Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A California Keeper's Memories

About ten years ago, Jim Gibbs, maritime author extraordinaire, gifted me several metal file boxes and an old leather zipper briefcase of his notes and research on West Coast lighthouses. He had retired with no plans to write any more books or articles for the public. As Jim put it, he was content to write letters  (and he sent many to me!) and jot down memories in his journal. He kindly commented that he knew I would do good things with his materials.

Jim and I having a laugh and conversation at his home in Yachats, Oregon about 2006.

Jim Gibbs passed away quietly in his home a few years after the photo above was taken by my daughter, Jessica. He is greatly missed by those of us who love lighthouses. As I sift through the files he gave me, I find lots of jewels. I think Jim would want me to share as much of his information as possible.

Below is a letter written to Jim Gibbs by Radford Franz Franke, a one-time lightship sailor and lighthouse keeper. Franke vividly and candidly recalled life at these assignments. Some of these recollections appeared in Jim Gibb's books.

Franke is gone now, but his memories live on, at least in this letter. There's no date on it, but I estimate it was written in the 1960s. I love that it's so conversational, as if Franke is sitting across from you telling his stories. My favorite part of his letter talks about World War II and the Franke being sent on a cutter to extinguish buoys in Los Angeles Harbor. Enjoy! click on each scanned page to make it bigger.

Ano Nuevo Light Station. The square building beside the framework lighthouse held the beacon in Franke's day.

Ballast Point Light Station in 1933. Coast Guard Photo

You can download a live interview with Franke from this website--

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Message in a Bottle

Drawing of the original Smalls Lighthouse after completion. From Trinity House

On this day, February 1st in 1777, the workmen building the Smalls Lighthouse off the coast of Wales sent an urgent message ashore via a bottle place inside a wooden cask and thrown into the sea. They were superintended by a gentleman named H. Whiteside and were mostly coal miners hired for the temporary work of building a lighthouse tower on this stretch of dangerous Pembrookshire shore at the westernmost extremity of Wales. A storm on January 23rd had left them in dire straits. Their boat had broken loose and drifted away, leaving them marooned 21-miles from the nearest land. Desperate, they wrote on the message:

Finding ourselves at the moment in the most critical and dangerous condition, we hope that Providence will guide this letter to you, and that you will come immediately to our succor. Send to seek for us before spring or we will perish, I fear; our supply of wood and water is almost exhausted, and our house is in the most sad state. We do not doubt that you would come to seek us as promptly as possible. We can be reached at high tide in about any weather. I have no need to tell you more, you will comprehend out distress, and I remain your humble servant — H. Whiteside

The bottle was picked up on a beach some days later by a fisherman and relief was sent to the workers.King Neptune's postal service saved the men!

Old and new Smalls Lighthouses from Thousands Islands Expeditions