52 Slices
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St. Croix Light

Caldwell, Bill Down East Books ePub

Go off this tiny, lovely island called Dochet, at the entrance to the St. Croix River, and you are in Canadian waters. St. Croix is the first light in the First Lighthouse District of the United States. There is a marker set in the ledge on the highest place on the island that says, “International Boundary.” Today, the true boundary between the United States and Canada runs through the river, just east of the island.

Another more stirring historical marker set in a boulder reads:

1604-1904. To commemorate the Discovery and Occupation of this Island by De Monts and Champlain, Who naming it L’Isle Sainte Croix, Founded here 26 June 1604, the French Colony of Acadia, then the only Settlement of Europeans north of Florida. This tablet is erected by residents of the St. Croix Valley in 1904.

French historian Marc Lescarbot, describing the first landing here, wrote that the island was “one half a league in circuit, ground most excellent and fruitful, strong of nature, easy of defense, but difficult to be found.”

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Portland Lightships

Caldwell, Bill Down East Books ePub

Once there were 122 lightships in the United States. Today there are none. The era of stalwart lightships is gone forever. Yet the memory, the nostalgia, and the love of lightships live on.

Lightships live in the long memories of old immigrants heading from Europe to a new life in the New World. The first foretaste of their new world was the lightship that signaled they were at long last coming to their American harbor. Lightships live in the memories of mariners, to whom these special marks signaled the safe end of a long voyage. And lightships live in the memories—not always fond ones—of the men who served aboard these bouncing tethered sentinels of our coast.

Portland had a series of four lightships for seventy-two years, from 1903 until 1975, when the last Portland lightship was replaced by an automated, crewless, large navigational buoy.

Portland’s first lightship came on station March 7, 1903, anchored in seabed selected by divers six miles east-southeast of Cape Elizabeth. This lightship, Number 74 in the annals of the Lighthouse Service, was three years late in reporting for duty. This delay was due, first, to delays in the shipyard that built her, the Parkersburg Iron Works in Virginia, and second, because no sooner had she been launched than she went hard aground in the James River.

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Whaleback Light

Caldwell, Bill Down East Books ePub

The first Whaleback Light should have toppled and sunk. And it nearly did.

The first light, built in 1829 at the mouth of the Piscataqua River near the Maine-New Hampshire boundary, was shoddily built, but survived—miraculously—for some forty years, though many keepers felt they and their lighthouse would be drowned together.

The stone tower and pier cost $20,000, which in 1829 should have been money enough to build a strong, substantial light. But the contractor skimped in places his cheating might not be easily detected.

Where the lowest stones were laid for the light tower, the ledge should have been leveled off evenly to take the first course of masonry. Instead, the contractor laid the first foundation stones of the tower on an uneven surface of the ledge, and skimped by filling the holes with small stones.

When the first storm seas washed across, out went the loose stones and the underpinnings of the light were washed away. Another bit of cheating was that the contractor failed to bolt the bottom of the tower into the ledge. It is a wonder that the first storms did not wash away the entire lighthouse.

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Mark Island Light, Deer Island Thorofare

Caldwell, Bill Down East Books ePub

The western approach to Deer Island Thorofare is marked by the handsome light station on Mark Island. The light was built almost 150 years ago, and went into service in 1857 as a family station.

Fishermen and deepwater seamen from Deer Isle had been pressuring for a light to guide them into the Deer Island Thorofare as they navigated through the dozens of islands in East Penobscot Bay.

One vital fact to remember about the buoy system here is that coming to the Deer Island Thorofare from the west—from the Fox Islands Thorofare—you are going out to sea and not returning to harbor. This, of course, means that you leave the red buoys on your left and the black ones on your right. Making for the light on Mark Island, remember this because you must leave the red buoy at West Mark Island Ledge on your left and steer between it and the Mark Island Light. The same “red on the left, black on the right” applies to all buoys through the Deer Island Thorofare, heading to the east.

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Burnt Coat Harbor Light

Caldwell, Bill Down East Books ePub

Cruising east from Stonington, Steer Clear left astern jaunty Grog Island, comes between Saddleback and Shingle Islands, and from the bell buoy there set course across the splendidly named Jericho and Toothacher Bays for Burnt Harbor Light on Hockamock Head on Swans Island.

Burnt Coat is, many say, a corruption of the French name Brule Cote, a name given this spot in the 17th century because the land had been burned over by a wildfire.

Steer Clear had a hard time making this harbor on our first trip here. We had been running slowly in fog from the bell of Halibut Rocks, four miles away, on a well-held compass course to the bell by Harbor Island, near the entrance to Burnt Coat.

We didn’t hear that bell when we thought we should and so made a very easy slow turn from where we thought the bell should be and put our bow toward the light and fog horn on Hockamock Head, hoping to spot the light glimmering through the fog or hear the horn. Neither. Nothing.

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