The final lighthouse maintenance project of 2010 for the American Lighthouse Foundation and its chapters occurred, of all places, offshore at the wave-swept Whaleback Lighthouse.
Determined to carry out a much-needed weather stabilization project at the site before winter set in, the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses teamed up with J.B. Leslie Company of South Berwick, Maine to accomplish this critical goal – but it wasn’t easy.
A number of scheduled work dates between mid-October and Thanksgiving had to be cancelled due to high winds and rough seas around Whaleback Light, yet the J.B. Leslie Company persevered despite knowing that time was not on their side.
Finally, a window of opportunity presented itself on November 29, 2010 that allowed safe access to the offshore site; and though winds are never calm at Whaleback during this time of year and temperatures less than comfortable for outdoor work, the crew of J.B. Leslie Company disembarked at the ledge with their equipment and supplies ready for action.
By the end of the day, the crew was able to say, “mission accomplished,” and in the process, provide a big win for the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses – and not a moment too soon.
For in the weeks to follow, a series of winter gales, including the great “Blizzard of 2010,” lashed the Maine coast with powerful fury.
Thanks to the weather stabilization work performed at the site, the lantern, which was leaking on interior components, was now able to repel much of the wind-driven rain and snow that traditionally would have found its way inside the lantern and down through the tower.
“We were able to seal any possible leaks that were visible along the windows of the lantern and caulked all the expansion joints on the surface of the exterior gallery,” said Jim Leslie, president of J.B. Leslie Company. “We also sealed cracks along the deck and exterior parapet, including where the lantern is affixed to the top of the light tower. We then covered all the joints and cracks with an adhesive poly membrane. Finally, we fully sealed the problematic glass block window on the east side of the tower and addressed the other windows as well.”
Whaleback Lighthouse, which is owned by the American Lighthouse Foundation and cared for by its local chapter, Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses, is in need of major restoration work, especially on its interior.
In an effort to prevent further deterioration of the interior of the tower as they work to raise funds for the preservation priorities contained in a recently completed Historic Structures Report, the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses (FPHL) were unwavering in their desire to have weather stabilization measures occur at the site before the adverse effects of winter could inflict any more damage.
To their credit, FPHL’s preservation awareness and tenacity paid off, but they couldn’t have done it without the same dedication to preservation shared by the J.B. Leslie Company who refused to let the frustrating delays deter their commitment to seeing the project through to completion.
Jim Leslie recalls the weather delays, saying, “For about a three week period, the seas were not very good to affect a landing at the site. We would drive down to the point on some days just to assess conditions. On one occasion the seas appeared calm enough, but then I noticed large, white breakers rolling over the ledge around the base of the lighthouse. That sight ended any thoughts of landing at the light on that day!”
Leslie went on to note, “Simply landing at Whaleback is quite a challenge, especially since there is no dock or ramp – just lot’s of rocks. But the seas weren’t the only problem to contend with. We also experienced a series of very high tides, and coupled with the fast current that is always present at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, the conditions made even tying up a small boat along the rocks, a challenge.”
“Thankfully, my crew and I are experienced in landing at offshore sites, having performed a number of projects at places like Star Island and White Island in the Isles of Shoals. This experience helped in landing at Whaleback Light under less than ideal conditions.”
Though the heavy lifting of actual restoration remains at Whaleback Lighthouse, if the passion, commitment and “can-do” spirit exhibited during the weather stabilization project is any indication, this wave-swept sentinel is in great hands moving into the future!