Italy’s full-rigged ship Amerigo Vespucci passes by Graves

Italy’s magnificent ship-rigged Amerigo Vespucci  has visited Boston again!

She is seen passing by Graves Light as she entered the harbor on July 17.

After a trans-Atlantic trip to the Americas, the 330-foot ship made its first visit to Boston since 2000. The Boston Globe  covered the visit.

We saluted the Amerigo Vespucci  as it entered Broad Sound, passing us as a light fog burned off the harbor.

The ship is an Italian Navy training vessel. It honors the great Italian explorer – whose Latin name, Americus Vespucius, inspired the name of the two American continents and, consequently, our country.

Vespucci (1454-1512) proved that the American continents were their own land masses, and were not, as had been believed, parts of East Asia.

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Bathroom takes shape

Nat puts up the tile in the first-ever Graves Light bathroom.

Lots of enthusiasm here at Graves Light as we ready the new bathroom.

The lighthouse never had indoor plumbing as we know it, so a bathroom here is a first.

Master carpenter Nat is at it again.

He built the wooden bathroom in his Portland, Maine, shop, and installed it a few weeks ago.

The mahogany door, with porthole, is salvaged from an old boat.

Here, Nat is tiling the shower after he and Lynn laid out the marble pattern on the dock outside.

The plumbing and water treatment system are already in.

Soon we’ll have a fully functional sink, toilet, and shower.

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Tall Ships start SailBoston 2017 parade off Graves

Alexander von Humboldt II, a new square-rigger from Bremen, passes Graves Light. (We got this picture from Giles Parker’s Twitter account, but don’t know whom to credit.)

Fog failed to dispel the excitement of 50 tall ships visiting Boston Harbor for SailBoston 2017.

Square-riggers from around the world joined classic schooners like Canada’s Bluenose II, assembling near Graves Light to visit Boston.

The June 17-20 event was a breathtaking opportunity from our lighthouse observation point.

Even though the morning of the big sail parade began with a pea soup fog, we got the rare treat to watch the ships raise their sails as they entered Boston Harbor.

Below is a gallery of some of our pictures, and shots taken by others. We want to get these posted for the public to enjoy, and will work on captions and credits soon.

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After 112 years, a new bathroom is on the way

Where’s the bathroom?

That’s a common question at Graves Light.

Up until this year, we’ve been using a nifty composting toilet in the shed.

But all that changes as we install a fully functional bathroom with shower, toilet and sink on the third floor of the tower.

The system will give Graves full running water for the first time in 112 years.

The guys have been busy ferrying the heavy pipes and fixtures out and installing them.

Galvin from NorEast Marine is building the manifold connection for a state-of-the-art water treatment system.

We just scored a beautiful antique sink from periodbath.com.

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Last part of Nantucket-built kitchen cabinet is installed

Back-to-back great weather days let us get stuff done!

Up from Karl’s Nantucket wood shop, we load the custom-built curved kitchen cabinets aboard Miss Cuddy.

In the gallery below, John and the gang install the “fair weather ladder” as Lynn surveys the cove (really), we all haul the new kitchen cabinets 90 feet up using a new “super bag,” and Randy applies spar varnish to the kitchen benches.

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How we spent St. Patrick’s Day Eve

Pat attached the spliced line to an antique US Lighthouse Service block.

Cap’n Pat splices line to hang a lamp.

Staying at Graves during the nor’easter meant that the guys would spend the eve of St. Patrick’s Day eve having some quiet fun when the storm hit.

We took an antique U.S. Light House Establishment (USLHE) dock lantern, and repurposed it to become a hanging lamp in the kitchen.

The kitchen is on the watch deck just below the operational U.S. Coast Guard navigational beacon.

Cap’n Pat spliced an old length of line through an old USLHE pulley block.

Then we hung the lantern from the apex of the arch formed by the recovered First Order Fresnel Lens, just beneath the navigational beacon.

Then we hung the lantern beneath the actual navigation lamp.

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Inside Graves Light during a nor’easter

Safest place in the harbor, 100 feet up.

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.

Graves at night during Winter Storm Stella.

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!
  • Cap’n Pat catches up on his history of New England shipwrecks as the bacon and beans bubble on the potbelly stove.

    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.
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On the lighthouse roof

Keeper Dave on the roof of Graves Light, installing an anemometer on the new chimney to catch wind speeds.

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!

 

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Prepping for improved access to Graves Light

Carlos helps prepare for an improved access spot to treacherous Graves Ledge.

Inputting coordinates for a 3-D image of the ledge.

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.

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Graves Light gets another first-order Fresnel lens

gl-john-nelson-randy-clark-do-final-fitBig news, everybody. Graves Light received a little taste of a genuine first-order Fresnel lens, similar to the original 1905 lens that sent out a 350,000-candlepower beam across the harbor.

The Coast Guard is still in charge of the navigational aids at Graves, so we couldn’t make the beacon shine like it did before the original giant Fresnel lens was removed in 1975. Since 1905, Graves had been the most powerful lighthouse in New England. Not so any more.

