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This feed is mostly personal interest; it's NOT my professional writing. There's tech here, yes, but also lots of general science and some politics and weird humor thrown in.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Exploring Boston: 15 lighthouses, by water

Last week, I took the "Northern Lighthouse Tour; " a five hour, 85-mile (136km) cruise from Boston Harbor to Cape Ann and back, passing 15 lighthouses and numerous daymarkers and historic sites. The tour was organized by the nonprofit Friends of the Boston Harbor Islands  (http://www.fbhi.org/).

It's called a northern tour because it skirts the North Shore of Massachusetts. (There's also a matching Southern --- South Shore --- Lighthouse Tour, but I haven't taken that yet.)

Here's the route, as recorded by my smartphone GPS:
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FBHI provided a maritime historian to narrate the tour. I took some notes, but most of the text that follows was shamelessly lifted from various online sources, mostly Wikipedia.

Here are some highlights of what I saw:

Pulling away from the dock, with the Customs House tower in the background:
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Passing the Black Falcon Terminal and cruise ship docks:
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Couldn't have asked for better weather:
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A small regatta was under weigh:
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Long Island Head Light (orig. 1819):
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Long Island Head Light is the fourth lighthouse on the island; the previous three each succumbing to wind, weather, and advancing technology.

The first Long Island Head Light was an 1819 20-foot stone tower. The second (1843) was one of the earliest cast iron lighthouse structures, thirty-four feet tall, replaced in 1881 by the third; a conical cast iron structure. Around 1900, the lighthouse had to be moved to get it away from the concussion of the new harbor defense guns installed at Fort Strong on the island; the current brick tower was finished in 1901.
Like most US lighthouses, Long Island Head Light is now unmanned and solar powered.
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Google Satellite map view (shows lighthouse and the ruins of the fort: http://tinyurl.com/po7whey)

More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Island_Head_Light

Boston Light (1783):
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Boston Light is a lighthouse located on Little Brewster Island in outer Boston Harbor, Massachusetts. The first lighthouse to be built on the site dates back to 1716, and was the first lighthouse to be built in what is now the United States. The current lighthouse dates from 1783, is the second oldest working lighthouse in the US (after Sandy Hook Lighthouse in New Jersey), and was the only lighthouse to still be actively staffed by the United States Coast Guard, being automated in 1998 though there are still volunteer keepers acting as tour guides]. The structure was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

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During the American Revolution, the original lighthouse was held by British forces and was attacked and burnt on two occasions by American forces. As the British forces withdrew in 1776, they blew up the tower and completely destroyed it. The lighthouse was eventually reconstructed in 1783, to the same 75-foot (23 m) height as the original tower. In 1856 it was raised to its present height of 98 feet (30 m) and a new lantern room was added along with a 12-sided second order Fresnel lens.

I visited Boston Light last year, and was able to go inside. I wrote about it here:

More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Light

Map: http://tinyurl.com/me896aj

Graves Light (1905):
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The lighthouse was built in 1905, to a conical design using granite blocks on a granite foundation, and equipped with one of the few first-order Fresnel lens ever used. The lens assembly stands about 12 ft (4m) tall and is now at the Smithsonian Institution.

The light was the setting for the climactic storm in the 1948 film "Portrait of Jennie."

Various sources agree that the ledges were named for a Thomas Graves, but differ on who he was; some prefer a 17th century British Admiral; others like a colonial era American merchant. The USCG history web site shows both.

The Graves Island Light Station was put up for auction on June 10, 2013 by the U.S. General Services Administration. Opening bid was $26,000. The tenth and winning bid was a record $933,888, the highest price ever paid for a U.S lighthouse.

Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Graves_Light
Map: http://tinyurl.com/obmjhxr

Graves Light is in the Outer Harbor, well offshore:
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Egg Rock (Former lighthouse site)
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Egg Rock (sometimes called Elephant Rock) in Nahant Bay near Nahant, Massachusetts is a small (3-acre) island. It was formerly the site of a lighthouse known as Egg Rock Light but now is owned by the state of Massachusetts as a bird sanctuary. Egg Rock can be seen clearly from the coasts of Nahant, Swampscott, and Lynn.

Map: http://tinyurl.com/odoexve
Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_Rock_(Nahant_Bay)

Marblehead light (1895):
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Marblehead Light is situated on Marblehead Neck in Essex County, Massachusetts. The current tower is a skeletal structure that replaced the original 1835 brick and wood tower in 1895. It was originally lit with 10 whale-oil lamps.

It is the only tower of its type in New England, the nearest similar tower is to be found at Coney Island, New York.

