restore a nautophone that used to make beautiful deep sound on the second mast as well. I think, we’ll get support and it is going to horn sometimes in Kaliningrad and spread its sound far away in all directions. Our lightship must live!”, Director General Svetlana Sivkova says with enthusiasm, “Right now we begin an absolutely new history of Irbenskiy and need help. We install a moneybox for donations during events and present a card with the lightvessel to those who donated. It is also possible to make a targeted transfer to the museum account and mark it as “Our Lightship”. I am sure, together we will restore the vessel and it is going to keep for many years.

 

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS

A lightship is a vessel of a special construction equipped with a beacon light, a sound transmitter and a sonar signal gear.

A lightship was positioned at sea far from the shoreline and at port entry as a pilot station to warn about danger.

  • Length, m = 43.4
  • Beam, m = 9.5
  • Draft, m = 3.8
  • Light height above sea level, m = 17.5
  • Cruising capacity, days = 50
  • Displacement, t = 672
  • Speed (max), knots = 8.7
  • Economic speed, knots = 7
  • Power capacity of the main engine, hp = 375
  • Fuel capacity, t = 90
  • Fresh water capacity, t = 40
  • Luboil, t = 3
  • Vision distance, mile = 12
  • Cabins = 13
  • Crew = 19
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