At Graves, you can always see when it’s about to rain.
Dramatic sea rescue! Proof that no matter how well you know Graves Ledge, the area is always treacherous.
Saturday’s calm seas beckoned us to the lighthouse for a maintenance check. Within an hour, a bit of wind sprang up and pulled Miss Cuddy II off her mooring to be thrown mercilessly onto the ledge, roiling in the surf and battering her hull.
These former Coast Guard Defender-class boats are built to take a wicked beating. Their work on Graves Light put them through the toughest tests..
We lost Miss Cuddy I in 2018 due to powerful seas that dragged her mooring and dashed her hull on the ledge. So we turned her into a barge to finish reconstruction work on Graves, and sadly scrapped her last year.
So on Saturday, March 28, 2018, the seas broke Miss Cuddy II from her mooring and slammed her viciously into the basalt ledge.
But just as quickly as bad luck strikes, good luck came our way. The mighty men of Boston Scuba, passing by after work on their trusty dive boat Keep-ah, noticed our plight. Using their expert seamanship they threw us a line and towed us off the rocks to the safety of deeper water.
The culprit: The new mooring had been chewed down to a thread below water, a grim reminder of the relentless power of the North Atlantic.
We raise a glass to our rescuers Cap’t Jim and Master Diver Luigi! Thank you for saving Miss Cuddy II!
We get a lot of questions about how much of a pounding this or that modification or reconstruction will take from the sea.
A lot of engineers and others helped us think things through before we drew up the plans and went to work.
This diagram shows the load calculations on the Oil House, with its new second story.
We built a new timberframe roof to replace the old, and added stainless steel reinforcements which the original roof didn’t have.
The precast marine concrete walls of the second floor are heavily reinforced and interlock with one another. They are bolted six feet into the ledge below.
Nearby pilings for the footbridge are made from 6-inch reinforced stainless steel pipe, welded to the original US Army Corps of Engineers steel pilings that were drilled six feet into the ledge. The original ones worked perfectly for decades until a big storm snapped them off like twigs.
The windows will be protected from hurricanes by anti-ballistic shutters.
That’s the plan, of course. The sea will decide for herself what works.
From the mainland four miles away, our friend Sean Foley shows how quickly the view of the lighthouse can change.
At sunrise on March 2, Sean caught calm seas reflecting a brilliant orange sky.
The next day, with Riley Gale surging, Sean caught a huge wave hitting Graves Light, sending up spray more than 100 feet. Graves Light is 118 feet high.
Sean and other photographers on shore are generous about sharing their photos with us. Thanks, friends.
The gale pummeled Graves Light as the 27 foot seas smashed into the ledge, sending spray 117 feet to the very top.
This little clip shows the amazing power of nature. Like a great hand, a wave reaches up 20 feet to the dock, plucks the shed that was bolted to the timbers below, and drags it into the surf. See the video here on our Facebook page.
All the gear inside went to Davy Jones. Lighthouse insurance? What’s that?
It’s no great loss, when you think about it. Many people along the coast lost their cars and homes, and at least seven lost their lives.
We finally got to spend stay in the lighthouse during a winter nor’easter.
The storm, Stella, was pretty tame, as it turned out, but with some good preparation and common sense we had a fine time.
Cap’n Pat of the Keep-ah joined us just before the storm, when the seas were still calm.
We were well-equipped. Plenty of bacon and beans. Lots of spirits to drink. Wood and coal for the potbelly stove. An electric generator plus solar panels and good communications to shore.
Plus lots of work to do.
For us, it was a normal winter trip. Basic maintenance, wood finishing work, attachment of bronze window hardware, and stuff. It was good to be in the lighthouse during a solid rain so that we could find where the windows leaked, and seal them up.
Earlier, Keeper Dave installed an anemometer on the chimney so we could get real-time wind speed.
We didn’t realize so many people were following us on Facebook, and didn’t think to take a lot of pictures or send messages. Here are some of our Facebook postings during the storm:
- March 14, 2017. 4:28 pm: It’s a dangerous place to go to but it’s a very safe place to be.
- March 14, 10:42 pm: The waning hours of the nor’easter Stella. Dead low tide opened a window to crawl across the ledge with safety lines and dry suits to witness the heavy surf. The wind and rain have calmed, but it’s still an amazing, wild and exciting place.
- March 15, 6:42 pm: Yesterday we didn’t do anything productive. Just watched the storm all day and then went exploring on the ledge at dusk (and low tide) in our dry suits. We brought a few lengths of line in case somebody slipped. No one did!
Today we slept late because the sleeping bags are so warm! Did a bunch of chores today – put the paneled ceiling back up after running some plumbing and electrical lines, put on some cabinet knobs, ran a cold water line up the six stories. (See the exciting pictures.) Now I’m installing an improved method of securing the storm shutters. The ribs are going on the stove in an hour!
- March 15, evening: Cap’n Pat of the Keep-ah took care of all the food. Tonight it’s ribs and baked beans on the wood-fueled potbelly stove. We’re mostly burning wood as we haven’t figured out the secret to getting the coal fire hot enough.
- For those of you kind enough to worry about us, we’ve got a propane heater for the kitchen. It’s well ventilated because the room was designed to allow outside air in thru snorkel vents.
- Pat’s streaming some great Pandora feeds – we found one of the old Nova Scotia sea shanties.
- What REAL lighthouse work is like: Cap’n Pat splices an old length to a genuine US Lighthouse Establishment (USLHE) pulley block, so we can hang the oil lamp in the kitchen. The lantern is repurposed from a USLHE dock lantern.
- Pat did a fine job, of course. The lantern fits right in beneath the First Order Fresnel Lens that forms our kitchen ceiling, right below the operating Coast Guard navigation lamp.
Thwarted by ill weather over the weekend, the dauntless crew of Lynn, Randy, John and Dave today installed the remaining 12 feet of stovepipe and added an anemometer to measure wind speed.
The top of the bronze chimney is salvaged from an old yacht. The rest of it, we built.
A wonderful view of the frosty harbor from the very top!
A stunning February morning finds CLE Engineers surveying Graves Ledge in preparation for a new landing area and improved access to the treacherous island.
Mike recorded over 300 points so Carlos can generate a 3D topographic map.
The map will be the basis for designing and permitting compliant structures which will make life a lot easier out here.
Critical aspects: Anything we build must be in harmony with the natural and historic aesthetic of the property.
It also must be strongly built to withstand the harshest North Atlantic weather.
We camped the night of August 12-13 at Graves, in the middle of a spectacular electrical storm that swept New England.
From our position at the top of the lighthouse, we had the perfect place to watch the lightning near closer and closer to Boston, and then sweep across from Plymouth to Salem as the bolts of electricity struck the earth closer and closer to us.
At that point, given that we were at the highest point, more than 100 feet above the sea, and happened to be in a bronze enclosure that conducts electricity, we thought it better to descend to the stone tower. And we didn’t have a proper camera to catch the lightning show anyway.
At the same time, from Winthrop, Boston Herald photographer Mark Garfinkel rolled out of bed and set up his tripod to catch the lightning action over Graves. Above is his picture, a masterful piece of photography that captured the Graves beacon flashing as the lightning struck.
What a magnificent show of the power and majesty of nature.
See Mark’s blog, PictureBoston.com, and follow him on Twitter @PictureBoston.