When volunteers are determined to make a difference at our lighthouses, their ‘can do’ spirit becomes indomitable; regardless of the challenges set before them. In 2012, there was no finer testament to this truth than the valiant efforts of ALF’s Cape Cod Chapter.
For anyone who has ever been involved in lighthouse maintenance, they are keenly aware of how difficult it can be to carry out work projects, especially at remote or offshore light stations. Any number of reasons can derail the best of plans, from uncooperative weather and a lack of volunteers to vehicle or boat malfunctions and work tasks that exceed the skill level of those able to help at that moment in time.
Such inherent challenges to lighthouse maintenance are both expected and sometimes unavoidable, which makes the Cape Cod Chapter’s accomplishments this year all the more amazing.
Faced with the daunting prospect of having to prep and repaint not one, but three lighthouses during the 2012 work season – all while operating an overnight stay program seven days a week from May through October, the Cape Cod Chapter decided to meet the challenge the only way they knew how – head on!
So just how difficult was their task?
For starters, not one of the three lights – Race Point, Wood End and Long Point, is easily accessible. Complicating matters further, oversand vehicle access to Long Point and Wood End is not permitted from April 1st through September 30th each year due to the shorebird protection programs within the Cape Cod National Seashore Park.
These inflexible closures reduce the window of opportunity to work at these sites to the unpredictable months of March and October, which, by anyone’s measure, is hardly ideal.
March and October are fraught with windy and chilly conditions, whose effects are further exacerbated by the open waters that surround the lighthouses. Inescapable as they are, the elements not only test the mettle and resolve of the volunteers working in such adverse surroundings, but they also push to the limits the ability of products like paint and sealants to perform properly.
All of this and we still didn’t touch on the beach erosion that constantly threatens vehicle access to Wood End and Long Point, and of course, the ever present tide situation, which refuses to bow to anyone’s work schedules. A scant six hour window of receding waters is all the tides will permit for work at these two lighthouses.
Gary Childs, Vice-Chair of the Cape Cod Chapter, notes that the planning process to repaint the lights “started almost 270 days out.” Yet, even once the tides were checked, a date was chosen, permission secured from the National Park Service, supplies procured and a volunteer crew brought together, the only thing certain was uncertainty itself.
“Originally we had planned to go out to Wood End and Long Point lights on March 31, 2012, that is, until the wet weather arrived on that Saturday,” said Childs. “We then said, ‘fine, let’s do it on that Sunday,’ and then remembered that at midnight when it is now April 1, the plovers ‘own the beach,’ and we share the beach with them, so the lighthouse painting projects were postponed from March to October.”
As it was, the weather may have scored first in the never ending battle to keep the lights looking their best, but despite its fickle nature, the weather would not win. With the projects at Wood End and Long Point delayed until the fall, the Cape Cod Chapter decided to turn its attention to the venerable tower that presides over the sands at Race Point Light Station.
Gathering the troops together on two different occasions in the spring of 2012, the volunteers toiled in systematic fashion until Race Point Lighthouse once again regained its sparkle. “The repainting project was done in two stages,” said Gary Childs. “During the initial phase, volunteers worked from ladders to repaint the white surfaces of the tower. Then six weeks later, the black surfaces were repainted by using a combination of ladders and rigging from the lantern’s topside. When finished, the jewel was looking beautiful!”
With the satisfaction of knowing that Race Point was gleaming by summer’s arrival, and that a host of other responsibilities required their regular attention, from managing the schedules of keepers and conducting tours to fixing things around the light station and carrying out beach clean-ups, it would have been easy for the Cape Cod Chapter to defer the repainting projects at Long Point and Wood End until next year.
However, as long as the weather did not throw another wrench into the works, the Cape Cod Chapter remained steadfast in their resolve to tackle the other two sentinels.
As the time approached to repaint the lighthouses in late-October, the chapter made sure things were set, but not just at Long Point and Wood End. Volunteer work crews are always at their best when good food, friends and fun are intertwined with the rewarding experience of helping at a lighthouse. There is more to ‘keeping the lights shining bright’ than the work details themselves.
“Meals are incorporated into the planning as well so there are hot meals during both the morning and night,” said Childs. “We also have hot meals out at the painting sites because volunteers will be cold and tired, even though they are enjoying the project. We hire a cook, who is absolutely great. Everyone wants to eat full meals as soon as they drop after a hot shower, so we provide the cook and the meals. Well-fed volunteers are happy volunteers! Food is social, and a lot of bonding and laughter is had around the table.”
On October 22, 2012, more than a dozen determined volunteers descended upon Long Point Lighthouse in three oversand vehicles. Team leaders shared the plan with the rest of the group, and before long, ladders were being raised against the tower, safety and tag lines were established and ample paint was being mixed as a generator hummed to the beat of its own drum. Once the equipment and materials were readied, the work commenced – and it didn’t stop, but one time for a delicious lunch, until Long Point Lighthouse shined in the afternoon sun!
