The Lighthouse

It can be called “The Lighthouse” because the Elbow Reef Lighthouse is the only lighthouse of its kind remaining in the world; the only hand-wound, kerosene lit lighthouse – no electricity involved.

Visiting this lighthouse was probably the most memorable experience of our time in the Abacos on our first trip. I wrote a detailed blog post then so that I would never forget this unique experience; especially the evening we joined Jeffrey, the lighthouse keeper, for the lighting of the lantern. What a special experience that was – “Candy-Striped Lighthouse.”

The Elbow Reef Lighthouse is so special that it deserves another blog post; I just can’t resist it. It’s part of our daily view here in Hope Town, part of every day and every night. You are aware of its presence even when you aren’t consciously thinking about it.

Elbow Reef Lighthouse, "the candy-striped lighthouse"

Elbow Reef Lighthouse, “the candy-striped lighthouse”

The beginning of a sunset glow around the lighthouse.

The beginning of a sunset glow around the lighthouse.

Living in our trawler we soon realized that when the boat faced southeast, the lighthouse was visible to us as we lay in our cabin, morning and night. Sometimes, depending on the directions of the boat and the night sky, we could even see the piercing beam of light passing over our heads as we lay in bed, looking upward through the hatch.

Always present - our view of the lighthouse from our cabin, out through the salon door.

Always present – our view of the lighthouse from our cabin, out through the salon door.

Lighthouse insigniaIn the past two years, the Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society (ERLS) has been actively working to preserve this icon of the Bahamas and maintain the “traditional hand-powered technology.”

  • Built in 1864 with a fixed white light that did not flash or turn
  • Major refit in 1936 with the installation of a rotating first order Fresnel lens, described on nautical charts as ”GP FL W (5) EV 15 SEC 120 FT 15M”. Translation = a series of 5 white flashes every 15 seconds, 120 feet above sea level, visible for 15 nautical miles.
  • That Fresnel lens and rotating equipment is still working today.

 

 A very cool graphic diagram of how the lighthouse works.

A very cool graphic diagram of how the lighthouse works. From Annie Potts, Feb 2015, ERLS.

kerosene

Lighting source is a 325,000 candlepower “Hood” petroleum vapour burner. Hand pump is used to pressurize the petroleum (kerosene) in the heavy green iron containers below the lantern room. Fuel travels up a tube to a vapourizer which sprays into a preheated mantle.

winding

Weights on long cables are wound to the top of the tower by a hand winch. A series of bronze gears, rotate the apparatus once every 15 seconds. It works similar to a grandfather clock.

fresnel lens

Fresnel lens has five “bull’s eyes” that concentrate the light into beams which shine out to the horizon, the “soul of the lighthouse.”

keepers homes

The keeper on duty has to wind it every 2 hours, every night. Jeffrey and Elvis are the two lighthouse keepers, living in these round houses at the base of the lighthouse. It certainly helps to live onsite if you are going to crank every 2 hours. Don’t know if they alternate every 2 hours or if they alternate nights.

base of lighthouse

Cracks in the bricks of the tower were repaired in 1953 by the Imperial Lighthouse Service. The stepped concentric rings of concrete were poured around the brick. There are plans to repaint the red and white stripes as part of the restoration project.

The Candy-Striped Lighthouse is in need of serious work again in order to preserve this most-recognized Bahamian landmark. The Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society (ERLS) is undertaking the challenge of this major restoration project.

 

diamond panes

The diamond weatherglass panes protecting the lantern room have weakened and must be replaced in order to protect the antique Fresnel lens and its machinery from hurricane winds and elements. Damaged panes are protected with plexiglass to keep the lantern room watertight, for now, until new curved diamond glass panes can be specially made. This project will cost approximately $120,000 to replace the curved diamond glass panes and metal stripping. A special fundraiser, “Diamonds Are Forever” is underway to raise the money.

It’s a treat to see the lighthouse every day, but part of the experience is to also climb to the top. One day, while our guys were off doing guy things, Marcia and I decided to dinghy over to the lighthouse and climb to the top.

On the left is a photo looking up the stairs; on the right is Marcia on her way down the stairs. 89 feet high, 101 steps to the lantern room.

