LATITUDE / JR
Page 54 •
• April, 2007
control of the lighthouse structures themselves will change. The but Gate National Recreation Area (part of the National Park Service) will have control of the lighthouses at Point Bonita, Alcatraz, Point Montara and the smaller structures — which were primarily foghorn stations, although they were lit at night — at Lime Point (under the north tower of the Golden Gate) and Point Diablo (about a 1/2 mile farther west). Not because the Though changing caretakers, the light at Alcatraz GGNRA has any will continue to be a beacon for local sailors. more money for upkeep and maintenance than the Coasties — which was basically zilch — but because they are interested in eventual restoration of these structures and opening the big ones to the public. We travel the coast from San Francisco Bay to mainland Mexico and back every year, and in the process pass probably two dozen lighthouses. Yet thinking back, we're somewhat surprised to realize that these lighthouses play almost no role in our navigation. To be sure, they are pleasant signposts along the way, and provide physical confirmation of our general whereabouts, but give very limited information compared to our main navigation tools, which are GPS, radar, depthsounder and the good ol' Ouija board. ⇑⇓THERE'S NOTHING AS COMFORTING OR USEFUL In my opinion there is nothing that remains as comforting and genuinely useful to a helmsman as a good old-fashioned lighthouse to confirm and enable entry into a port at night. Two years ago we sailed the Kauai Channel Race on a moonless night. We arrived at the double-hairpin Nawiliwili Harbor channel — the finish was inside the harbor — at 4:30 a.m. under scattered overcast without moon. How dark was it? Dark enough so that even the lowest light setting our mast-mount instruments was bright to the point of distraction. But it was blowing 25+ knots, and we were doing 12 to 15 knots. We had our chart plotters up top, course angle on the mast-mount instruments, and multiple other digital aids, but Will a lighthouse help — or hurt — in making this there was absohairpin turn when sailing in 25 knots of wind? lutely nothing as helpful as that big light that was easy to steer to. The ground clutter of street lights, traffic lights, hotel lights, and port lights made the channel marks impossible to see until we
The April 2007 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.