Tuesday, August 4, 2009

ST. GEORGE REEF LIGHT


Location: Six miles off Point St. George
Coordinates: WGS-84 (GPS) 41°50′11″N 124°22′33″W41.83633°N 124.37587°W
Year first constructed: 1891
Year first lit: 1892
Deactivated: 1975
Foundation: Elliptical concrete granite
Construction: Granite blocks
Tower shape: Square
Markings/Pattern: White with black lantern
Height: 90 ft
Focal Height: 144 ft
Original lens: First Order Fresnel lens, 1892 (Removed in 1983)
Admiralty number: G4418
ARLHS number: USA-793



The Journey


On the next leg of my journey, from Battery Point, I set off to find St Georges Reef. I knew this lighthouse was somewhere offshore near Cresent City, but I did not know how far offshore. I made my way up town and found a star bucks, as of yet I had no real breakfast. Pulled out my netbook and headed in for a cup of coffee. I was amazed at all the hi-techies that where in the coffee shop. Cell phones, blue tooth, laptops and old and young talking geek. Facebook was on everyone’s lips. You had to be there to sense the eeriness of this. I am all the way up in the mountains, way out in middle of the boonies and at the same time, stuck in the hi–tech world of computers. It looks as I came out of the dark ages.


I grab my coffee and scone, sit down, plug in my netbook. Post a few pictures and some anecdotal on facebook. I take my time, just get my bearings and see which direction I am going in. This time my GPS takes the address, and it seems that I am heading in the opposite direction, no problem just turn around. Just before I leave, I observe a mom, her dad and her daughter, mom is frustrated with facebook as a service, daughter around 10 is correcting her and dad is nodding along. He is advising to use her berry to post, he likes twitter. The husband comes along, he is carrying her laptop, and his side holder is loaded with a blackberry which attached to his blue tooth ear piece, someone shouting that their iphone is not working. I think its time to go.


In the parking lot I shoot a few pictures and head on my way. I directed towards the coast and backwards, I pass a small airport. I get a strong sense that I am not too far from Battery Point. I see the coast and progress along a narrow road. I come to main parking lot, with some buildings and a radio tower. Off load my cameras. Bring my 400mm with a 2.0 extender. I get to the beach, and I don’t see the lighthouse. I watch some people pick shells, and a couple of surfers catch a couple of waves. I was a little disappointed that I did not even see the lighthouse. I looked again, and on the horizon, I could barely make out the shape. The fog had lightened a little. So I searched for a spot where I could perch my body and my lens. I laid myself on the ground hoping I could find a stable spot for the lens.




I found a spot that I could focus, way out there, at least a mile. I could hit the rock with my focus, use a fstop of around 11 and hope what ever I get would come out. I was not looking for a perfect picture just something. I stayed for about an hour and watched as the fog got denser. I packed up and headed back to my car. I decided to use my 120 and take shots of the area, the buildings reminded me of a light station keepers house. And the radio tower of the LAMP system. I got back to my car and finished off my coffee. Then I saw the lighthouse pop out from the fog. I rushed to get my camera and lens. Took a few from the hood of my car. Headed back across the fields to an area where I had a better view. Used a gorilla pod as a tripod. Put my camera in a Mirror lockup and a 10 sec timer. Made sure I had enough exposure, then ever so gingerly made a composition and took some pictures. I knew I would not have the detail or color, but I could turn this into something of an abstract form. Definitely produce this picture as a black and white with grain.
I was content as I left, I know I will be back and I will find a way to get closer.





