Friday, December 1, 2023

Mendocino’s Historic Lighthouse Lens Shines Bright Again

The following is a press release from the Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association:

The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse shining bright [Photo by Fallen Moon Photography]

 On the evening of December 29, 2022, 86 years after it was first installed, the motor at Point Cabrillo Lighthouse stopped working. A single worm gear inside the 1937 mechanism had worn down, and the cold nights on the Mendocino Coast that week helped push it toward its failure. 

275 days later, that same motor is back in its place on the third floor of the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, and the Fresnel lens was put back into active service as an Aid to Navigation (ATON). During those 275 days, Point Cabrillo Lighthouse was not dark, but instead lit up by the secondary beacon at the light station. That beacon blinked the same signature as the Fresnel lens, a white flash every ten seconds, allowing Point Cabrillo to continue its service as a Federal Aid to Navigation.

Operations at Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park are shared by three entities: The California State Park system, the Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association nonprofit, and the United States Coast Guard. The Coast Guard owns and operates the historic Fresnel Lens at Point Cabrillo, which was purchased and shipped from England in the early 1900s. The lens at Point Cabrillo was turned using a hand-cranked clockwork mechanism until the 1930s, when electricity arrived at the light station and a motor was put into service.

The motor that is turning Point Cabrillo’s Fresnel lens today is the same motor that was put into service in the late 1930’s, and thanks to a few new gears put into place by the Humboldt Bay Aid to Navigation team, it is running smoothly. The Coast Guard also commissioned the talented lampist Chad Kaiser of Washington to inspect and clean the lens, and assist the Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association in future care and maintenance.

A glimpse of the intricate work maintaining the lighthouse lens [Photo from BMG Carter McGuire]

BMC Carter McGuire, Officer in Charge of the Aids to Navigation Team in Humboldt Bay offered this statement about the re-lighting of Point Cabrillo’s Fresnel lens:

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We are very pleased to have Pt. Cabrillo Lighthouse back into full service as a Federal Aid to Navigation. Not only was I able to rebuild the motor from the 1930’s but we had Chad Kaiser, who is one of only a few lampists in the United States, on board to conduct a major maintenance overhaul of many of the light’s components. This included lifting the lens high off the bearings to fully clean, inspect and re-lubricate the bearings. Chad also installed new long-lasting halogen bulbs, refocused the lampchanger, cleaned the lens, and conducted training with the Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association staff and volunteers.

We’ve also discussed an action plan along with contingencies to hopefully mitigate any future long-term discrepancies with the light. A special thanks to Steve Nilson for all his hard work, dedication and resilience, and to the Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association, as this couldn’t have happened without them. With a government shutdown looming, I believe it is important to thank the Mendocino County residents, public and visitors for their generosity as it truly contributes to assisting in keeping Pt. Cabrillo shining bright.

BMC Carter McGuire
Officer in Charge
Aids to Navigation Team in Humboldt Bay

The flash from Point Cabrillo Lighthouse has a specific signature: a single flash every ten seconds. To the south of Point Cabrillo, the now decommissioned Fresnel lens at the Point Arena Lighthouse had a signature of a double white flash every six seconds, and now has a single white flash every 15 seconds, utilizing a modern LED light on the railing. To the north, the now abandoned Punta Gorda Lighthouse had a double white flash every fifteen seconds. Each active lighthouse along the California coastline has its own unique flash pattern, allowing mariners at sea to navigate in the dead of night by simply counting the seconds between flashes.

The foghorn signals at each light station were also unique, so that even in the thickest of fog, mariners simply had to count the seconds of and between each blast to know which light station they were sailing past. The foghorn at Point Cabrillo operated from 1909 until the 1960s, when the Coast Guard decommissioned it. 

Historically, lighthouses only operated during the dark hours of the night, so there needed to be one last signature for navigation, which came in the form of the “daymark”. On a bright sunny day, you can identify the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse by the long black stripe up the tower, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse by the black and white diamonds, or the West Quoddy Lighthouse by the red rings that encircle its tower. At Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, red roofs serve as the daymark. This daymark is kept up by the Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association, who repaints the lighthouse every few years. Point Cabrillo Lighthouse got its newest paint job from Scanlon Contracting this past August.

Along with the new paint, Point Cabrillo also got new back doors this summer, courtesy of the Mendocino Coast’s award-winning woodworker, Greg Smith. The old doors were destroyed during the storm on January 5 of 2023, which also flooded the first floor of the lighthouse, causing significant damage to the gift shop and museum. More details about the storm and footage of the waves can be found on the nonprofit’s website: http://www.pointcabrillo.org/jan-5-storm/. 

Now that the Fresnel lens is shining, the lighthouse is repainted, and sturdier doors are in place, Point Cabrillo Lighthouse is whole once again. The board of directors at Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association would like to thank the Mendocino Coast community for their ongoing support during 2023, one of the light station’s most memorable years in recent history. The nonprofit would also like to invite the Mendocino Coast community to join them on October 14th, 2023, for the last lighthouse lens tour of the year, led by the talented docents of the nonprofit. Tours will happen between 10am – 4pm on that Saturday, and more details can be found at http://www.pointcabrillo.org/events. 

About PCLK

Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park is maintained by the nonprofit Point Cabrillo Lightkeepers Association (PCLK) who’s mission is to manage, protect, restore, interpret, and provide public access to the historic Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park. The park is open from sunrise until sunset every day of the year, with 300+ acres of trails, nature, ocean views and educational opportunities. You can visit the lighthouse museum and gift shop from 11am – 4pm every day of the year, and meet the volunteer docents that keep our Mendocino Coast lighthouse shining. 

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MendoFever Staff
MendoFever Staff
Editor's Note: Whenever an article's byline reads "MendoFever Staff", the contents of that article were not composed by any of our reporters. Types of writing that will be attributed to "MendoFever Staff" include press releases, letters to the editor, op-eds, obituaries— essentially writing that is not produced by a reporter.

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