Refuelling a Lighthouse

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photo credit Ron Amundsen

British Columbia (BC) lighthouses mostly have diesel generators unless they are close enough to a large town or city to allow a power cable to run to them.

So how does one refuel a lighthouse as most of them are sitting fairly high above the water line and very distant from a local gas station?

Well, thanks to the lighthouse keepers at Scarlett Point lighthouse and Ivory Island lighthouse for giving me permission to use their photos, I can now show you. 

Scarlet

Scarlett Point lighthouse – Google Maps

Ivan Dubinsky at Scarlett Point lighthouse, north of Port Hardy, BC has been photographing anything that moves and does not move at his lighthouse with his new camera and posting them on Facebook. He now has quite a few followers admiring his photos.

OK, back to the refuelling. There are many ways that I have seen it done. From most to least expensive we have helicopter slinging in fuel drums or bladders, hovercraft carrying fuel in it’s tanks, and Coast Guard ships pumping it into a fuel barge and moving it to shore.

           CG253_Ivan_DubinskyRefuelling Entrance_Ivan_DubinskyCCGS Bartlett_Ivan_Dubinsky Continue reading

Dreams of Being a Lighthouse Keeper

For years past, adults and children of all ages had dreams of growing up to be an adventurous lighthouse keeper. That dream is slowly dimming as the world automates its lighthouses.

The following article from The Guardian  brings to our attention the dimming of the dream in the UK

The lure of the lighthouse for our islanded souls
With the last lights set to go out, many of us will miss these concrete symbols of our humanity

by Joe Moran The Guardian, Saturday 12 April 2014.

Lighthouse, County Durham

The tower lights, the ones that rise impossibly out of the sea and carry the most romantic connotations for landlubberly ignoramuses like me, were the most dreaded by the keepers.’ Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

Growing up, I wanted to be a lighthouse keeper. Just like Moominpappa in Tove Jansson’s Moomin books, my ambition was to live on the loneliest lighthouse on the remotest skerry farthest from land. It didn’t end well for Moominpappa, the island he and the other Moomins settled on being barren and desolate, inhabited only by a silent fisherman who turned out to be the ex-lighthouse keeper driven mad by loneliness. It didn’t put me off.

I have since met many compatriots who have had the same dream, for there is something about lighthouses that seems to speak to our islanded souls. more . . .

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Now, to celebrate the quincentenary of Trinity House, the organisation responsible for the lighthouses of England and Wales, an exhibition is opening at the National Maritime Museum. Guiding Lights will display intricate models of lighthouses and lighthouse keepers’ personal effects. It is hard to imagine a similarly pulse-quickening exhibition about air-traffic controllers or road-safety officers, although our lives are similarly in their hands.

“I meant nothing by the lighthouse,” Virginia Woolf wrote of its role in her most celebrated novel, “but I trusted that people would make it the deposit for their own emotions.” Lighthouses, Woolf realised, are endlessly suggestive signifiers of both human isolation and our ultimate connectedness to each other. Artists, from John Constable to Eric Ravilious, have made them the focus of their paintings, which can’t simply be to do with their pleasingly vertical contrast with the horizon.

I suspect that lighthouses appeal especially to introverts like me, who need to make strategic withdrawals from the social world but also want to retain some basic link with humanity. A beam sweeping the horizon for the benefit of ships passing in the night is just that kind of minimal human connection. “Nothing must be allowed to silence our voices … We must call out to one another,” wrote Janet Frame, a shy New Zealand writer also fascinated by lighthouses, “across seas and deserts flashing words instead of mirrors and lights.”

I finally cured my lighthouse fantasy by reading Tony Parker’s oral history of lighthouse keepers. Looking after a light – no keeper ever called it a lighthouse – was, I learned, a tedious job, with little to do but linger over meals and make ships in bottles. One keeper was so lonely that in the middle of the night he switched on the transmitter and listened to the ships radioing each other, just to hear some other human voices. The tower lights, the ones that rise impossibly out of the sea and carry the most romantic connotations for landlubberly ignoramuses like me, were the most dreaded by the keepers. Without even a bit of rock to walk around on and escape from your housemates, they were the lighthouse-keeping equivalent of being posted to Siberia.