Though the group of volunteers was diversely talented, and took great pride in doing the job right, the effort at Long Point was more about passion than well-honed skills.
As Cape Cod Chapter Chairman Bill Jenkins notes, “Interestingly, vocation, education nor true physical ability of our volunteers comes in play during a repainting like Long Point or Wood End. In other types of maintenance it does of course, but painting is an activity that fits all – an unchoreographed ballet of energy that unfolds before your eyes. Watching the time lapse video clip we shot was proof of this. Our ‘explorers’ stretched to the sky attached like Spiderman from the top of the lights in their safety harnesses – being fed paint from the group above on the gallery. Painting from the ground, with fifteen foot extension poles, suited the remainder!”
All of this artistry by volunteers had to be supported by the right equipment and enough supplies; otherwise, valuable time and resources on site would be lost. For the tides are an unforgiving time clock at Wood End and Long Point, which afford no second chance to go back to Race Point or into town to grab a forgotten item or to replenish supplies.
Gary Childs touched on what it took operationally, noting, “The painting detail involved having enough paint – about 15 gallons total, which had to be shipped ahead of time, all the while the brushes, rollers, and a crew were assembled. The top painters were secured-in (via rope rigging around the lantern shell and 5-point body harnesses) set up by one of our volunteers who happens to be a Fire Department Technical-Rescue Instructor. The ladders and the painters on the high end are safely tied-in. Safety first! And, at the end, there is the never-ending cleaning up of the painting supplies. Ladders and rigging and equipment needs account for three vehicles and roughly 16 volunteers.”
Childs went on to say, “We also had 110 VAC electricity from a generator for the stirring of the paint, coffee pot, crock pot and the power tools that seem to always be necessary. In addition, we brought along multiple communication devices, medical supplies and our AED defibrillator – just in case. And of course, it helps to remember the keys for the lighthouse, the latrine shovel, and the toilet paper. There are many things to think of out there miles away from a return trip or misfortune.”
After repainting Long Point Lighthouse, the following day, on October 23, 2012, the crew was on the move again – this time at nearby Wood End Lighthouse. In similar fashion, the volunteers tackled the tower efficiently and effectively, and by day’s end, it too was gleaming white. A highlight of the day was having a reporter, Eric Williams of the Cape Cod Times, cover their exploits, which yielded a cool story and a number of photographs in the popular community newspaper.
“Two towers in two days was an energy draining event,” said Bill Jenkins. “On the first night, when we staged at Race Point to start early the next morning, everyone was naturally excited. Bedtime came late. Cate Ayott, our fabulous chef, had breakfast on the table very early the next morning; she arose at 4am. Sleepy eyed and slow to come up to speed, we all sat around the kitchen table eating everything in sight! Fueled for the time being, we set off for a full day at Long Point. Bedtime that night was two hours earlier than the previous evening. And after Wood End, half went to bed by 7pm!”
In the end though, the Cape Cod Chapter could proudly say, ‘mission accomplished!’ Their incredible efforts – repainting three lighthouses within a seven month period, not only helped to ensure the ongoing preservation of the lights at Race Point, Long Point and Wood End, the intrepid chapter also demonstrated a gold-level example of volunteer dedication and the power of a ‘can do’ spirit!
Looking back at the accomplishments of 2012, Bill Jenkins noted, “It goes beyond impacting lighthouse enthusiasts. When the towers were painted, one of the National Park Service Rangers told me, ‘…not only the lighthouses, but the Race Point buildings as well, look like they are cared for by a caring group of people.’”
Jenkins went on to say, “There is no doubt that people passing by the compound headed to the beach for the day, are well-reminded they are visiting a National Park maintained in the best of fashion by a nameless army of individuals. With the towers freshly painted and the grounds cleaned of trash, the natural beauty of the location gains a foothold. I believe it gives pause to the majority of people in a community whether visiting or having a permanent address. Surrounded by this ‘aura’ of beauty, for a brief time, the world is definitely a better place.”
Gary Childs concluded, “The rewards from the repainting projects are many, but for me, they are two-fold: Seeing the gleaming lighthouses and the ‘light’ of volunteers enjoying their work – help freely given, and a shared sense of accomplishment from hearing them say, ‘I helped paint that lighthouse!’”
Indeed they did!
A big THANK YOU goes out to the entire Cape Cod Chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, including the following volunteers…
Cate Ayott, Gary Childs, Tom Corto, Bill DeFord, Eric Hansen, Bill Jenkins, Joe Kellner, Carolyn Ludorf, Dan Lynch, Patrick Pickering, Sue Racicot, Wally Romanson, Ed Sandell, Dominic Trapani and David Walsh.
Time Lapse of Wood End Lighthouse
Courtesy Bill Jenkins