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Map: http://tinyurl.com/kdyg46s
Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marblehead_Light_(Massachusetts)

At this point in the trip, Boston was just starting to disappear on the horizon:
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But Salem harbor was nearby, and packed with weekend boats:
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Fort Pickering/Winter Island Light  (1871):
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Fort Pickering Light, also known as Winter Island Light, is a cast-iron lighthouse built in 1871 and discontinued by the Coast Guard in 1969. It was relit as a private aid to navigation by the City of Salem in 1983.
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Info: http://lighthouse.cc/fortpickering/http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=481
Map: http://tinyurl.com/pmudjgr

Lovely spot:
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Hospital Point Range Front Light (1872):
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Hospital Point Range Front Light is a historic lighthouse in Beverly, Massachusetts. It forms the front half of a range which guides vessels toward Salem Harbor.
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Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hospital_Point_Range_Front_Light
Map: http://tinyurl.com/kvaeqwj

Hospital Point Range Rear Light  (c. 1927):

The Hospital Point Range Rear Light is the beacon from a lightship relocated to the steeple of the First Baptist Church of Beverly --- it's the round dot about 1/3 of the way up the steeple:
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This beacon projects a very narrow beam, only 2 degrees to either side of the range course, leading across the northern part of the sound. The light continues in active service today.

Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hospital_Point_Range_Rear_Light, http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=607
Map: http://tinyurl.com/p7rllc7

Baker's Island Light (1821):
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Bakers Island Light is a historic lighthouse on Bakers Island in Salem, Massachusetts. The station was originally established in 1791, with a daymarker. This was replaced in 1798 by two lights atop a keeper's house, one at each end. After storm damage in 1815, an octagonal stone tower was constructed. The current round stone tower was added in 1820. The 1820 tower was taller, leading to the names "Ma" and "Pa". The two remained in service until 1926, when the older, shorter tower was removed.
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Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bakers_Island_Light
Map: http://tinyurl.com/pc6x58x

Eastern Point Lighthouse (1832):
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Eastern Point Lighthouse was erected on Gloucester's Eastern Point to mark the harbor entrance in 1832. The current brick tower was built in 1890. In addition to the light, there is a large lighthouse station, which continues to serve as housing for the U.S. Coast Guard. One of the station's more famous occupants was Winslow Homer. The noted artist spent a year living at the light in 1880.

Info: http://www.capeannvacations.com/Lighthouse.cfm?id=8633&mk=0&ck=177
Map: http://tinyurl.com/os9u2rw

Gloucester Breakwater light (1904):
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The light is located at the end of a long breakwater extending from the Eastern Point Lighthouse (above).
Map: http://tinyurl.com/mpkdg2m

Gloucester Harbor was busy, and scenic:
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Ten Pound Island Lighthouse (1821):
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Ten Pound Island was the site of America's first coast guard station. The light has recently been completely restored by the Lighthouse Preservation Society.
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Info: http://www.lighthouse.cc/tenpoundisland/history.html That site says, "Tradition tells us that Ten Pound Island, on the east side of Gloucester Harbor, received its name from the amount of money paid to the local Indians for the property by the early settlers. This commonly told tale is disputed by the Cape Ann historian Joseph Garland, who wrote that it was more likely named for the number of sheep pens (also known as pounds) on the island, which was reserved in the early days for 'rams onlie.'

"Ten Pound Island gained notoriety in 1817 when several people reported seeing a large sea serpent in the vicinity."

More: http://www.capeannvacations.com/Lighthouse.cfm?id=9366&mk=0&ck=177
Map: http://tinyurl.com/p64hojp

Old and new: Gloucester Harbor, with several giant wind turbines on a backing hill:
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Thacher Island Twin Lighthouses (1789):
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Also known as Cape Ann Light Station, these twin lights are the only surviving multiple lights on the coasts of the United States. The original 45-foot towers were constructed and lit in 1789-making them among the oldest of America's lighthouses. The stout 124 foot granite towers seen today replaced the original lights in 1861.
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The two towers were constructed on an exact North-South line so that when a ship sights on both towers, and the towers align, the ship is on either a due north or due south course, allowing sailors to check and adjust their compasses, or navigate with no compass.

North-northeast of the lighthouses:
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Due north:
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Map: http://tinyurl.com/kwyk6mj
Info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Ann_Light_Station , http://www.capeannvacations.com/Lighthouse.cfm?id=9470&mk=0&ck=177

The Londoner Ledge Spindle daymarks a nasty rock ledge just off Thacher Island.
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Straitsmouth Island Lighthouse (1835):
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The Straitsmouth Island Light is a granite and brick lighthouse located on Straitsmouth Island, in Rockport, Massachusetts. The original tower was built in 1835, and replaced by a second tower in 1896. It was automated in 1967, and is still in operation. The actual light is 46 feet (14 meters) above Mean High Water.

The Straitsmouth Island Light was the northernmost extent of the trip. To the south, too low to photograph, we could just see the sweep of Cape Cod disappearing over the horizon. To the north, we could see all the way into Maine: That blue hump on the horizon is Mount Agamenticus, outside Ogunquit: photo P9280119_zpsa43b76bb.jpg

Mount Agamenticus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agamenticus
Map: http://tinyurl.com/npd7tg7

4+ hours into the cruise, Boston came back into view:
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We re-entered the harbor, and passed the Lightship Nantucket, now privately owned by the United States Lightship Museum. It's undergoing restoration in East Boston.
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About the various Nantucket Lightships:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightship_Nantucket
About this particular lightship: http://www.nantucketlightship.com/

It was a great tour, and an exceedingly pleasant way to spend a late-summer/early fall day in New England.