Refuelling a Lighthouse


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. 


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

Moving Day 1970s

Crates awaiting lowering to the ship - photo Glenn Borgens

One of the problems with moving to another lighthouse was that everything had to be crated and or well-packed to withstand the dangers of the transportation and handling by ship and/or helicopter. It also had to survive unexpected falls and/or water damage, both fresh and salt.

When my wife Karen and I first moved on the lighthouses we had no material for crating so we had to get professionals from a moving company to do the work for us. They did a very good job but were very expensive.

When we got the bill we did not have the money to pay for it, so we told the man we would leave half the furnishings there in the warehouse and get them shipped out next month when we got paid. He was having nothing of that and eventually dropped the price to something we could afford. Continue reading

Derrick Operation at Boat Bluff c. 2004

Derrick at Boat Bluff - photo Mike Mitchell

The derrick is another lifting device used on stations that do not have a rock in the sea for a highline and where seas were also relatively calm. It was used like the highline to lift and lower items to and from the work boats or lower the keeper’s boat or station boat in and out of the water. 

Definition – “a derrick is a lifting device composed of one mast or pole which is hinged freely at the bottom. It is controlled by (usually 4) lines powered by some such means as man-hauling or motors, so that the pole can move in all 4 directions. a line runs up it and over its top with a hook on the end, like with a crane. It was commonly used in docks.”Derrick (Lifting Device), 28 april 2006 12:06 UTC, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia  Continue reading

Grocery Mishap at Kains Island (Quatsino) c.1975

CCGS Sir James Douglas

 The landing under the hook (aka highline) at Kains Island was a large basin at the back side. It looked like a very large boulder had been washed out from the hole. It was a bit tricky if the swell was running to bring the station inflatable in safely but we never had a accident in my three years on station. 


Ocean Sea foam - photo unknown photographer

After a SE winter storm the hole would fill up with kelp stems broken off the surrounding reefs by the large swells. The swells then pounded this kelp into a tan-coloured foam which drifted all over the ocean and blew up into the trees and hung there like lichen. It was quite light but sticky to the touch.

One winter day we were expecting the supply ship with groceries, mail, etc. One of the Coast Guard buoy tenders arrived rocking and rolling in the swells in Quatsino Sound. Over the side went the workboat and then began the process of off-loading the supplies into her. We could see the orange-suited crew members on deck and in the boat but could not recognize anyone. 

Lowering station boat into the hole - note the foam - photo retlkpr

As we watched the workboat pull away from the shelter of the ship we were called on the radio by an unknown voice that the boat was on its way in. We acknowledged and commented that this appeared to be a new mate. Always fun to see how much experience they had unloading under a highline. 

The boat rolled across the half kilometer distance between us and the ship, sometimes disappearing completely in the swells. The mate brought the boat closer to shore and lined up with the small bay, all the while ploughing a path through the foam which was pushed aside by the bow. As the boat neared the gap the mate rode a swell in under the hook and all but completely disappeared! 

We could see well from the winch shed and the highline deck but only heads were showing in the workboat – the rest had completely disappeared! During the night the storms had lashed the kelp to pulp and filled the gap with sea foam to almost a metre deep! The workboat rode in on the swell and right under the foam. 

The gap from seaward at low tide - photo retlkpr

 Pushing the foam aside, the crew grabbed the lowered hook, slipped on a set of slings and signalled Haul Away. As the bonnet sling left the well of the workboat it also left a nice clean spot in the boat. On landing on the highline deck above, it was discovered that everything was covered with the sea foam, but, all was OK on the inside of the cartons of groceries and bags of mail although a bit sticky on the outside. The foam, although appearing quite dense, was actually quite dry and no harm was done. 

The mate was a little more cautious when he came in with the second load. 


 More information about the sea foam. Below is the content of an email I received in March 17, 2008.


Suddenly the shoreline north of Sydney was transformed into the Cappuccino Coast . Foam swallowed an entire beach and half the nearby buildings, including the local lifeguards’ centre, in a freak display of nature at Yamba in New South Wales .

One minute a group of teenage surfers were waiting to catch a wave, the next they were swallowed up in a giant bubble bath. The foam was so light that they could puff it out of their hands and watch it float away.

Boy in the bubble bath: Tom Woods, 12, emerges from the clouds of foam after deciding that surfing was not an option

It stretched for 30 miles out into the Pacific in a phenomenon not seen at the beach for more than three decades. Scientists explain that the foam is created by impurities in the ocean, such as salts, chemicals, dead plants, decomposed fish and excretions from seaweed. All are churned up together by powerful currents which cause the water to form bubbles. These bubbles stick to each other as they are carried below the surface by the current towards the shore. As a wave starts to form on the surface, the motion of the water causes the bubbles to swirl upwards and, massed together, they become foam.

