Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2019

From The Commodore

Uplifting Experiences

By Debra Baldwin


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Frederick P. Dillon

Upon arrival at the District Office in San Francisco, a trip on the Tender Sequoia was arranged to the cylindrical structure on Mile Rock at the entrance of San Francisco Bay. A long boom lay out horizontally over the water from the base of the tower. On the end of the boom was suspended a Jacob’s ladder. To climb this ladder from a small boat was a trick I had learned.

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A Coastguardsman climbing the Jacob’s ladder at ...

The only successful way of doing it was by the “heel and toe” method, otherwise it was practically impossible. The boom was equipped with two cables on top as hand rails. Even so, it took some skill to walk the boom to the tower base. The San Francisco Lightship off the entrance to the Bay was inspected, then out to Blunt’s Reef Lightship, and St. George Reef Light Station.

Here, fair weather or foul, where the ledge on which the station was built was so steep and the sea so turbulent that no large boat could come near the great circular masonry structure, the only way aboard from a small boat was from a line rigged out from a boom high up on the tower.

For me, a huge hook on the end of this line with a pennant hanging below was caught and pulled into the whale boat. I stepped in the hook and was hauled up and in by the winch on the platform some thirty feet above the water. It was perfectly safe, so I was told.

At Cape Spencer light station, I experienced a new type of lift by a 60-foot high boom high up on the rock. A small boat was lowered by the boom and hung just clear of the sea. The tender’s whale boat with me in it was carefully worked alongside. I stepped from the tender’s boat into the keeper’s boat and was whisked up, boat and all, to the deck near the station.

On board the Tender Heather, I went down the Columbia River to the Astoria Depot and to the Coast. As the tender drew near Tillamook Light Station high on a great rock straight up out of the sea, I asked the Captain, “How does one get up on that great pile? I don’t see any landing.”

At the base of the light station high on a platform, there was a giant A-frame and an 80-foot beam which the keepers were lowering over the surging sea. “Watch the keepers and you’ll see how it is done,” replied the Captain.

A whale boat was put over by the tender with the supplies. A slatted box was lowered from the end of the boom by the keepers. The whale boat was skillfully maneuvered under the box which was pulled aboard by the dangling pennant. The groceries were hastily loaded in the box and the signal given to the keepers to hoist, obeyed promptly, but not too promptly, for the box was swished through the top of a surging wave before it cleared.

I looked questioningly at the Captain. “Oh, it is perfectly safe,” he remarked reassuringly. “You might get a little wet.” I thought, “To get a little wet and be swung up at the end of that 80-foot boom might be safe enough. Who could tell?”

The disastrous storm of 1934 swept away the derrick, and waved-tossed rocks broke sixteen panels of the plate glass lantern 133 feet above normal high water. But I was luckier than the groceries. I was jerked up just in time and on return to the little boat, let down with a rush to avoid the surge of the sea. The sensation of being whipped through the air in this fashion is something to remember. But I had only seen a sample so far.

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2019 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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