Original drawings aid in door restoration

These custom-built stainless steel replacement hinges should last another hundred years.

These custom-built stainless steel replacement hinges should last another hundred years.

The leaky bronze doors on the Watch Deck needed new hinges to create a perfect seal against the weather.

We just couldn’t buy them in a store, or even find antique originals.

So we went back to the drawing board and used the original architectural drawings of Graves Light from 1903.

Those drawings included sketches and dimensions of the original hinges.

John Nelson of Nelson Metal Fabrication has fixed the leaky doors. John did a lot of great work for us already, and now it was time for more.

Using the original designs as a guide, John machined new stainless hinges to perfectly match the damaged old ones. Now the doors shut tight! The hinges should last until the 22nd century, at least.

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Mahogany kitchen benches go in this week

Nat of NMT Woodworking shows some of the mahogany benches he built for our kitchen.

Nat of NMT Woodworking shows some of the mahogany benches he built for our kitchen.

Meanwhile, Nat and the lads at NMT Woodworking in South Portland, Maine, have been busy.

Living space at Graves Light is at a premium – none mores than the kitchen on Level 6. That’s the old Watch Room, a circular room of bronze and steel that sits on top of the granite tower and just below the glass Lamp Room.

The NMT crew created this custom mahogany bench seat to fit against the curved wall.

They built it for serious chowder eating. The marine-grade mahogany is able to withstand extreme temperatures and salt air.

You can see how the curvature matches that of the bronze kitchen stove that our man Wyatt designed over the winter.

Nat will be installing the bench system this week, weather permitting, as always. So stay tuned.

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Next project: Installing an electrical system 4 miles out to sea

Art Graves drills into the cast iron ceiling to prepare installation of restored ship's lanterns.

Art Graves drills into the cast iron ceiling to prepare installation of restored ship’s lanterns.

Power up! The next big project is running the wires for lights and outlets.

Graves Light has no electric power of its own, except for the solar-powered lamp to guide ships to Boston.

Since it’s an unforgiving environment atop a stone ledge four miles out to sea, every connector, fixture and device must be marine-rated.

Here we have Art Graves (yes – that’s his real name) drilling into the cast iron ceiling to mount the antique ship’s lamps we restored over the winter.

Refurbished bronze ship lanterns will provide electric light to Graves.

Refurbished bronze ship lanterns will provide electric light to Graves.

Soon we’ll install bronze lamps salvaged from old ships as interior lighting at Graves.

We cleaned up and reserved the lamps over the winter, so they’re ready to go.

Tough drilling overhead!

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Short stories of Graves Light on WATD 95.9FM 5-part podcast

WATD podcastsVeteran broadcaster Dave Skill created a 5-part podcast series about the purchase and restoration of Graves Light.

The feature series, called “Light at the end of the . . . harbor: The restoration of Graves Light,” aired April 11-15 on WATD radio, 95.9 FM.

Each podcast is roughly two minutes long, featuring two Daves: The broadcaster with his folksy storytelling, and Keeper Dave of Graves Light.

Click here to listen to the podcasts.

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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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New USCG ladder now on Graves Light wharf

Installing a new USCG ladder on the Graves Light wharf.

Installing a new USCG ladder on the Graves Light wharf.

A great weather weekend on April 9-10 found us “on station” with friends. Lots of springtime projects on our list, and one of the most important is installing the ladder at the end of the wharf.

Here’s Cap’n Pat and Chris readying the USCG ladder (which we’ve half-installed) after they secured our trusty aluminum ladder and hoist. Sure makes loading materials and people easier!

Plenty of seals frolicking in the cove today, too.

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Custom building a lighthouse kitchen stove

With his high school engineering education and his own imagination, Wyatt designs the stove.

With his high school engineering education and his own imagination, Wyatt designs the stove for a small space with curved walls.

Without any flat interior walls, a lighthouse needs custom-made everything. Since kitchen space is the most precious, and the sea air corrosive of steel, conventional appliances just won’t work.

Wyatt's bronze stovetop, after it came back from the metal shop.

Wyatt’s bronze stovetop, fresh from the metal shop.

Luckily, Wyatt is studying engineering in high school. After drawing out the exact curve of the interior wall of the watch room, Wyatt whipped up a curved stovetop design on his computer.

We sent Wyatt’s design to a metal shop, which crafted a stovetop out of 1/2-inch thick bronze, using a water jet cutter.

The rest is up to us. We’re modifying propane barbecue burners to fit under the top and will design a curved faceplate for the knobs.

Can you smell a delicious chowder simmering this summer?

The stovetop design, from computer to metal shop.

The stovetop design: Wyatt measured the curve from the lighthouse radius, for fabrication from a sheet of half-inch-thick bronze.

 

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On-shore basement project: Building a lighthouse desk

Winter is a great time for on-shore basement projects for the lighthouse.

We converted an old oak desk into a keeper’s desk. First, we crafted a new top to fit the curved inner walls of the tower. We secured it to the two base drawer units with brass fasteners (no rusty steel in the lighthouse environment) and stained it to match.

The desk is installed on the 4th level, which will be the master bedroom. Next, we’ll start building a space-saving Murphy bed, whose mattress can be stored vertically when not in use, and pulled down flat for the evening.

 

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Experiencing a snowstorm at Graves Light

Randy and Pat are on the dock, enjoying a perfectly horizontal snowstorm as Winter Storm Lexi hits Boston.

Randy and Pat are on the dock, enjoying a perfectly horizontal snowstorm as Winter Storm Lexi hits Boston.

We didn’t expect to be caught in a real nor’easter as we watched winter storm Lexi.

So we went out to Graves on Thursday to make a maintenance check and enjoy a mild winter’s overnight as the storm approached.

Both the lighthouse and our all-weather Defender-class former Coast Guard boat would be safe havens as the weather came down on us.

Staying inside the granite lighthouse is as safe as staying at home. Graves was staffed 24/7 with no fatalities for 70 years, and we were well stocked for any eventuality.

We wore survival suits and each had pocket VHF radios in addition to our cell phones, and stayed in touch with another captain on shore.

Conditions can catch the unprepared by surprise. We watched NOAA’s Boston B buoy for real-time sea conditions, and checked hourly with NOAA marine forecast and satellite mapping. Lexi moved unusually fast and hit harder than forecast, but it didn’t matter because we were high and dry in our stone fortress, nearly 100 feet above the waves.

One look at the heavy sea Friday morning was all it took to tell us to stay put in the lighthouse. Lexi had arrived. She wasn’t a nor’easter, but as the video shows, she gave us some rough weather. It’s thrilling to be surrounded by howling winds, angry seas, and horizontal snow.

By late Friday afternoon, the seas and wind had diminished enough to let us make a break for home in our boat, although the seven-foot seas gave us a good pounding.

In the picture above, Randy and Pat (a veteran boat captain) are on the dock enjoying a perfectly horizontal snowstorm. As the ice and snow on the lighthouse and ledges shows, the wind was coming from the northwest.

A word of caution to all boaters: Stay well clear of Graves Ledge during rough weather. The unpredictable swells and submerged rocks are extremely dangerous. And although it sounds un-neighborly, anyone on Graves Ledge without explicit permission is trespassing. The exposed ledge is slippery in any weather, with or without ice.

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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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