The foam ‘surfs’ towards shore until the wave ‘crashes’, tossing the foam into the air.

Whitewash: The foam was so thick it came all the way up to the surf club

‘It’s the same effect you get when you whip up a milk shake in a blender,’ explains a marine expert. ‘The more powerful the swirl, the more foam you create on the surface and the lighter it becomes.’ In this case, storms off the New South Wales Coast and further north off Queensland had created a huge disturbance in the ocean, hitting a stretch of water where there was a particularly high amount of the substances which form into bubbles. As for 12-year-old beach goer Tom Woods, who has been surfing since he was two, riding a wave was out of the question ‘Me and my mates just spent the afternoon leaping about in that stuff,’ he said.

‘It was quite cool to touch and it was really weird. It was like clouds of air – you could hardly feel it.’

Children play among all the foam which was been whipped up by cyclonic conditions.

Supplies for Cape Scott Lighthouse 1975

CCGS Sir James Douglas - photo F&O Canada

 In 1975 we (myself, my wife Karen and our two young children, our dog, cats, and all our furnishings) were on our way clockwise around Vancouver Island from Quatsino lighthouse to Pachena Point on board the CCGS Sir James Douglas with acting Captain Tom Hull. This was a grocery run so the trip was already pre-planned and we were just passengers. 

The seas were not high but as we rounded Cape Scott, the northern-most tip of Vancouver Island, we began to roll in the southwest swell. As we motored around into quieter waters on the inside of Vancouver Island, we were still being tossed around by occasional large ocean swells.  Continue reading

In Memorium – Bill Exley (1920 – 1994)

Captain William (Bill) Mills Exley (January 08, 1920, Vancouver, BC –  April 24,1994, Victoria, BC) was a friend to all the lighthouse keepers he met. Bill joined the Coast Guard as a mess boy on the Estevan in 1939 and retired 45 years later as District Area Supervisor (DAS), Victoria. He was a tough boss but was respected by all who learned from him. See his biography below. Bill’s ashes were buried at sea.

To include your memories in Bill’s memorial please click this link.

Bill was Second Mate on the old “smokey joe” CGS Estevan under that legendary master mariner, Capt Harry Ormiston (1889-1971), when I joined the (then) Victoria District Marine Agency as the (then) Superintendent of Lights in June 1956, a post I held until Oct 1959. His seamanship, acquired and polished during his many years of sailing with Harry, was absolutely superb, a true credit to his mentor. Among my happy, solid memories of Bill was his skillful handling of the Estevan’s sturdy work boats then used to take supplies ashore at lightstations, often in heavy seas. (No choppers in those days). Not once in my time did he ever misjudge the swells, damage a work boat, or dump its cargo in the water. Nor did he ever cause me to be dunked when I used to jump from the bow onto wet slippery seaweed-covered rocks when doing an annual lighthouse inspection – or when scrambling back on board afterwards.

Captain Exley, as he was when I last met him (his guest for lunch on the CGS Sir James Douglas while visiting Victoria in 1964), was a man I greatly admired and respected – as he was indeed by the lightkeepers who knew him and the ships’ crewmen who served with him. It was my privilege to have known him, enjoyed his friendship and sailed several thousands of West Coast nautical miles with him. – John Bathurst


Bill’s first love might have been the sea..,but as superintendant of Lights he soon became an avid helicopter passenger and particularly liked low flying.

As pilots we had a wonderful rapport with him and consequently we made every effort to comply with his numerous requests and I for one appreciated the fact that he never pressured us to fly when we considered for instance that the weather precluded flying, but he expected us to give it a try if conditions were marginal, and that was fair enough.

One example was when he “desperately” wanted to interview and eventually fire a troublesome assistant lighthouse keeper at Pine Island lighthouse. As we both approached Pine the usual summertime band of fog was really heavy (Pine was calling it 1/4 mile visibility), below our limits, but we headed out hover taxying you might say, riding the swells, the sea being my only reference. Our only concern being that we might bump into a ship!

Anyway we made it, picked up the assistant and headed back through the same soup, saw a hole in the fog climbed like an elevator and rode several miles back to Port Hardy on top of the fogbank.

On arrival there Bill Exley turned to me and said “Let’s never do that again!” It was pretty hairy all right. – Ivor Roberts (aka Ivor the Driver)


– thanks to Karen Waugh for the bio

I always considered Bill Exley a Leader! – retlkpr