Thursday, February 3, 2011

Farallon Island Lighthouse

Location: Farallon Island, California Located on the highest point of the island about 25 miles (40 km) west of the Golden Gate.

Directions: The island is closed to the public as a bird sanctuary, but the lighthouse can be seen from Oceanic Society half-day cruises to observe wildlife in the area. Site and tower closed.).

Coordinates 37°41′57″N 123°00′07″W37.69915°N 123.00184°WCoordinates: 37°41′57″N 123°00′07″W37.69915°N 123.00184°W
Year first lit: 1855
Active: Yes
Automated: 1972
Keepers Dwelling: 3 brick.The original keeper's house was demolished in 1969;
Other Buildings: Two 1876 keeper's houses (Victorian wood duplexes), two cisterns, oil house, handcart railway
Foundation: Brick
Construction: Brick
Tower shape: white Conical
Height: 41 ft (12.5 m)
Focal plane: 358 ft (109 m);
Original lens: First order Fresnel lens, lantern removed; on display at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Museum on Fisherman's Wharf
Current lens: Vega VRB aerobeacon.
Fog Signal: Wave-activated fog whistle developed by Major Hartman Bache -- a steam engine whistle mounted over a natural blowhole (1859-1871).
Characteristic: Flashing white once every 15s
Admiralty number: G4014
ARLHS number: USA-281
USCG number: 6-0355
Owner: U.S. Coast Guard.
Site manager: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Farallon National Wildlife Refuge)


The 3rd time was a charm; accompanying me on this trip were my son and daughter Mark and Lydia. Once again an early rise and our eventful drive to an expensive parking lot near Pier 39. When I departed from my home, I left with the impression I had plenty of time to spare, before catching our boat; But when I arrived in San Francisco, the bay to breakers race was taking place. This was not appropriate; I had to find an alternative route to get to Pier 39, the police had set up barriers and blocked my route to pier 39. I was blessed that Mark and Lydia where with me as they know the city pretty well. We snaked our way through the city streets until we got to the Embarcadero. From there it was easy to continue our journey uninterrupted. We had just witnessed that at this early hour people will and continue to make themselves objects of ridicule and think it’s cool. I suppose it’s the undirected energy of youth.

I watched as they pushed their makeshift creations, my eardrums where bombarded by wild unintelligible yells as the revelers trundled down the streets, and could comprehend the departure of intelligence as they mindlessly made spectacles of themselves, looking for their 5 minutes of TV. I was once just as crazy, and sometimes regret the things I done as a young person, if only I could redirected that energy for a more creative purpose, who knows, time to move on. It was early morning and their was a chill in the air, we where cutting it a bit close, Lydia got out and headed for the Hard rock café, Mark & I , parked the SUV and retrieved our packs. We arrived as the group was preparing to leave. I took my precursory shots leaving the bay and hoped this would be the day that we made it to the Island. I had plenty of motion sickness aids with me.

This time we had a new guide, a little stricter on the dos & don’ts of the trip. At the same time she divulged more information about the sea life that we where visiting. The waters where calm as we proceeded out under the Golden Gate bridge and the passengers where not appearing to be sea sick. We stopped in the cove near Point Diablo to look the Sea Lions & Elephant seals that still congregated their as a colony. From Point Diablo it was a straight run to the Islands, on the way a young man called Zachery adopted me. He was a very pleasant and intelligent young man. He shared his exploits of where he had been and his excitement at sharing this trip with his class mates. I think he was about 10 years old.

It was an uneventful journey grey skies and grey water; looking back I could see the rapid retreat of the coastline. Finally I was on the part of the journey where there was no return. I sat inside the cabin, enjoyed some coffee and sandwiches, and my conversation with the young man and his mother. Apparently she was a military mom stationed near Sacramento. It’s this part of a trip do you find out who you travelling with. I looked out the cabin door to see Mark and Lydia wrapped up in blankets trying to keep warm and dry.

The first view of the island was that of a forlorn place; An Island of a small series of craggy rocks; and very isolated and hostile to human habitation. It definitely had the appearance of civilization returning to the wild. I watched with expectation as neared the Island, what would we find. Most people had come to view whales, my journey was for the remnants of the light that once guarded and protected the boats that entered the bay of San Francisco. Soon I was to see the buildings that still exist on the Island. I knew I was not going to get on the Island as it is a protected habitat for the Birds and marine life that live out here
I felt alive, my being was energized and the juices where flowing. I drank in my surroundings and did not worry about the grayness of my environment, I was surrounded by nature. Everyone had gathered at the front of the boat. I moved to the back. I wanted freedom to move around and take my shots. Later on I found out that many of the people could not take good pictures due to many reasons. I also learnt a lot about photography and water, it was another skill level to be mastered. To be brief, Landscape is not the same as waterscape. I got some Californian Sea Lions, Murre Birds, and Whales & Tufted Puffin: They where the most colorful birds. They nest in the crevices of the islands Around 50 pairs nest on the Farallones, which are the southernmost extent of their range. This deserves a return trip, probably in the fall.

