After a few years of concerted fund raising by the Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society, the lighthouse renovations are proceeding at full steam ahead. The necessary repairs were assessed and carried out by a dedicated team led by Bahamian and international experts.
Giving this reporter a guided tour, Mrs. Kent LeBoutillier explained what had been accomplished during the past few months and what was in the process of being done.
“The goal,” said LeBoutillier, “is to have it locally restored and maintained with advice from experts all over the world.”
Trinity House in the United Kingdom, Lighthouse Technicians in Florida and local experts in Nassau are supplying expertise and knowledge, she said.
As we approach the imposing structure, which rises 180 feet above ground, two workmen, Jackson Blanche and his brother Christopher Dean, were stripping the brass astragals that frame all the glass windows. After replacing the glass and caulking it, they will re-install the heated glass in a way that it will be sealed to keep moisture out. The astragals will be screwed back around the glass and seal also.
So far they have re-installed five new glass panes. Altogether there are 48 diamond panes, thirty two half-diamonds and sixteen rectangles; it will take approximately six months to complete the job. The hope is to complete the work before the start of hurricane season.
At the bottom of the stairs, a display of a diamond window shows the work that has to be done. A fund raising effort, “Diamonds are Forever,” had patrons contribute to the purchase of a diamond pane. Two thousand dollars would buy a full glass, one thousand for half a pane.
Donors will have their names inscribed on a display board.
Climbing the 101 steps that lead to the gallery, LeBoutillier pointed out both completed restoration and what has to be saved for a later date. Passing a completely broken window, she mentioned that it was the work of a group of young visitors who used a crank bar to hit the glass. Though they paid for the damage, it is an unnecessary set-back for what is meticulous work.
However, some visitors have gone above and beyond to help assist with the restoration.
Reaching the kerosene tanks, she explained that an undergraduate and steam engine aficionado from Lesley College in Massachusetts, Alex Karnes, spent a week on Elbow Cay cleaning the tanks after emptying them. He took the inspection ports out, resealed the valves and re-primed the tanks.
The green tanks and the brass fittings are now shining and in perfect condition.
LeBoutillier mentioned that the lighthouse uses two and one half gallons of kerosene per day. The fuel is usually hand-carried and poured in the brass cup that sits on top of one of the tanks.
At the bottom of the mechanical room, she pointed out that the slate tiles on the floor are cracking because of rust build-up underneath. The problem is not an emergency and will be addressed further ahead.
My guide’s enthusiasm for this old structure- built from 1862 to 1864- was revealed through the information she provided out about the intricate functioning of this last kerosene fueled, human operated lighthouse in the world.
The two lighthouse keepers, Jeffrey Forbes and Elvis Parker, alternate shifts of a half night each. It takes the man on duty 436 cranks to get the weights to the top. The kerosene is heated with denatured alcohol, then vaporized and turn around the clock mantels that are seen glowing at night.
The mantels are donated by the Coleman Company that supplies them every couple of weeks,
Before going out on the gallery to observe the work of Jackson Blanche and Christopher Dean, who were busy removing the old astragals around a window, LeBoutillier points out the air vents in the mechanical room. They were taken out and cleaned to ensure a proper air flow.
Outside, Blanche pointed out the metal gallery deck that was rusted out. He explained that the rust had to be neutralized with Pettit brand Rustlock, a product secured from a local hardware. It was then primed five times before the final coat of paint was applied.
Going back down, LeBoutillier mentioned that eventually the famous red and white candy stripes of the lighthouse will have to be completely repainted. The outside walls were never stripped before and coats of paint have accumulated, causing water to seep behind the last coat.
At the bottom of the walkway, we stop at the boutique that was opened a little over one year ago. Manning the shop was a volunteer, Mr. Jo Reising.
Many volunteers see to the functioning of the lighthouse that is being renovated and maintained entirely through donations.
Lory Kenyon is the Executive Director of the Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society. Mrs. LeBoutillier is a dedicated volunteer in charge of the Building and Grounds Committee as well as the gift shop.