On the left is a photo looking up the stairs; on the right is Marcia on her way down the stairs.
89 feet high, 101 steps to the lantern room.

Even the storage cupboard is curved to fit against the walls of the tower.

Even the storage cupboard is curved to fit against the walls of the tower.

 

The last sets of steps is a steel ladder, very straight up to the final level.

The last sets of steps is a steel ladder, very straight up to the final level.

The "hand" handle. There must be a story behind this door handle. And this very tiny door to the balcony.

The “hand” handle. There must be a story behind this door handle. And this very tiny door to the balcony.

Marcia and me at the top of the Candy-Striped lighthouse, Bahamas buddies (and Connecticut, too.)

Marcia and me at the top of the Candy-Striped lighthouse, Bahamas buddies (and Connecticut, too.)

The views in all directions are amazing.

The Parrot Cays, west of Elbow Cay

The Parrot Cays, west of Elbow Cay

The outer harbor just before the channel into Hope Town harbour.

The outer harbor just before the channel into Hope Town harbour.

The harbor

Looking eastward at the harbor and the Atlantic Ocean beyond

A closer view of Kindred Spirit, 2nd in line

A closer view of Kindred Spirit, 2nd in line

Hope Town Inn and Marina with its pink buildings, to the south

Hope Town Inn and Marina with its pink buildings, to the south

Regretfully now, I wish I had made that climb more often. It is too easy to let the days slip by, thinking that there will always be more time.

In January of this year, a little gift shop at the base of the light house was opened. The building is simple and suits the lighthouse grounds perfectly. The items are mostly clothing with the Lighthouse Preservation Society logo, as well as backpacks, jewelry made and donated by local cruisers, and solar Luci Lights, a very popular item. All profits are returned to the ERLS for preservation of the tower.

The gift shop, in its red and white colors, of course. The racing chairs onto deck were made on Man O' War by Joe Albury. Red and white cushions will soon dress them.

The gift shop, in its red and white colors, of course. The racing chairs onto deck were made on Man O’ War by Joe Albury. Red and white cushions will soon dress them.

Inside of the shop.

The gift shop is staffed by volunteers so I volunteered. I usually had the Sunday morning shift. I enjoyed the setting, meeting and talking with people as they came to climb the tower. It was a nice bonus that the gift shop has its own very good wifi. 😉

I added to my lighthouse souvenirs –  a shirt and the book, UP Keeps the Light On. There is a wonderful story about this book in the summer 2015 issue of Abaco Life. “UP” is a lizard character featured in an earlier book, UP Cycles to School. Heather Forde-Prosa, a graphic artist, co-owner of the local Hope Town Coffee House, and part-time art teacher, worked with the children of Hope Town Primary School to write the story and create the artwork.

UP Keeps the Light On

“UP Keeps the Light On” — With collaboration from the ERLS, this second book about UP shines a light on the need to preserve and care for their lighthouse through teamwork and shared responsibility. I look forward to reading it to my grandchildren.

In addition to my ERLS shirt and my UPS book, I could not resist one more lighthouse treasure to bring a smile to my face. At our Christmas dinner celebration at the Abaco Inn, I noticed an original watercolor of Elbow Reef Lighthouse in the ladies room (yes, behind the door in the ladies bathroom.) I liked it a lot, but needed to let the idea simmer for awhile. It simmered and percolated for about 6 weeks. Every time we rode our bikes down to the Abaco Inn to view the big surf after those storms, I would stop in and look at the painting again. Tom, the manager, was a delight to talk with about the painting. He, too, has been integral to the preservation of the lighthouse. When he told me that the money from the sale of the painting all goes to the ERLS, my decision was made – we dinghied back to the Abaco Inn again and bought the painting; much easier to bring back in a dinghy than on a bike. When we get home I will have it re-framed in a natural distressed wood, I think, resembling driftwood.

My watercolor painting of the Elbow Reef Lighthouse by Anne W. Ray, 1995 who lived on Lubbers Quarters.

My watercolor painting of the Elbow Reef Lighthouse by Anne W. Ray, 1995 who lived on Lubbers Quarters.

I will still be able to see my favorite lighthouse every day, at home in New England.

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