In any case, I was well out of it because lighthouse keeping was not a job with prospects.

The lighthouses began to be automated in the 1970s and the last keeper left the last occupied lighthouse in 1998. Now, in an age of radar and computerised navigation systems, working lighthouses are an endangered species. Their haunting fog signals are being switched off. Their black-and-red painted stripes, meant to stand out against the land and sky, are being left to peel off. And many lighthouses are being decommissioned, turned into holiday cottages or expensively renovated homes.

No doubt satnav will now do the job just as well, but it will be a shame when the last lighthouse turns off its light. In an age when we have to justify public projects with the consumerist language of stakeholders and end users, lighthouses still feel like an uncomplicated social good that belongs to us all. They are the concrete symbol of our common humanity, of the fact that people we may never meet – at whom we may do no more than flash our lights in the dark – are also our concern.

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One of my dad’s oldest friends was a lighthouse keeper for a few years. He was sometimes posted to those lights that stand alone on a rock. In a ‘big sea’ waves could be so high that water would come down the chimney and put the fire out. He also said that if your hearing went dull it meant that the level you were on was underwater because of a big swell – and a thick metal door was the only thing keeping the Atlantic out.

There are terrible stories. One was the lighthouse often had to eat the tallow candles when ships bringing supplies could not make it through the rough sea. Also the tradition of 2 keepers came into being when one single went out of his mind.
I’ve a slight problem with repeated ref to concrete. Most early lights were built with granite(or timber with plinth granite) interlocked water proof hydraulic cement. Smeaton’s Eddystone the prototype, and later Stephenson family business up north.

To be honest lighthouses are no longer necessary as the coastline is now starkly outlined by the amount of light pollution from our towns, cities and villages. You really can’t miss it when sailing down the coast. Also our new technologies are way in advance of anything we’ve had in the past and even a small yacht can now pinpoint its position to a matter of metres on the ocean. So if we do have any shipping catastrophes in the future they are likely to be down to human error.

“even a small yacht can now pinpoint its position to a matter of metres”

I too sail a small yacht in and around NW Scotland and, because I lack all but the most basic GPS, compasses and echo sounder, greatly value our lighthouses – albeit, unmanned. You will know that whenever NATO carry out exercises in the Minch, warships regularly cause GPS screens to go blank!!!  Serious accidents are not unknown.

You are referring to an exercise 2 years ago where warships blocked GPS for 20 miles. There were no accidents but due to complaints Warships in UK waters are now banned from blocking GPS. I’m not sure about other navies though.

Not every small boat has radar… not all coastlines are outlined by light pollution.

But most people now have mobile phones/iPads/Tablets with GPS.

Please, please, please do not go to sea relying on an iPad/phone etc for navigation! Road signs, and indeed ‘roads’ themselves are fairly limited at sea in my experience.

I can see one of our oldest lighthouses from here. It is on the top of St Catherine’s Down and known locally as the Pepperpot. It was built by local people as a punishment for buying smuggled wine. There was an oratory attached to it at one time to say prayers for the souls of the shipwrecked of whom there were many and the graves in the churchyard will attest. Although high up it wasn’t much use as the mist which frequently covers that part of the coast line blocked out the light when it was most needed and many ships went aground on the notorious Atherfield ledge. The new lighthouse built by the shore is a beautiful building and it would be a great shame if it were to become just another house, although coastal erosion and land slips might put off anyone but the most foolhardy from purchasing.

Foolish idea turning these off. Given potential failures of equipment these are very useful as a last backup. Oh well I’m sure it saves some middle managers budget some money somewhere.

This is a shame, lighthouses are exciting. I don’t think it’s possible to go on holidays to the coast without spending some time watching out for the distant lights and trying to identify them. I know we used to look forward to foggy days so we could hear their fog horns going off.

And at night, if you were staying in a house nearby, some of the beam would sweep around the bedroom from time to time.

