In the day and age that we live, lighthouses may no longer be as vital to safe navigation as they once were, but that doesn’t mean our sentinels of the sea go without the appreciation of mariners and recreational boaters alike.
For though all prudent mariners now rely on the electronic accuracy afforded by the Global Positioning System (GPS) to help plot courses, determine positions and avoid navigational hazards, there is still nothing more reassuring than the visual confirmation that fixed aids to navigation like lighthouses lend to the art of navigation and the ultimate goal of safe passage.
Still, across the modern seascape, advances in digital technology continue to slowly supplant the traditional aids to navigation such as fog horns, bells, gongs and whistles – and on occasion, even the lights and buoys themselves. So when a change occurs with a lighthouse that goes against the tide of the times, it is worth noting.
Such a cool change happened recently at Little River Lighthouse, which is located at the entrance to Cutler Harbor in Downeast Maine. The harbor is home to a large group of hardworking lobstermen who proudly hold onto tradition as much as they embrace the moment.
In her book entitled, How to Catch a Lobster in Downeast Maine, Christina Lemieux Oragano notes, “To those passing through, Cutler can appear to be just a sleepy village, the kind that makes for great poetry and postcards. People who pause and spend some time, however, discover a bustling, working waterfront and community of individuals determined to wrestle a living from the beautiful, yet unforgiving, ocean. For the last century or so, that living has come primarily from lobster fishing.”
Over the course of the past few years, a number of lobstermen have observed that the guiding beam shining forth from Little River Lighthouse – though watching properly, was just not as bright as they were accustomed to seeing. These observations were brought to the attention of the U.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team (ANT) Southwest Harbor, who is the responsible unit for maintaining the navaid equipment at Little River Light Station.
The Coast Guard prides itself in making sure the mariner has the necessary aids to navigation to help ensure safety along our nation’s waterways, so when the command of USCG ANT Southwest Harbor heard of the lobstermen’s desire to have a brighter light shining forth from Little River Lighthouse, they set in motion the required approval process at the First District level in Boston, MA, to make it a reality.
The First Coast Guard District subsequently approved the request to increase the intensity of the beacon at Little River, and earlier this summer advertised the following in the USCG’s Local Notice to Mariners…
“Maine – New Brunswick – Grand Manan Channel Southern Part (Chart 13392) – Little River…The Coast Guard will make the following change to this waterway…Change Little River Light (Light List Number 1075) nominal range from 13 nautical miles to 16 nautical miles.”
On July 18, 2013 lighthouse technicians from ANT Southwest Harbor journeyed out to the island with members of the American Lighthouse Foundation’s Friends of Little River Lighthouse, to complete the process of making the beacon brighter.
The technicians, EM1 Steven Horner, EM1 Derek Stewart and Auxiliarist Bob Trapani, Jr., replaced the six tungsten filament, 12-volt DC marine signal lamps of 0.77 amps each inside the VRB-25 rotating beacon with six lamps of 2.03 amps each. The clear glass lamps, which contain a vertical filament, single contact candelabra base and a pre-focus collar, have a rated life expectancy of 500 hours per lamp.
The Lumen output of the 0.77 lamps was 120 (lm). The Lumen output for the 2.03 lamps is 380 (lm). The brighter lamps elevated the candlepower of Little River’s beacon from approximately 6,000 to 17,000 candlepower, with an advertised increase of the 3 nautical miles from 13 (nm) to 16 (nm).
According to a U.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation manual, “Incandescent filament lamps are the most commonly used lamps in Coast Guard aids to navigation (though light emitting diodes are now slowly supplanting incandescent beacons in lighthouses). Properties of incandescent lamps, which are useful in visual signaling, include relatively low-power consumption for 12-volt lamps, the ability to be flashed, simple power systems that are easily monitored, low cost and proven reliability.”
For those not familiar with a VRB-25 rotating beacon, the optic (at Little River) utilizes six bull’s eye lens panels of the Fresnel profile, which rotate about a common axis, to produce six pencil beams that sweep the seascape. At Little River, the characteristic of the beacon is one white flash every six seconds. The tower displays its guiding light from a focal plane of 56-feet above the water (the tower itself is 41-feet tall).
A light of greater intensity may prove beneficial not only to the lobstermen of Cutler Harbor, but also to sailboats and the occasional yacht that seek a harbor of refuge in Cutler, and to those vessels coasting along the Grand Manan Channel. Little River Lighthouse is located on the western side of Grand Manan Channel at the entrance to the Bay of Fundy. The channel spans about 12.5 miles across from Little River to Southwest Head, Grand Manan.
Historically, this channel has been an approach from westward to Quoddy Roads and Passamaquoddy Bay, and the most direct passage for vessels bound up the Bay of Fundy from along the coast of Maine.
The keen interest displayed by the U.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Southwest Harbor, which is under the command of officer-in-charge BMC Brian Hawkins, to act upon and follow through at Little River on the feedback of maritime users like the lobstermen of Cutler Harbor, is yet another example as to the fine work this dedicated unit carries out on a daily basis.
ANT Southwest Harbor keeps the lights and fog horns, including their supporting navaid components, watching properly for 26 lighthouses from Port Clyde, Maine, to the Canadian border, and maintains responsibility for a host of buoys as well.
Christina Lemieux Oragano summed it quite aptly when she said in her book, “In these parts, lobster fishing is not just an occupation – it’s a way of life and a family tradition.”
And over the past century, there to help guide the lobstermen of Cutler back to safe harbor each day was Little River Lighthouse, which now sends its brighter gleam out over nearby waters, clear across the Grand Manan Channel, for whomever – local lobstermen or recreational boaters, who seek its signature flash. May the lighthouse at Little River shine on for many years to come!