Then there was the return journey, it did not take as long as going out. Quickly our catamaran skips over the choppy waves and made its way to the shores of the San Francisco Bay. Mile rock was propped on the Horizon and Fort Point sat majestically under the bridge. As we entered the bay, we arrived in the midst of a sail boat race and provided some beautiful images. The Golden Gate Bridge, sitting under a magnificent blue sky and to the south the City of San Francisco displayed its distinguishing pyramid building proudly erect on the skyline. The bay was filled with hundreds of sailboats, many flying colorful spinnakers. It’s a pity most of these shots will never see daylight. I said goodbye to my little friend Zachery and promised him some pictures. And I then headed off for something to eat on the wharf. To finish on a sour note, Lydia noticed that we where charged 3.5% of the bill for San Francisco’s health care. I am now boycotting the San Francisco restaurants. On top of that I had to stomach the high price of parking, I did not leave my heart in San Francisco, and it was gouged

1565 the Farallones where geographical markers for Spanish Ships that searched the world for treasures. They began trade with the Philippines; the islands became lifesaving navigational markers for their return journey
1579:: It is believed that the Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hinde, anchored on the Farallones, to replenish their food supply with fresh meat. He named them “Islands of Saint James.

1603Friar on a Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino expedition wrote 6 leagues before reaching Point Reyes is a large island, 2 leagues from land & 3 leagues northwest of this are 7 Farallones ("rocks out of the sea") close together. Vizcaino drew the first maps of the Island.

1812: Bostonian Fur trade; a group passed near Point Reyes and the Farallones. They found the islands contained an abundance of fur seals and sea lions.  In a short period of time more than 200,000 fur seals were slaughtered. The war ended the Bostonian Fur trade but the Russians continued hunting. For the next 30 years hunters would habitat on the islands, hunting the seals for their pelts. When the populations of fur seals where depleted from over-hunting, the hunters departed. By the mid-1800s the sounds of fur seals, elephant seals and sea lions was gone

1848: California cedes to the US in the Guadalupe-Hidalgo treaty. The port of San Francisco had increased traffic due to the Gold Rush.

1852The gold rush brought a huge incursion of people into California. Ships filled with immigrants teamed into the bay. As they passed the Farallones many encountered rough waters and shipwrecks became commonplace. The U.S. Lighthouse Service decided to construct a lighthouse for ships entering the bay. The southeast peak of the island was the chosen site. Clippers like the Golden City which sailed from New York in 1852 reported that she was detained 5 days off the Farallones in fog. The growth of San Francisco population saw the need for eggs. The chickens could not lay them fast enough, so the eggs from the murre Birds on the Farallones which where in plenty, where harvested by a Pacific Egg Company.

1855 DecThe lighthouse shines its beacon on the west coast for the 1st time. It is considered to be one of the highest lights in California. The Farallon Island Lighthouse was built on highest peak of the southeast Farallon. When construction of the tower was complete, it was too small to house a 1st order Fresnel lens, the tower had to be razed and rebuilt. Quarry Stone for the building of the lighthouse was taken from the island. Construction workers faced many obstacles on the islands from the extreme sharp slopes to the jagged rocks. With back breaking labor, men hauled the bricks for the tower in bundles of 4 & 5 on their backs up the steep slopes. Later a mule was used to haul supplies around the station. The mule became the oldest inhabitant of the Island. As a supplement to their meager wages, construction workers and lighthouse keepers, collected murre eggs for food and to market to the San Francisco community as another revenue stream. Many buildings where constructed on the island, first to house only the keepers; during the 1880s their families joined them. Over the next 60 years the Island became home to the many families that lived on the main southeast Farallon Island, under the shadow of the lighthouse. Life was hard on the Island, medical help was 26 miles away and the sea was not always friendly. Disease often swept through unexpectedly, often afflicting children, sometimes causing death. Families had animal’s goats, donkeys and pigs. They tried to plant gardens and trees. A small school was built for the children, and they endured the same events as those on the mainland -- death, disease, birth, gaiety -- they were a tightly woven community of keepers and their kin. The Chronicle has a good write up

1871: Fog signal was replaced by a steam-powered signal. The original Fog signal was unique; it was powered by air compressed through a natural blowhole. The signal suffered the shortcoming of being noiseless in quiet sea – a time when fog often appears.

1881: Pacific Egg Company is evicted

1900: Weather Bureau sets up a radio station.

1909: President Theodore Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 1043 in, creating the Farallon Reservation, protecting the northern islands of the chain.

1913: Navy took over the Weather Bureau buildings. They put buildings on the Island for their staff and radio equipment

1939: The United States Coast Guard took over the lighthouse. Coast Guardsmen replaced the lighthouse keepers

1942: Residents increase to 78 living on the Island, most ever.

1944: SS Henry Bergh, a troop ship, hit the west end of the Islands, all hands where saved

1953: Lighthouse is automated

1961: The 1st Order Fresnel lens was replaced by a automated aerobeacon, the beacon was placed atop of the tower. All families removed from the Island

1967: Biologists come to the island to study nature.

1970: The light is fully updated, eliminating the need for any tending.

1972: The lantern room is removed. The Coast Guard ceases operations; the last guardsman leaves the Island. The Island quickly restores its natural wilderness

2010: Today the lighthouse perched on the Southeast peak is the perfect vantage spot for scientists, as they observe the increasing population of bird life and marine life.


Nps Gov
Farallon Island Marine Sanctuary
The California Academy of Sciences maintains a Farallon Web Cam
Lighthouse Explorer has a photo,
the Coast Guard has a historic photo showing the former lantern,
The San Francisco Chronicle has info on the history of the islands and the lighthouse.
Historical Information from Coast Guard web site:

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