Sunday, November 7, 2010

Point Diablo

Location: Point Diablo is located on a very steep headland about halfway between the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge (Point Lime) and Point Bonita

About 1.2 miles (2 km) west of the Golden Gate Bridge, accessible only by boat, site and tower closed to the public.

Latitude: 37° 49" 12'
Longitude: -122° 29" 56'
Status: Active
Year 1st Constructed: 1923
Year established: 1923
Automated: 1975
Tower Height: focal plane 85 ft above sea level.
Tower Shape: 1 story square building
Original Optic: Lens lantern
Current Optic: Navigation light mounted atop the building
Light characteristic: White Isophase (3 Seconds On, 3 Seconds Off);
Original construction: square 1-story wood fog signal building
Color: White with red roof
Fog horn: 12 inch electric Siren, Continuously operating fog signal (blast every 15 s).
Admiralty number: G4064
ARLHS number: USA-974
USCG number: 6-4250


This journey was a whale watching trip to the Farallon Islands. The start of the day was early morning; I had to rise around 6 am because I had to be at the Fisherman’s wharf around 8:00 am. The Whale watching tour leaves around 8:30 am. Eddie my brother, his 2 daughters Jamie and Laura accompanied me on this trip. Using his handicap parking, I found a parking spot near to area where the tour group was congregating. The weather looked great and the skies where blue with a few clouds.

When we arrived at the Hard Rock café on Pier 39, the group had already assembled, the time was about 8:15 am. Eddie went and got coffee for both of us while I settled the tickets with Joe the captain. This was my 2nd attempt to get the Farallon Islands the prior attempt was aborted when we reached Point Bonita and the Catamaran, Kitty hawk was only able to reach 11 knots instead of 18 knots, which meant it would take too long to get to the island, so to my chagrin we turned back.

As we departed from the pier, I had prepared my cameras with the lens I intended to use. I was armed with a 24-105mm on a 5D back. This enabled me to get some wide cityscapes, Alcatraz, Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. The harbor offered me some interesting views, with 50-60ft yachts moored in their piers and their masts juxtaposed against the high rise buildings of the city. Out on the bay, I had many opportunities to take wide angle pictures of the Bay Bridge, the city, Alcatraz, Angel Island and many other sights. As we drew near the Golden Gate Bridge I switched to my 100-400mm on a 7D Body, which allowed for a long reach. This I used for Point Lime, Fort Point and Mile Rock. Nearer to Point Diablo, I used a combination of lens to try and get the essence of this lighthouse. It appears a little more than an abandoned shack perched atop a forlorn rock, in the midst of the bay. The catamaran pulled into a cove close to Point Diablo, where people had the chance to see some harbor seals. I was bopping up and down with the rolling waves as I tried to get my images.Sometimes I would be catapulted as much as 2 feet off the deck. This became a challenge for image stabilisation, so I had to insure that I took plenty of shots.

Being familiar with the route, I was aware of the 6 lighthouses I would pass, Alcatraz, Point Lime, Fort Point, Point Diablo, Mile Rock and Point Bonita. I had already blogged on 5 of lighthouses and maybe someday in the future I will post updated photographs, so this gave me an opportunity to put my focus on Point Diablo. Just like Rubicon in Tahoe, this lighthouse site is not one of those which will go down in the annals of majestic Lighthouses, but it was a sentinel that once protected seafarers as they entered the bay. Today, it is powered by solar energy and perched upon the treacherous rocks as it performs its function as a coastal sentinel. Point Diablo is surrounded on all sides, by lighthouses of more famed history. Yet it has a forlorn beauty, a rawness of nature, an abandoned location, a wild landscape, and a less than friendly perch on the Marin rocks looking at the access points, you know that this is not a frequented area. The building itself looks as if it could do with a touch of paint.

Point Diablo cannot be accessed from land, and the Kitty Hawk provided me with the best opportunity to shoot it from water. The sky and the bay was more cooperative in that the waters where calmer and the sky had a deeper blue, not a dull grey. Point Diablo is the last light station before you enter the San Francisco. Bay; it has a lot of the feelings of mystique and barrenness that attract lighthouse followers. What is missing is the majestic grandeur of the coastal beacons. It does reveal the treacherous nature of the waters as ships enter the bay. It is still an active beacon. As the Kitty Hawk bobbed up and down in the cove near Point Diablo, I managed to fire of a few shots. Both of the seals in the harbor, the bridge and the lighthouse. I thought of how the lightkeepers managed to maintain this forlorn site. It was not attractive in the least. From this point you could see Fort point perched beneath the Golden Gate bridge, immersed in the glory of its past, Army, Bridge Building, Fire of San Francisco, Point Lime on the opposite end having Similar glory, Mile rock winning the heart of San Franciscans with its fog horn blare, Point Bonita, built the semblance of a sentinel of protection. Yet few people knew or even cared about this small outhouse lost in the midst of such glory and honor. All those lighthouses had ceased to be active, but this uncomely site was still performing its duty, unattended and mainly out of site to the general public.

I did manage to add a few more pictures of Point Bonita, Mile Rock and Fort Point to my collection and one day I will post an update to my blog. Spending the day on the bay was great and exciting. I met some wonderful people, Trish the boats naturalist, a blonde lady, I did not get her name but she was very cordial as we talked about my adventures with lighthouses. Trish was trying to get me to take pictures for the Kitty Hawk, solely for their use. Just beyond Point Bonita, Joe the captain reckoned we had too many sick people, so he decided that we would turn back. Once again we did not make it all the ways to the Farallon Islands, its not like a cruise ship that tourists take, it’s more of a nature hike. If anyone ever plans to make the journey, load up on motion sickness tablets.

Maybe the 3rd time will be lucky.


The 1800’s was to see the bay area transformed, the gold rush, statehood, and the growth of immigration and commerce was to put a strain on providing safe passage in and out of the bay.

1901: The Steamer City of Rio De Janeiro, struck the rocks near Point Diablo, Southeast of Point Bonita. 128 passengers lost their lives. The steamer quickly filled with water and sank to the dark murky waters of the bay. It had approached the bay in the darkness of the night and dense foggy weather. The deceased captain and the pilot where found guilty of gross negligence. It was later discovered that a rich passenger had influenced the pilot.

1923: This navigational hazard was marked by the lighthouse. The keepers at Point Lime were given the extra task of maintaining a minor light placed on Point Diablo, 1.2 miles west of Point Lime. A small shack with a red roof was erected on the sloping point. A 12 inch electric siren and two lens lanterns were installed approximately 80 ft above the bay.

1962: the U.S. Coast Guard petitioned the Army for the transfer of ownership of the land beneath four aids to navigation; Point Lime Light Station, Point Bonita Light Station, Point Diablo Light and Yellow Bluff Light and “rights of four sites, located on Army property of Forts Baker, Barry and Cronkite.

2007: The U.S. Coast Guard was seeking to transfer this and four other area light stations to the National Park Service.

2010: An array of solar panels now powers the modern beacon positioned atop the shack.

1. Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993.

CA Parks

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