Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cruise, Day 16, Part 1

This picture is actually from the night before and our anchorage in Locust Creek, off Bodkin Creek.  The heavy overcast cleared just before nightfall, with the sun breaking through the clouds to light the faces of the houses and tree-tops just before it dropped below the horizon.  The clear skies, however, were fleeting.

According to NOAA, the temperature and dewpoint were only two degrees apart last night, so I awoke to fog and more slate gray skies. Visibility was two miles, and often less. We got underway from Locust Cove and headed out Bodkin Creek. There was not a breath of air. Within a couple miles of clearing the creek we came upon a lone oyster dredge working. After passing him, we made for Baltimore Light. A ship was coming up the channel, and I was hoping to get a nice picture of it passing the lighthouse, but it was moving so fast, I couldn’t get into position in time.

A navigational beacon was needed off the Magothy River to mark the Craighill Channel approach to Baltimore Harbor. The Lighthouse Board had some idea of the difficulty that might be incurred in constructing a lighthouse there because of the character of the shoal and the amount of ice it would have to withstand. Still, they had no idea just how serious the problems would be and that it would take 18 years to finish it.

The request for funding from Congress was made in 1890 for $60,000. Borings into the bottom revealed soft mud extended down 55 feet. It was doubtful that a foundation could be laid in 55 feet of soup, so they tried a screwpile base, but there was nothing for the piles to find a footing in. A caisson foundation would be needed, which would double the cost of the structure. It would have to withstand 100 mph winds, 30,000 pounds per square foot of ice pressure, and the three knot current. Three requests were made to Congress for the additional funding, but they didn’t approve it until 1902. When bidding was opened for the job, they received only one bid, and it was $60,000 over budget. Congress refused the bid, but allocated the additional $60,000 to bring the total budget to $180,000. New bidding was opened, and again they only received one bid, but it was within budget and accepted. The metalwork for the 30-foot diameter cylinder was contracted to a company in Georgia. It was towed up the coast and to the sight and set in place. By the time heavy seas arrived only two days later, it had only been set eight feet into the shoal. The cylinder filled with water and was knocked seven feet off plumb. The contractor left to get materials needed to reset the base. He returned a month later, in October, just in time to see another storm capsize the caisson and roll it on to its side. The contractor left again, but this time, he just disappeared.

The insurance company that had bonded the construction had to step in. It took them three years to get the caisson reset and vertical. They then began to sink it into the shoal, adding steel plate around the top as it settled, until they had sunk it 82 feet below the level of the bay. The top of the cylinder was flared to support the octagonal, two-story house. The first floor housed the kitchen and sitting room. There were two bedrooms on the second floor, a watch room was situated within the mansard roof, and a fourth order
Fresnel lens topped it off. It was commissioned in 1908, and was the last lighthouse to be constructed on the bay.
The lights second claim to fame, besides being one of the most difficult to construct, was that it was to be the nation’s first nuclear powered lighthouse. The atomic generator was installed in l964, and was to supply uninterrupted power for ten years, but was removed only two years later due to concerns over cost and environmental contamination.

Again, when the keepers were removed, the lighthouse became a target for vandals. Windows and the lenses were shot out. An attempt was made to set the house on fire. The pigeons and seagulls moved in and built a thick layer of guano over everything. Open to the elements, the deck of the light platform started to rot out and had to be replaced. In June, 2006, the lighthouse was placed on the National Register and sold at auction to a private corporation dedicated to preserving the light. The Coast Guard retains right of access to maintain the aid, but the new owners are working to restore the house, and will allow the public to rent the house for stays on the bay. If you wish to support their effort, they are at the site below.

You can also volunteer to get your hands dirty, or take an excursion to the light and tour the house. There is a photo gallery on the site.

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