So we did the next-best thing by reconstructing part of the lens with pieces from lighthouses around the world. We assembled them as part of the interior decor in a way that won’t interfere with the modern, solar-powered lamp.

What’s a first-order Fresnel lens?

John and Randy assemble the flash panels to adorn the kitchen on the watch deck.

For a lighthouse, a Fresnel lens is a beehive-shaped compound lens made up of rings of glass prisms that cast parallel beams of light.

It is named after its inventor, French physicist Augustin Jean Fresnel (1788-1827), who had a special understanding of the physics of light.

Lighthouse lenses are divided according to size and light focal length, a category called “order.” Formally there are eight orders of Fresnel lenses, with the first-order being the largest. (There is also a 3-1/2-order lens. Two larger lenses were ultimately developed.)

A first-order lens casts a beam that can be seen more than 20 miles away. Only the curvature of the Earth prevents it from shining further on a clear night.

Fresnel lenses are made of heavy glass prisms housed in large brass or bronze frames, assembled as panels and arranged in a circle. The entire assembly of an operating Fresnel lens rotated on mechanical carriage or a pool of mercury, and in some parts of the world, still does. That liquid heavy metal ensured steady, constant, friction-free rotation, regardless of the weather, on a corrosion-free surface. The Coast Guard recovered 400 pounds of mercury from Graves when it removed the lens. Our new lens is stationary and won’t be used as an aid to navigation, so there’s no rotation mechanism or mercury.

Where did the new Graves first-order Fresnel lens come from?

We assembled the new Graves lens from several antique first-order lenses from decommissioned or modernized lighthouses outside the United States. Nearly all first-order Fresnel lenses have been destroyed, or are owned by governments as legacy artifacts. No complete first-order Fresnel lens exists in private hands, anywhere in the world.

Working through Chance Brothers Lighthouse Engineers of Melbourne, Australia, we bought pieces from English lenses built between 1880 and 1920.

Wyatt designed the bronze frame by computer, and built a full-scale wooden mockup.

Wyatt designed the bronze frame by computer, and built a full-scale wooden mockup. Then he assembled the frame on the mainland to make sure everything fit.

Reconstructing a lens

A first-order Fresnel lens would generally consist of glass prisms assembled in about 45 panels.

The panels are stacked three high and arranged in a circle. The lower and upper panels are called catadioptric panels and bend the light by reflection like a mirror. The center sections, or flash panels, are dioptric prisms which concentrate the light like a magnifying glass.

We acquired glass prisms to fill 15 panels. For considerations of living space and climate control – and for the practical matter of finding enough prisms – we did not attempt to rebuild an entire first-order lens nor could we. These panels are so scarce, it appears there may be no more to be found!

The objective was to illustrate the wonder of a First Order lens without taking over our kitchen.

No shop drawings for assembling a lens like this exist. It’s been said the factories that made them in England and France were destroyed during World War II. Our own Wyatt designed a custom skeleton frame using SolidWorks software, and uploaded the specifications to a water jet cutter, producing a rigid structure out of 1/2-inch bronze plate.

The assembly in our shop allowed us to correct mistakes, make sure the glass prisms fit properly, and refine each frame to ensure a good fit-out on station.

We packed each completed panel in wooden crates, brought them to Graves Light aboard Miss Cuddy, and winched them halfway up the lighthouse to the entrance, and hand carried them up the tower for installation.

After assembly, we found that the lens focused sunlight inward and melted our first aid kit. We knew from our neighbor Sally Snowman, keeper of Boston Light, and our visit to the Castle Morro lighthouse in Havana, that the old Fresnel lens lighthouses had interior curtains to block the sun by day. Both the Boston and Havana lighthouses still have operational Fresnel lenses.

So we went to Zimman’s for a bolt of the proper cloth. Our own Keeper Lynn is creating a custom curtain to prevent the sunlight from starting a fire, without the curtain obstructing the navigational lamp.

Vital statistics

  • Manufacturer: Chance Brothers of England
  • Grade: First Order Lens
  • Origin: From several lighthouses worldwide, circa 1880-1920
  • Weight of a complete sense: 3 tons
  • Weight of our lens apparatus: 1 ton
  • Height: 9 feet
  • Diameter: 6.5 feet
  • Light strength: Approximately 350,000 candlepower with kerosene burner

Where’s the original?

The original Graves Light lens, made in Paris by Barbier, Bernard and Turenne, is in the possession of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. It isn’t on display, but is probably crated up in a warehouse. The Smithsonian loans out many of its pieces for public display, but federal law forbids the original Graves lens from being exposed to weather, so we couldn’t move it back to the lighthouse even if the Smithsonian would let us (which it won’t.)

The Coast Guard loans out Fresnel lenses under strict conditions, but requires that they be kept in climate-controlled environments, and, for preservation purposes, forbids them to be kept in lantern rooms.

See Theresa Levitt’s biography of optical genius Augustin Fresnel and his remarkable impact on lighthouses and navigation, A Short Bright Flash: Augustin Fresnel and the Birth of the Modern Lighthouse (Norton, 2013).

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