Restored Monomoy life saving boat gets new life at Cape May Lighthouse

The boat is a restoration project of the Cape May Maritime Museum, illuminating life saving history at the Jersey Shore

Photo courtesy of Jerry Tarrant

LOWER TOWNSHIP — A Monomoy life saving boat is now on display on the grounds of the Cape May Lighthouse, Cape May Point State Park. The boat is a restoration project of the Cape May Maritime and Educational Center and will be on long term display here, in association with Cape May MAC (Museums+Arts+Culture).

The Cape May Lighthouse is one of three historic sites managed by Cape May MAC. While the lighthouse has not yet reopened to the public due to the COVID-19 crisis, the park, where the lighthouse is located, is open for recreation as of this writing, and the life saving boat is visible to passersby. The boat was on temporary display at the site in 2019.

“Thanks to everyone involved in making this happen,” said Center President Edward Melega. “I feel it is a win/win for us all.”

Photo courtesy of Jerry Tarrant

The boat represents an integral part of U.S. Lifesaving Service and U.S. Coast Guard history. It is a 26-foot life saving boat, “Monomoy” Class, circa late 1800s-1930s. This class of rescue boat originated in New England and was regularly used in Cape May area Life Saving Stations.

“The Monomoys are 26 feet long with a 7-foot beam and draw of about 2 feet with the crew on board,” said Center Board Member Jerry Tarrant. “Most weigh over 2,000 lbs. The rowing configuration is double-banked, that is, the eight rowers sit in four pairs side-by-side on fixed thwarts (benches). Each rower handles a single 12-foot wooden oar. The oars range in weight from 11 to 15 lbs. A coxswain stands in the stern and steers with a 16-foot oar.”

The design developed from boats used to hunt whales.

“The Monomoy design is an evolution of the classic utilitarian whaleboat: a double-ended, lightweight, cheaply constructed boat to be rowed or sailed under all conditions in pursuit of whales and for use in general ship’s work. In 1934 the U.S. Coast Guard standardized the design for contract purposes, and thousands were built for use as lifeboats and gigs aboard not only naval and military ships but also commercial freighters and ocean liners…..The boat is quite simple and Spartan.”

— Source: Wooden Boat Magazine, A Tale of Two Sisters: Carvel vs. Cold Molding, January/February, 1982 By W. Tay Vaughan, III

The Center has restored the boat and that project is 90 percent complete, Melega said. Donors to the project include Andrew Joyce, lead carpenter and project manager at Cape May Contracting, who built the cradle; Cape May Lumber, who donated the lumber; Ricciardi Brothers, who donated the stain and paints; and, Media in Motion, who donated the signs.

“The display represents a nice partnership between two not-for-profits, featuring our maritime history, in particular Coast Guard history,” said Cape May MAC President Tom Carroll.