History


The history of this lighthouse is closely tied to the lighthouse at Battery Point. Because Battery Point was not able to provide enough coverage and adequately guide the ships through the treacherous reefs to the harbor, St George Reef Lighthouse was built. 6 miles offshore, this sentinel was hit by ocean waves on all sides. Sometimes the waves totally encompassed the light, its bright beacon and fog signal echoed warnings to nearby vessels of the treacherous rocks and reefs on the coastline. After the destruction of the Brother Jonathan in 1865 and the loss of 215 souls, and public outcry spurred the lighthouse board to take action, 1875 the board planned to build at Point St George, 1881 the light’s location was selected, it was Seal Rock off Point St George; The area was initially name Dragon Rocks by an Englishman George Vancouver, later to be renamed St George Reef (St George was a dragon slayer) , the area had a history of serious maritime accidents. 1882, The first complete survey of the rock was done, however, this site, presented many challenges to its construction, continuously being battered by stormy waves, this gave rise to dangerous conditions for construction, and for duties of light keepers. Several construction workers died, and many of the light keepers resigned or looked for transfers, due to the intense isolation others suffered nervous breakdowns. 1883, M.A. Ballantyne, was hired as the engineer, and upon a small rugged rock of 300 ft in diameter, construction was started, with the blasting of the rock into a stepped pyramid to form the core that anchored the caisson to the rock. The foundation of the tower and the tower itself is made from solid blocks of concrete and granite. Mad River near Humboldt Bay provided the granite boulders for the stone, an estimated 1339 granite blocks were cut. A cable with attached cage was rigged between the schooner LaNinfa and the rocks. This served as a means of transporting workers to the rock - and quickly back again in the event of an impending storm. The enormous stone foundation – formed a pier 60ft high built of cut rocks each weighing about six tons. The pier was home to an engine room, coal house, and cistern. Due to lack of funds, Construction was on and off for several years. Work continued, but slowly and at great cost. The initial surveyors were only able access the rocks three times in four weeks due to the severe weather at the reef. First $100,000 was allocated, but work was suspended after 1885, when funding to dry up. The first estimate for the project of $330,000 was grossly under estimated. 1884 it received only $30,000 and about the same in 1885. 1887 $120,000 was appropriated and work was able to proceed at a faster pace.


1891, the building was completed. The Light station was a medieval like fortress with the light tower on top of a 50-ft high foundation. 100yrs years after being named the Dragon Rocks, St. George had finally arrived to slay the Dragon.



Oct 20th 1892, when the 8ft 1st order Fresnel lens arrived from France, its Beacon was first lit. Proudly it stood 144 ft above sea shining brightly out to sea, flashing alternating red and white. Manned by a crew of six, A 1,000,000 candlepower lamp, and a two-tone diaphone fog signal and in later days a marker radio beacon, was her armament against disaster to shipping. The final price tag was $752,000, this was the most costly lighthouse built in the US. The lighthouse was supplied by boat and it was hooked to a large boom, which lifted it to a boat deck at the base of the caisson. Waves routinely crested over the top deck of the caisson, 1923, huge seawall broke on the platform, 70ft above water, with power as to dislodge the donkey engine house from its foundation, and in 1952 storm waves smashed the windows in the tower which housed the lantern and the seawater came pouring down the staircase. Lighthouse duty at the St George light station was hazardous and light keepers families were not allowed. The tower was foreboding, frosty and unwelcoming. Violent Storms was the norm, and light keepers were on a rotational shift – on and off for several weeks at a time. Only when the weather was calm did relief arrive, they could be trapped on the rock for long periods. The harsh surroundings stressed the associations of the friendliest keepers, in 1937 for stranded for 59 days, keepers who had been friends for many a year, would no longer communicate with each another, even when eating.



Several died while acting as light keeper at the station, George Roux died of exhaustion after trying to reach the light station by boat. 1893, another keeper died. 1951, while the station boat was being lowered a wave struck, and the boat broke from its moorings and dropped the men into the water. Three men died in the accident.



1975, the light station decommissioned; in its place was a large navigational floating buoy. 1983, Fresnel lens was moved to the Del Norte County Historical Museum in Crescent City. 1996, the St. George Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society took over the lighthouse and is performing ongoing restoration.
Oct 19th, 2002, the lighthouse was relit as a private aid to navigation. In honor of his late wife colleen, Glenn Williamson donated the optic. 2006, the society is continuing restoration work. The challenge is enormous. Worker are shuttled by helicopter to the rock, their tasks includes painting, plastering, restoration of railings, staircases, windows, shutters, plumbing and power..
The lighthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was commemorated on a USPS postage stamp in 2007.


References



California Lighthouses, Roberts, Jones, pp. 9-11
Legendary Lighthouses, Grant, Jones, vol. I. pp. 109-110
America's Lighthouses - An Illustrated History, Holland, pp. 171-172
Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Nelson [2nd ed.] pp. 169-172
Battery Point and St. George Reef Webber pp. 63-83
The Keeper's Log Winter 2003, Fall 2003, Winter 2006
Lighthouse Digest January/February 2006

links



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