And then there was light

October 22, 2002 12:00 am
A full moon bathes St. George Reef Lighthouse in soft light on a misty night, shortly after the new lantern was illuminated. The lighthouse, built in 1891, was dark for 27 years until Saturday night. (Stephen M. Corley/ The Daily Triplicate).
A full moon bathes St. George Reef Lighthouse in soft light on a misty night, shortly after the new lantern was illuminated. The lighthouse, built in 1891, was dark for 27 years until Saturday night. (Stephen M. Corley/ The Daily Triplicate).

By Jennifer Henion

Triplicate staff writer

It worked and it gave everyone there goose bumps.

As the light switch was ceremoniously flipped Saturday night at the St. George Reef Lighthouse, 12 volunteers who had not even dreamed such an accomplishment would happen this year were thrilled when beams of light from the new signal hit their faces.

"That was an emotional moment for everyone," said Guy Towers, president of the Lighthouse Preservation Society.

A miniature version of the lighthouse's original and massive fresnel lens was installed late last week and turned on to celebrate the 110-year-old beacon Saturday.

Turning slowly, the new light projects eight separate beams to a distance of 30 miles, using a tiny 35-watt bulb the size of a flashlight bulb.

It is powered with three 150-pound rechargeable batteries hooked to a wind machine and some solar panels.

The project was made possible by retired electrical engineer Glenn Williamson who purchased, engineered and installed the light and power system in memory of his recently deceased wife Colleen Williamson, a serious lighthouse enthusiast.

There is now a plaque attached to the light's support table attributing the project to her endowment.

Lighting the new lamp was just part of the ceremony commemorating St. George's 110th year.

At 1:30 p.m., Sunday, Towers began a second ceremony in front of several tourists, his 15-or-so crew members and U.S. Coast Guard Commander Jeff Ogden, Executive Officer of Group Humboldt Bay Air Station.

The ceremony was Towers' way of formally beginning what he calls the "second watch" of St. George Reef.

Manned by the U.S. Coast Guard between 1891 and 1975, Towers considers that era the "first watch."

When Towers first took over the lease of the then-dilapidated building and island from Del Norte County about 10 years ago, he found a mechanical clock, stopped when the Coast Guard left in 1975.

It's hands were set at 12:10 when it was shut off. So at 12:10 p.m., Sunday, Towers turned it back on, to signify the new beginning of the lighthouse and the second watch.

"The clock is a symbol of transition from the Coast Guard to the society and the future use of the lighthouse," Towers said.

Though fog socked in Crescent City's shores Saturday when the first lighting was scheduled, the light could be seen faintly on Sunday evening from Williamson's home near Smith River.

Installing the new light was not the only accomplishment of the volunteer crew.

The electrical system and plumbing of the six-story tower. which had lain unused in the salty air for 27 years, was revived for use.

New hand railing was installed on the helicopter deck and wooden shutters were put over the windows by Terry McNamara who had to rappel down the side of the lighthouse 150 feet above the rocky island base to accomplish the job.

About 45 people paid the $150 fee to be flown by helicopter from Crescent City airport to the lighthouse six miles offshore and to spend a few hours touring the historic building's interior.

Wind and other delays caused some of the planned tours to be cancelled.

Tours and work projects on the lighthouse will begin again next summer. Flights to the rock are forbidden after Oct. 21 due to sea lion birthing.