Many years ago I recall reading an article in some sailing magazine. Title was The Antikythera Light. The author told of sailing through a storm in the Eastern Med. He had been at sea for days on end and the storm had bounced his small boat around quite a bit. This was long before GPS and he didn’t know exactly where he was. He knew he was approaching the Greek islands and some very dangerous and rocky shores. Then, flickering on the horizon in the far distance and through the storm…a flashing light. Lights flash in timed sequences and those are indicated on charts. He identified this one as the light on Antikythera, the island in the center of the passage through into the Aegean Sea.

Now he knew where he was. Now he was safe. He wrote of his grateful appreciation, not only for the light keeper whose job it was to help people the keeper would never see, but to the society that posted the man there and built the tower and light that led him to safety out of a storm, money spent for no special benefit to the community but only to the benefit of passing strangers in need of help.It was a wonderful essay on how humanity consists of people doing altruistic things, not only for strangers, but for strangers they would never know needed the help. Lighthouses are a symbol of what is best in all of us.

A good few years ago we did the soundtrack to this short documentary about the some of the last people to man the lighthouses, they tell their stories and explain how automation affected them, very sad some of it: http://vimeo.com/m/71760571

Bishop Rock lighthouse – the westernmost point of the Isles of Scilly – that’s the one I’d most like to go inside. And I’d pay good money to see the BBC documentary about it, by Tony Parker, first shown just over 40 years ago:  http://trinityhousehistory.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/on-this-day-in-trinity-house-history-6-february/

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Light at the End of the World

Light at the End of the World
Three Months on Cape St. James, 1941

by Hallvard Dahlie (orig from Raincoast 18, 1998) with notes from Jim Derham-Reid (last keeper on Cape St. James before automation)

Image1A strange interlude in my brief seafaring life took place in the fall of 1941, when I signed on as assistant lighthouse keeper at Cape St. James, a light perched on top of a three-hundred-foot rock at the very southern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands. I had quit school earlier that year, at the age of sixteen, and found a job on the CGS Alberni, a lighthouse tender operating out of Prince Rupert. But when she had to go into dry dock at the beginning of September for a new wartime grey paint job and a bit of refurbishing, I chose to take a stint out at the lighthouse rather than scrape barnacles and paint for three months. Continue reading

Once Upon a Foggy Night . . .

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There is a boat out there . . . click the button below . . .

Imagine you are a lighthouse keeper on the graveyard shift on a foggy night. All you hear are the diesel engines running, the foghorn blowing at intervals. As you stare out into the gloomy mist you hear this sound. It is a boat, but what kind of boat? What kind of motor?

Many old-timers will recognize it as the sound of a classic make and break Easthope 2-stroke marine gasoline engine on idle. It probably belonged to a fisherman waiting out the fog so he could see where he was going. It was a sound that carried through the fog just like the foghorn.

To hear it again brings back many memories. If you wish to see the fishboat that housed this engine take a look at this Youtube page.

EasthopeMarineSign

 

 

 

Mise Tales Thirty-Five

 

For an update on what a Mise Tale is then please see Mise Tales One.

Britain StormsJanuary 07, 2014 – People watch and photograph enormous waves as they break, on Porthcawl harbour, South Wales, Monday Jan. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/PA, Ben Birchall) . . . more

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LONDON — What used to be Winter Storm Hercules has moved across the Atlantic and is now hammering the United Kingdom with high winds and winter weather.. Britain’s western coast is being lashed by high winds and strong rains following a month of unusually frequent winter storms.

A steady procession of storms has battered the island nation over the past few weeks, making December the windiest since 1969. Monster waves up to 27 feet (8.3 meters) high washed across the British coast on Monday, prompting evacuations and rescues.

“This latest storm actually originated as Winter Storm Hercules in the U.S. just after the New Year’s holiday,” said weather.com Senior Meteorologist Jon Erdman.

(MORE: Dangerously Cold Temperatures Hit U.S.)

The nearly non-stop storms have crumbled long-standing sea cliffs and damaged waterfronts.

“It’s been one after the other with no break,” Nicola Maxey, a spokeswoman for Britain’s Meteorological Office, said Tuesday.

More than 100 flood warnings remain across England and Wales.

