Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Point Sur



Point Sur is one of those majestic and nostalgic light stations as it stands alone and aloof upon a Volcanic Rock just off Big Sur California. It still continues to guide ships along its treacherous coast. Equipped today with aero-beacon as it modern day guidance system, it performs the duty it was designed to do.


The tough part of any project is getting the inspiration to write. And what things to include and what things to exclude. The story can be interesting or boring. None of my trips are boring but sometimes my writing is very blah. I hope as I develop in my lighthouse experience I hope I will also develop my writing skills, where my stories will bring interest to the reader. If you want send me a comment now and again, I would consider you could be my early editors for the final product which I hoping will be a book.




Well this early on Sunday Morning, Jean and I spent the night at the embassy suites hotel. It was a celebration of our wedding anniversary. She was not willing to come on this trip to Point Sur with me. Not sure of where I was going I put the directions into the Tom Tom and I set out on my way.



The weather was beautiful and the coastal scenery awesome. I could spend a lot of time down here and I now I wander why not. Once I got passed Carmel, the adventure began. I pulled into to a gas station to check my co-ordinates and compared what I had printed out from the Web. Well my last marker was in Carmel and the next was not for another 17 miles. I was to wait at some Farm near the naval station for a guide to pick us up. No more than 40 people at a time.This location was north of Big Sur on highway 1.




I set off with this knowledge and hopefully what was in my Tom Tom. It was hard programming the Tom Tom as I had no city or street or even Point of Interest. Sometimes these GPS systems are not up to snuff. Eventually I got it by starting off at Big Sur and then looking for a state park. Anyway the trip around the coast highway was just breath taking. The views of the cliffs and the sea. I wanted to stop and spend time drinking Gods beauty, the heavenly artist has given man a eternally changing canvas.


I arrived at my destination with only minutes to spare. I looked out at the rock perched way out in the distance. Never did I realise that a lighthouse was on this rock. I had driven this road over the years, I always saw the buildings afar off, but did not know that this was the site of Point Sur.




The Volunteer Guide came opened the gates and welcomed us. We had about 7 vehicles with approximately 2 people to a vehicle. We drove over some rough terrain to a parking spot at the base of the rock. The rock jutted upwards about 300ft. In our party we had mixed group of people, men and women ranging from mid 20's to early 60's and a few children.




We were to walk short distances, taking breather as our guide imparted some of the history around Point Sur. He talked about building hoists, rails, roads and any other ways of getting materials from the base to the top of the rock. He said the rock came from a volcanic eruption.




Along the way he showed us photographs of the early days, and of the blimp that came crashing down near Point Sur. It provided a nice distraction from the long trek upwards. This is not a journey for those who are physically challenged. A year ago I would not have made this climb, and in a sense its like the climb at Point Reyes. Not easy as you can appreciate from the photographs, and there is no way for the disabled to make the journey.




As we made our way to the top, two children in our party kept me on edge. I watched as the played and ran towards the edge of the cliff. On wrong move and they would have plunged to their deaths. They ranged between 4 & 8, brother and sister. If I was their parent I would have some harness on them. I knew from the expression on the faces of the other members of the party they where worried. Impending danger, I suppose is always on the mind of the mature person. Especially as our guide informed about the loss of life in building this lighthouse.


As we approached the top and rounded our last bend. The lighthouse and other buildings came into view. This looked historic as if we took a step into yesterday. By far this was the most interesting lighthouse. It can be hard to explain. The site is in pristine condition. Not two many people are allowed access at one time. The barrenness combined with the isolation and the weather all add up to experience. I know that two people will not report the same experience.




Once I had got to the top, I was enthralled by what I saw and the beauty of what I saw. This light station was by far the best lighthouse I had seen and I know I am I have a return journey in mind. From the workshops, water cisterns, living quarters, my sense of what the men and women who manned these quarters grew in respect. As my knowledge increased so did my respect.


