Grim reminder that it’s not all fun out here

The wrecked Emily Anne sat upside down in 50 feet of water.

The wrecked Emily Anne sat upside down in 50 feet of water.

The realities of the sea and weather remind us that not everything’s as fun as it seems at the mouth of Boston Harbor.

A salvage team just raised the wreck of Emily Anne, the trusty tugboat that helped us with restoration work in 2014. The tug sank just north of Graves Light in February, 2016. A quick-thinking pilot boat captain saved Emily Anne‘s crew as she sank, upside-down, in 50 feet of water.

Because the hulk was so close to the North Channel, the Coast Guard recommended that Emily Anne be raised so it wouldn’t be a threat to navigation. And so she was, in early June, with a crane pulling her to the surface and placing her on a barge.

From there, the barge took Emily Anne to a graving yard in Chelsea, where she’ll be broken up and sold for scrap.

These pictures tell the story of the salvage operation, with a couple shots from happier days when she helped with the Graves Light restoration in 2014.

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Engineer who removed original Fresnel lens returns to Graves

Engineer Ron Fiore explains to Dave how he devised the system to remove the original Fresnel Lens from Graves.

On the deck of Graves Light for the first time since 1975, engineer Ron Fiore explains to Dave how he devised the system to remove the original Fresnel Lens from Graves.

Well, the best part of this whole lighthouse experience continues to be all the great people we meet.

Today we met Ron Fiore, the structural engineer who devised the method of removing the gigantic First Order Fresnel lens back in 1975.

That lens blasted out a 3.2 million candlepower beam for 70 years straight. The lamp required a full-time crew to operate and maintain, so the Coast Guard had it taken out and replaced with an automated electric beacon.

Ron told us all the details about how he built a custom crane to gently lower the priceless lens – it weighed 2 tons and measured 12 feet tall and 9 feet across – down one story into the watch room.

Then he and the crew removed part of a wall to slide the lens past the sloping tower and drop it 60 feet to the dock, where a Coast Guard boat plucked it onto the deck. 

Legendary New England maritime history author Edward Rowe Snow made an appearance, instructing the crew to wave (as he was filming the feat) but the workers were too busy – and scared – to respond.

The next year Ron and his wife visited the lens again, this time at the Smithsonian!

The Fresnel lens was made in France by Barbier, Benard & Turenne in 1904, and was installed in 1905. After the 1975 removal, the Coast Guard installed an automated electric beacon, powered from land by an underwater cable. That cable broke, so in 2001 the Coast Guard installed the present solar-powered lamp, the Hydrosphere Vega VRB-25, made in the U.K.

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Art Milmore, completing Edward Rowe Snow’s unfinished work, visits Graves

Author and speaker Art Milmore (center) on Graves Ledge at low tide with Lynn and Dave.

Author and speaker Art Milmore (center) on Graves Ledge at low tide with Lynn and Dave.

Arthur Milmore, the respected author and speaker, toured Graves Light Station with us last weekend.

He was a good friend of New England maritime historian Edward Rowe Snow, and is completing Snow’s unfinished book about the wreck of the Portland, the side paddle wheel steamship lost in 1898 with all 190 people aboard.

In the greatest of Snow traditions, Art regaled us with seafaring tales and even installed a few of those bronze skylights in the lantern room.

 

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Castle Morro lighthouse keeper in Havana gives Graves Light a tour

The keeper of the Castle Morro lighthouse in Havana, Cuba, shows us the original 1845 Fresnel lens.

The keeper of the Castle Morro lighthouse in Havana, Cuba, shows us the original 1845 Fresnel lens. Manually wound every 3 hours, the lens sits on its original pool of mercury for smooth rotation.

As authentic as it gets: Graves Light got an up-close look at the historic 1744 Castle Morro lighthouse in Havana harbor, Cuba, and saw an original Fresnel lens in about as original a state as possible.

Enrizio, keeper of the Havana lighthouse, takes us on a visit through Castle Morro.

Enrizio, keeper of the Havana lighthouse, takes us on a visit through Castle Morro.

On a quick visit to the island last weekend, Graves Light keepers Lynn and Dave talked their way into the lighthouse just as the Morro keeper was reporting for duty.

The light is closed to the public. Lunchpail in hand, Enrizio, the friendly keeper, gave us fellow keepers a tour and took us up to the lantern room.

It was like climbing back in time. What appears to be the original Third Order bivalve Fresnel lens is still in operation.

The lens was made in about 1845 by BBT Paris, the same manufacturer of the old First Order lens at Graves Light, which is now at the Smithsonian Institution.

The keeper fired up the early hand-cranked motor that spins the lens, which still floats smoothly on its mercury bath. Half the windows in the lantern room are cracked or broken out, but the lens produces a brilliant double white flash every 15 seconds. The mechanism is still manually wound every three hours.

The lens was modified by “the French” in the 1950s with the addition of small reflecting panels to bend some of the beam 45 degrees upward so that aircraft could navigate by its light. Other than those panels and an electric lamp that uses a 70 watt halogen bulb, the entire apparatus appears completely original.