“This latest Atlantic storm will slowly wind down and weaken over the Norwegian Sea off Scandinavia through Tuesday, giving way to a well-deserve reprieve from the stormy barrage the rest of the work week,” said Erdman.

Heavy winds and rain have also battered the French coast, driving large waves into southwestern town of Biarritz on Tuesday. [/private]

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Reprint – Sentinels Encased in Ice

Sentinels Encased in Ice by Elinor DeWire

from WeatherWise November-December 2011 

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The ice was here, the ice was there
The ice was all around;
I t cracked and growled, and roared and howled
Like noise in a swound…
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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Caption: St. Joseph Pierhead in Michigan as it appeared on December 20, 2010. Continue reading

Vanishings – The Missing Lighthouse Keepers

These two tales on Youtube were brought to my attention. Quite the mystery! 

 

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Mise Tales Thirty-Four

 

For an update on what a Mise Tale is then please see Mise Tales One.

Jaw-dropping animated video on overfishing… It’s time for change!

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The Costa Concordia rests on its side on the morning of January 14, 2012.

 The Costa Concordia rests on its side on the morning of January 14, 2012 (click for larger photo)

 Yes, it is a photo of the Costa Concordia, aground on the rocks, but did anyone else notice the lighthouse in the photo under which the lifeboats are all clustered? See my article Lighthouses Visible in the Costa Concordia Disaster.

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Aniva RockAniva rock [private]Sakhalinskaya Oblast, Russia[/private]- A formal penal island used by the Russians, Aniva was once sought after by both the Russia and Japan. This now Russian controlled territory sits uninhabited in the seas between Japan and the eastern coast of Russia.

This photo story appeared on Distractify and was entitled The 38 Most Haunting Abandoned Places On Earth. For Some Reason, I Can’t Look Away… Continue reading

What a Nice Christmas Present

What a nice surprise! Today on Facebook the lighthouse keeper, Colin Toner, who is residing at my old workplace at McInnes Island posted a fantastic video of the lighthouse. Please watch in full screen to get the full effect.

Watch as the MBB105 helicopter approaches the island in the rain. You can see the rain striking the windscreen on the front of the helicopter.

Later get a tour of the light and a walk around the island in the stormy weather. Take note of the heavy seas. That is life in winter on the west coast of Canada.

Thanks Colin for the memories, and special thanks goes to Tineke Veenhoven for creating the film!

For a larger and higher quality version please go to Youtube. I had trouble getting it to embed here.

Fuels for Pharos

Florida Lighthouses_narrowWhat fuels did/does a lighthouse (pharos – the Greek word for lighthouse) use? I became curious about this when I discovered in an Internet  article the name Colza oil. What the heck is Colza oil? Somebody’s mispelling of Coal oil? I had to find out.

Well that led to this article on lighthouse illumination (more). I enjoyed researching it – I hope you enjoy reading it. Any additions or corrections are welcome. Please contact me.

The principal methods and types of illuminating a lighthouse are below in order of usage. The dates and equipment used are from the photo and webpage on the left. Two other excellent pages on illuminants for lamps are Illumination Sources and the lighthouse page called Pharology.

1. Open fires of wood, charcoal, tar, or coal

2. Candles of wax or tallow dips

3. Fish oil 

4. Whale oil (1720-1864) – also know as Sperm oil or Train oil

5. Vegetable oils – Colza oil used in the Argand lamp; Lard Oil (1864-1884), Olive oil, Rape oil, and Coconut oil. Rice Bran oil is also used in some lands for illumination. today

(vegetable oil vs mineral oil)

6. Mineral oil – non-vegetable oils (hydrocarbon, petroleum or paraffin oils) including white oil, liquid paraffin, and liquid petroleum used as lighting oils.

7. Manufactured fuel gas, Manufactured gas or more commonly known as just Gas – gases with such names as Coal gas, City gas, Oil gas, Illumination gas (1904-1980) derived mostly from coal, but also wood, and oil. Acetylene was another manufactured gas.

8. Kerosene (1884-1955) used as a lighting oil in the vapourized oil burners

9. Electricity (1898-now) carbon-arc lamps up to present day light-emitting diode (LED) lamps

10. Solar Continue reading