By now I knew what a Fresnel lens is, I also knew about some of the barren areas these light keepers resided in. I have learnt they brought culture and learning with them into these barren environment. And lighthouse keepers had in their own way managed to cross the gender barrier.



History Time


The island point was 369 ft high and its top was approx 10-12 ft wide, surrounded by steep rock faced vertical cliffs. A stretch of soft faced sand connected the island to the mainland. Several ships was lost near this point,Ventura was such a ship lost in 1875. In 1935, 2 of the keepers witnessed the the destruction of the airship MACON. It crashed in 1450 ft of sea water. Of 83 crew, only 2 perished.

In 1886 after 11 years of petitioning, the U.S Lighthouse Board set aside a sum of money for the construction of a light station at Point Sur, about $100,000. Aug 1st 1889 the keys of the light station was turned over to head keeper and his 3 assistants. They manned the station 24/7 year
around, though all weather conditions.

Construction of the light station began in May 1887. A railroad was built to transport granite and supplies from a nearby quarry. One landward side it stretched up 319ft, and was over 700 ft long. On the seaward side a roadbed was blasted and the 500ft of track was laid to the towers site,272 ft above sea level. The top of the rock was leveled to make room for the main building, cistern and other buildings.
By Nov 1888, the 40 ft granite tower was nearly finished. Its adjoining rooms was ready to receive fuel storage and whistle or fog horn blowers. The first signal was twin steam whistles. Wood was burned to heat the boiler and produce the steam. air horns replaced the steam whistles . Whenever fog reduced visibility, the signals where used to warn that ships were in danger of hitting the rocks off shore. Then they ran out of money. New money was appropriated in 1889 and work resumed.

It was Aug 1 the first order Fresnel Lens beamed its light unto the Pacific West Coast. it was an alternating red and white beams at 15 seconds intervals. 1970s the lens was replaced by a aero beacon mounted on the roof of the fog signal room later moved into the tower. 1978, the Lens was disassembled and moved to the Maritime Museum of Monterrey for display.
The lens apparatus is 18 ft tall, the optical portion is almost 8 ft tall and 6 ft dia. The optic weighs 4,330 lbs. The apparatus has 16 panels of prisms, each with a "bulls eye" in the center surrounded by concentric rings of prismatic glass. Each ring projects a short distance beyond the previous one. Additional reflecting prisms are located above and below the center. As the cylinder of prisms turns, each panel "collects" and "bends" light into a single focused beam. Light from Point Sur's Fresnel lens was visible for 23 nautical miles.

The light station housed 4 Keepers and their families, they lived in a triplex of buildings on top of the rock. Each of the keepers was allotted an area to grow vegetables. A fence was built to protect the children. Their life was isolated and a teacher had to be brought in for the education of children. Due to high winds, both children and animals where tethered.
At the time the journey to Monterrey was both long and treacherous, so trips to Monterrey were rare.A horse and wagon was provided to retrieve mail and supplies from Pfeiffer's Resort. Every 4 months a 'lighthouse tender' brought bulk supplies coal, firewood, animal feed, and some food The ship would anchor south of the light station and send in a 20ft whaler towing a skiff, loaded with supplies. The supplies, sacks and barrels, boxes were hoisted in nets to a platform at the base of the rock. At the base they were loaded and then secured to a flat rail car, which was and winched up to the dwelling area using a steam-driven donkey engine. Point Sur was very self-sufficient.over time, isolation at Point Sur became less of a problem, after the completion of Highway One in 1937, it was a major factor in ending the treacherous journey to Monterrey.
1939, the U.S. Coast Guard assumed responsibility for all aids-to-navigation. Lighthouse employees were absorbed into the new program, and allowed to become either members of the U.S. Coast Guard or remain civil service employees. In the 1960s, the U.S. Coast Guard began LAMP in an effort to make more efficient use of their personnel. In 1974, the last keeper left Point Sur. Today a U.S. Coast Guard crew services the lighthouse regularly.

Reference:

California Lighthouses, Umbrella Guide, Sharlene and Ted Nelson
The History Of Point Sur
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