Hopetown Lighthouse

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Elbow Reef Lighthouse at night, after being light by Sam

Properly named the Elbow Reef Lighthouse in Hopetown, this lighthouse has been actively operating since 1864! The lighthouse is 89 feet tall and stands 120 feet above sea level as it is built on a hill overlooking the harbor. The light is visible for 17 miles. During the most recent hurricane, Irene, Sam the lighthouse keeper kept the light lit and running as it was the ONLY light that was on in the Abacos. Residents commented on seeing the light during the storm and said that as long as it was lit, they knew they would be OK.

Sam, a second generation lighthouse keeper, used to climb the steps as a very young boy with his father as he watched and learned how to manage and maintain this historic lighthouse. We were lucky enough to spend an evening with Sam, who demonstrated the process of lighting the light. First, he preheats the gas mantel with a cup of burning alcohol for 10 minutes. Once hot, the pressurized kerosene mixture can be turned on, and with great skill and caution, the flowing gas is lit. With a loud pop and then a rushing, blow torch sound, and next a hissing and roaring, the lens is quickly filled with the incredibly bright light of the lit mantle! This is all happening while Sam is sitting INSIDE the Fresnel lens, adjusting the gas flow and pressure, making sure that the light is burning properly.

Sam, a second generation lighthouse keeper

Sam is very passionate about his job and he is extremely proud to be one of two lighthouse keepers who live on the property. Sam and Jeff share the night shift and must hand wind and lift the weights with a large crank handle every two hours! Yes, every two hours, they climb the 101 steps to the top of the lighthouse and crank the weights back up to the top. These weights then slowly drop, pulling the gears and rotating the massive Fresnel lens which is resting on bearings and also a bed of mercury! Once the light is lit, the lens is pushed to begin its rotation. The weights are then engaged and the light is officially up and running.

It was a true honor to see this process and to hear Sam tell of stories as a child working the lighthouse with his father. Elbow Reef Lighthouse is a world treasure and will soon be the last non-automated lighthouse on earth. Thank you, Sam, for your passion and your love of the Lighthouse….it was an honor to see it with you!

Walking up the hill from the harbor to the lighthouse
One of the keeper’s house on the right at the base of the lighthouse
The sign over the door with lighthouse facts
Looking up into the center of the lighthouse at the spiral staircase
Halfway up, the views out the window over the harbor are beautiful
Two tanks of fuel and two tanks of pressurized air send the fuel to the light above
Note the hand pump on the right side that adds pressure to the air tanks! 
Looking into the Fresnel Lens, the bearings and oil cans help it rotate
One of 5 lens that flash in a pattern of 5 flashes then a steady light in 15 seconds
The gears and steel cables that are wound and drive the rotation of the lenses
A daytime view over the harbor from the outside walkway that circles top the light
Sam (on the left) inside the lens, pre-heating and burning a cup of alcohol fuel under the mantle 
Sam taking a match and moving the flame up to the now flowing gas
The flowing gas is visible here! Sam preparing to light the gas, all while INSIDE the lens!
POP, the gas ignites, the roar is heard and the lens is illuminated!
Note the chimney above the burning mantle
A view looking out on the night harbor
Note the reflection of the lenses in the glass 

Thank you once again, SAM, for your demonstration and your dedication to the Elbow Reef Lighthouse in Hopetown. This visit was especially significant for Radeen, since her dad was a lighthouse tender on an island in Alaska in the late 1930’s. If you are ever in Hopetown, this is a MUST SEE event. Simply go up to the base of the lighthouse before sunset and wait for Sam or Jeff to talk to you about the lighthouse and then climb up to the top with them and watch this historic process.

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