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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Sea spray hits 50-foot mark as autumn sets in

50-foot markOur pal Bill from Hull snapped this shot today from his telescope showing sea spray at the 50 foot mark on the tower.

The sea conditions at the outer harbor today were – and still are! – nasty, with 10 foot seas and high winds.

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Diver’s discovery helps us complete our interior doors

Chris, of Boston Scuba, discovered an original Graves Light porcelain door knob on the bottom of Boston Harbor.

Chris, of Boston Scuba, discovered an original Graves Light porcelain door knob on the bottom of Boston Harbor.

Discovering the original from under water let us install authentic replacements.

Discovering the original from under water let us install authentic replacements from a wrecking company..

Some of the clues to the faithful reconstruction of the interior of Graves Light have come from the bottom of Boston Harbor.

Chris, a diver from Boston Scuba, found yet another artifact offshore at The Graves.

Pictured in his hand is a heavily weathered porcelain door knob.

We had already restored the surviving interior door and built two copies on Nantucket, but we didn’t know what the original knobs looked like. Now we do.

So we found four antique sets of knobs at a local wrecking company. Voila! The doors are now complete. Thanks, Chris!

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Glass jewels for lantern room get cast on Nantucket

Getting the glass jewels ready for the Watch Room skylights/Lantern Room floor panels.

Alison MacDonald of ACKfire studios gets the replacement glass jewels ready for the Watch Room skylights/Lantern Room floor panels.

We’re getting down to the fine details now. The missing glass jewels that form the skylights for the Watch Room ceiling and the floor pieces for the Lantern Room are now being cast.

The Nantucket artisans at Ackfire Studios are hard at work right now creating replacements for the missing heavy glass jewels embedded in the round bronze skylight frames.

Alison MacDonald of Ackfire visited Graves Light in April to examine the job and take measurements.

Now, the colored glass disks have been cut and are being cast in tiny molds within a large kiln.

We love our local artist community! Here is the Ackfire crew cutting individual discs of glass which will be melted and formed in these little molds.

The resulting glass jewels will be glazed into the lantern floor this month.

These glass pieces are reproductions of the missing original glass from the 1903 architectural design, and are copied from the remaining originals.

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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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Drone’s-eye view of Graves Light

Randy Clark took this picture via drone while helping with carpentry at Graves.

Randy Clark took this picture via drone while helping with carpentry at Graves.

Our pal Randy Clark took this nifty shot of master carpenter Karl Phillips sanding the new mahogany railing prior to installing it on the 4th level stairwell.

Look closely and you can see some of the work we’ve done:

  • Power-washed the stone exterior, which used to be streaked with black soot and grime;
  • Replaced the mortar between the stone blocks;
  • Removed the block-glass windows and restored the original appearance with oak casement windows (that Karl Phillips built);
  • Cleaned and painted the iron railing around the watch deck;
  • Cleaned and painted the bronze circular wall, as shown (in black), on the watch deck;
  • Installed vintage brass portholes in the bronze wall of the watch deck, to provide natural light in the interior;
  • Cleaned and re-caulked the original curved glass panes of the lantern deck;
  • Installed an exact replica of the interior mahogany staircase railings (which Karl is shown sanding on the outside deck).

A photographer by trade, Randy also swung a hammer to fix the shed while piloting his new drone. Thanks Randy!

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