Each evening, the keeper withdraws the curtains and engages the mechanism to spin the lens. By day, the curtains are drawn to prevent the sun from entering the lens and starting a fire inside.

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Lafayette’s warship visits Boston Harbor

L'Hermione passes Graves Light while entering Boston Harbor. Photo by Richard Green.

L’Hermione passes Graves Light while entering Boston Harbor. Photo by Richard Green.

What an exciting Independence Day we had this year, with a visit from the French sailing ship L’Hermione.

A new reproduction of the French warship that the great Marquis de Lafayette took to America to announce France’s military support for the American Revolution, L’Hermione paid a goodwill visit to the east coast of the United States this summer.

We first caught up with L’Hermione during its visit to Baltimore, toured the ship, and talked to the captain and crew. When L’Hermione made its way north and arrived in Boston Harbor on July 10, Graves Light saluted her with the French tricolor. L’Hermione responded with a tweet.

It was a great occasion to commemorate Lafayette’s historic voyage and show her our appreciation to France for saving our new country during the American Revolution.

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Too close for comfort: The day Army artillery shook Graves Light

Doc 1 May 24 1937Artillery practice before World War II caused one shell to land too close to Graves Light, prompting the Superintendent of Lighthouses to issue a sternly worded letter to the Commanding Officer in Boston.

The 1937 incident was the only time the granite tower was ever shaken.

It happened on May 21 of that year, when the Army’s coastal defense force at Fort Banks in Winthrop practiced shelling Boston Harbor’s narrow outlet to the sea, apparently to ensure that they could strike at any enemy ships trying to enter the port.

The thunderous artillery practice had shattered the keepers’ dinner plates at Graves Light.

Fort Banks was home at the time to two batteries of huge Endicott 1890M1 mortars to defend Boston Harbor against enemy warships.

A total of 16 mortars provided a formidable defense for the harbor. Each mortar was 12-inch caliber, meaning that each fired an explosive shell 12 inches in diameter. Each shell contained between 700 and 1,046 pounds of explosives. Each mortar could hurl the shell between 7 and 9 miles.

A researcher at the National Archives in Washington has discovered carbon copies of the letters exchanged between the US Light House Service and the Department of War from May and June, 1937, settling a matter between the artillerymen and the Graves Light keepers.

The correspondence shows that at about 1:30 on the afternoon of May 21, 1937, the keeper at The Graves phoned his superintendent in Chelsea that during artillery practice from Fort Banks, one shell landed within 200 yards of the lighthouse.

That resulted in a phone call to the commanding officer at Fort Banks, who made sure it wouldn’t happen again.

It seems that no further incidents occurred, though the recorded correspondence, typed on manual typewriters and sent via the Postal Service, took some delays that in retrospect seem curious.

Doc 1 May 24 1937Three days after the incident, on May 24, Light House Superintendent George E. Eaton in Chelsea, sent a letter to the Commanding Officer of the First Corps Area responsible for Fort Banks. (Doc 1 May 24 1937)

Eaton described the matter, making a correction about the distance of the target zone from the lighthouse.

Politely, but with what seems to be a taint of sarcasm, Eaton said that on receiving the phone call on May 21, “the officer in charge at Fort Banks was accordingly communicated with and assurance obtained that further shooting operations would be conducted in the proper direction.”

The lighthouse superintendent then spared no words to express his concern:

“The above is invited to your attention for such action as you may dispose to take in so far as issuing official instructions to the proper parties to make definitely sure that future similar maneuvers will be so carried on as to obviate any possibility of damage or other embarrassment being suffered by the relatively numerous lighthouses and other aids to navigation located in the vicinity in question.”

On the copy retained by the Commissioner of Lighthouses, someone scrawled in the margin, “Entirely too many chances taken with this sort of thing apparently.”

Doc 2 June 15 1937Three weeks later, on June 15, Colonel Clark Lynn, Adjutant General at Headquarters, First Corps Area in Boston, responded formally. (Doc 2 June 15 1937)

“No previous acknowledgement was made,” said COL Lynn, “due to the fact that your letter indicated that the Commanding Officer, Harbor Defenses of Boston, Fort Banks, Massachusetts, had been notified by telephone.”

The colonel assured the light house superintendent that instructions had been issued “to prevent any possible recurrence in the future.”

The same day he received COL Lynn’s letter, Superintendent Eaton wrote a memo to the Commissioner of Lighthouses, recounting the incident and stating that the Army commander “should have formally acknowledged our letter without request having to be made for the same.” (Doc 3 June 16 1937)

A modern Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chart (fig. 4.2, p. 8) shows that the lighthouse crew was right to be upset: A surface explosion of 700 to 1,000 pounds of TNT would produce severe wounds from flying glass in a building 200 yards away.

The letters appear on this page. Click on each image to enlarge.

