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The American Lighthouse  Foundation is a  Non-Profit 501(c)(3) Organization dedicated  to the preservation of America's historic lighthouses.

 

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Wave of Future Sweeps Over Maine’s Whaleback Lighthouse

 

By Bob Trapani, Jr.

 

 
 

Whaleback Lighthouse

has seen the future and

it shines and responds as well as ever to mariners seeking its guiding presence.

 

In October 2009 the

United States Coast

Guard completed an aids to navigation (ATON) upgrade to both the optic and foghorn systems that will ensure the 137-year old lighthouse remains

Storm seas are not the only waves to break over Whaleback Lighthouse

Photo by Jeremy D'Entremont   

Storm seas are not the only 'waves' to 

break over Whaleback Lighthouse

 
 

reliable, efficient and on the cutting edge of 21st century technology.

 

This ‘wave of the future’ makes Whaleback Light the first beacon in the state of Maine to be outfitted with a sound signal system that responds on cue when prompted by the mariner.

 

The irony of this user activated technology, a component of the new Coast Guard Short Range Aids to Navigation Strategic Plan, is one of complete role reversal when it comes to bygone lighthouse traditions where keepers once maintained a watchful eye over the waters for the mariner.

 

 
 

The radio activated sound signal system allow mariners to activate the foghorn at Whaleback only when necessary

Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard    

The radio activated sound signal system

allows mariners to activate the foghorn at Whaleback only when necessary

One might say that mariners can now take matters into their own hands when thick weather adds an element of uncertainty to navigation in the age of automation.

 

“The installation is the first of its kind in Maine, which uses a VHF receiver to activate a relay that sends power to the horn for a duration of 45 minutes,” said Senior Chief Sean Walsh,

 
 

officer-in-charge of U.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team South Portland. “All the mariner needs to do is turn their own VHF radio to channel 79 and press the microphone five times to activate the horn.”

 

The upgrade to the sound signal system at Whaleback Lighthouse, along with the installation of its new futuristic looking light emitting diode (LED) beacon, was prompted by a submarine cable failure that had provided electrical power to the site.

 

 
 

The LED optic, a VLB-44 beacon manufactured by Vega Industries of New Zealand and activated by a Daylight Control Unit, sends out a guiding light twelve miles to sea.

 

Gone from the lantern at Whaleback is the Vega VRB-25 rotating beacon, which only a little more than a decade ago, was considered cutting edge technology unto itself and the beacon of choice for many of our nation’s lighthouses from the mid-1990s on until the advent of LED technology like the VLB-44.

 

Jeremy D’Entremont, Operations Manager for the Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse,

 View of the new VLB-44 LED beacon at Whaleback Lighthouse

Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard    

 View of the new VLB-44 LED beacon at Whaleback Lighthouse

 
 

which cares for Whaleback Lighthouse as a chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, is impressed by the new VLB-44.

 

According to recent observations made by D’Entremont, “The timing is right on, with two flashes every 10 seconds. The flashes are very quick and bright – it’s almost like a strobe light. The range is undoubtedly better than it’s been for quite a while.”

 

The new LED beacon marks yet another change for Whaleback Lighthouse and its history of operational optics. From the Fresnel lens to the DCB-224, and now the VRB-25 to the VLB-44, the evolution is both ongoing and fascinating.

 

The former beacons lent beauty, ruggedness and sleekness respectively inside the lantern of the lighthouse over the years, but what the futuristic VLB-44 may lack in charm or presence in the lantern, it more than makes

 
 

View of the new and smaller solar array that powers the light and sound signal system

Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard     

View of the new and smaller solar array that powers the light and sound signal system

up with reliability, efficiency – and relevancy.

 

And if overall effectiveness and efficiency were not enough, the VLB-44 is also a ‘greener’ improvement as a form of solar ATON technology.

 

“The Navaid package that was installed has reduced our solar

 
 

footprint in half,” said Senior Chief Sean Walsh. “This system is powered by a solar package consisting of three, 100-AH batteries and four 46-watt solar panels. We are able to eliminate the monitoring system previously utilized due to the reliability of this new green technology and have also eliminated the need for electrical power at the site.”

 

From a 21st century navigational standpoint, technology such as the VLB-44 LED beacon and the user activated foghorn are amazing improvements, but the benefits are not confined solely to the mariner and the Coast Guard.

 

Lighthouse preservationists win too because these latest advancements in ATON technology equate to a sort of ‘back to the future’ victory for the

 
 

lighthouses themselves when it comes to their traditional appearances.

 

Smaller solar arrays and equipment systems mean that lighthouses can show off their historical character inside and out with less distractions, and still perform the one duty we all love and cherish – sending out the light.

 

Best of all, our lighthouses are keeping up with change in a

"The Navaid package that was installed has reduced our solar footprint in half." -- Senior Chief Sean Walsh, officer-in-charge, USCG ANT South Portland, ME

Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.   

"The Navaid package that was installed has reduced our solar footprint in half." -- Senior Chief Sean Walsh, officer-in-charge,

USCG ANT South Portland, ME

 
 

ever-changing world thanks to these types of technological advances, which helps enhance the long-term preservation and education efforts of lighthouse groups in the end.

 

For lighthouses like Whaleback, may they continue to shine on and beckon future ‘keepers’ to see, hear and feel the lure of the lights as they age with grace and deepen their meaning within our communities.

 

 
 

Whaleback Lighthouse, built in 1872, continues to shine on through the years

Photo by William Marshall    

 

Whaleback Lighthouse, built in 1872, continues to shine on through

the years

 
 

View of the rotating fourth order Fresnel

lens once gracing Whaleback's lantern

View of the rotating fourth order Fresnel lens once gracing Whaleback's lantern

Photo courtesy of Jeremy D'Entremont    

 

 
 

A DCB-224 beacon was used for some years at Whaleback Light

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard    

 

A DCB-224 beacon was used for some years at Whaleback Light

 
 

The modern VRB-25 rotating beacon was in place at Whaleback up until October 2009

The modern VRB-25 rotating beacon was in place at Whaleback up until October 2009

Photo by Jeremy D'Entremont    

 

 
 

The futuristic looking VLB-44 LED beacon now shines from Whaleback's lantern

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard     

 

The futuristic looking VLB-44 LED beacon now shines from Whaleback's lantern

 
 

 

Posted: 10/29/2009

 
 

 

 

 
 

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