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Zip line operation recovers original lighthouse windows

window glass on zipline

The first load of original 1903 lantern glass is returned to the lighthouse by a 100-foot zip line.

The perfect weather coupled with our hearty all-volunteer team enabled us to recover the original lighthouse lantern glass.

Decades ago, when the lighthouse was being renovated, the Coast Guard thoughtfully stored the historic glass away in the oil house.

But to safely recover the heavy plate glass, we needed to build a 100 foot heavy-duty zip line over the treacherous rocks.

Fingers crossed as the first load is away!

We even recovered the rest of the original oak and brass casement windows from the tower.

Big shout out to Jack, Diana, Wes and Lonnie.

zip line from oil house to lighthouse

Moving the priceless original glass was a complete success. Decades ago, the Coast Guard had carefully stored the glass for safekeeping in the oil house.

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Our volunteer crew takes a well deserved rest on the ledge, and does a little exploring as the tide starts to rise.

The plate glass we recovered were spares to replace the huge, curved panes in the lamp room.

The plate glass we recovered were spares to replace the huge, curved panes in the lamp room.

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Try a Friday lighthouse cruise with FBHI

Boston LightFor a relaxing and informative look at the lighthouses in our beloved harbor, pack your picnic basket for an expertly narrated Boston Harbor Lighthouse Tour.

“This is the only Lighthouse Tour in Boston in 2014,” says Friends of Boston Harbor Islands (FBHI), which sponsors the lighthouse cruise in cooperation with UMass Boston Marine Operations.

“Cruise through Presidents Roads past Deer Island and Long Island Head Lights, and Nix’s Mate before heading out to Graves Light and returning past Boston Light on Little Brewster Island and Fort Warren on Georges Island,” FBHI says.

“See up close the restoration work being done on Boston Light in preparation for its 300th anniversary in 2016,” according to the FBHI promo.

Lighthouse cruise dates are on Fridays: July 18, August 8 and September 12, boarding the MV Columbia Point at 10:45 a.m. from UMass Boston Harbor Campus, Fox Point Pavilion on Dorchester Bay.

The expertly narrated lighthouse cruise does not land on any of the islands, and provides open top deck seating, indoor air-conditioned cabin seating, on a wheelchair accessible vessel. Click here for more or download a brochure: 2014 Boston Islands tour

 

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SS City of Salisbury wreck: A fun dive off Graves Light

A section of the hull of the SS City of Salisbury, at the bottom of Boston Harbor, May 23, 2014.

A section of the hull of the SS City of Salisbury, at the bottom of Boston Harbor, May 23, 2014.

Today we went for an adventurous dive off Graves Ledge to seek the wreck of the SS City of Salisbury, which struck an uncharted rock and sank 76 years ago this month.

Most of the wreck of the famed “Zoo Ship” was raised and sold for scrap metal, dynamited as a navigation hazard, or dragged across the bottom of Boston Harbor in the decades since the sinking.

The bow is said to be nearly intact, and a great dive spot, but we didn’t find it today. We did find the wreckage field, with sections of the hull of the 419-foot British freighter strewn about the bottom and alive with marine life.

It was a beautiful dive on a fine spring day, with great visibility. Take a look.

SS City of Salisbury wreckage at bottom of Boston Harbor, May 23, 2014.

SS City of Salisbury wreckage at bottom of Boston Harbor, May 23, 2014.

The SS City of Salisbury is broken in two on an uncharted part of Graves Ledge. Graves Light is seen in the upper left background.

1938: The SS City of Salisbury is broken in two on an uncharted part of Graves Ledge. Graves Light is seen in the upper left background.

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Vivid lost photos of 1938 shipwreck found

The smokestack of the SS City of Salisbury snaps off as the hull of the wrecked steamer makes its final plunge.

The smokestack of the SS City of Salisbury snaps off as the hull of the wrecked steamer makes its final plunge. The bottom photo was taken minutes earlier. The photographer was aboard a US Coast Guard vessel.

Our unstoppable archivists have recovered dramatic photos of the salvage and sinking of the SS City of Salisbury.

The famous “Zoo Ship” sank 76 years ago today.

Graves Light Station has acquired the historic Associated Press photos of the 1938 shipwreck.  

The vessel wrecked off Graves Ledge in April, its keel broken on an uncharted ledge. The big steamer sank the following month.

Most of the vessel’s cargo of exotic animals from India and Ceylon survived, and all the people on board escaped unharmed.

We have been scouring antique photo collections and old newspaper archives for images of wrecks, rescues and other events around Graves Light, and already had a number of original pictures from the SS City of Salisbury.

The earlier pictures appear on the shipwreck page on this site, and on our posting from last November.

The latest collection of eight original prints are from the Associated Press, acquired from a dealer in Tennessee.

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The smokestack of the SS City of Salisbury snaps off as the hull of the wrecked steamer makes its final plunge.

The smokestack of the SS City of Salisbury snaps off as the hull of the wrecked steamer makes its final plunge.

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