Cabrillo Lighthouse, August 6th and 7th 1999.

Cabrillo Lighthouse, August 6th and 7th 1999. For the last two years I have volunteered to help out at the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse for their Whale Festival. So when the lighthouse had a special event, they invited all the volunteers to come to a party. Maryly and I were invited to a special celebration Friday night: The re-lighting of the Fresnel lens on the lighthouse!

In the 1970's the Coast Guard abandoned all the lighthouse buildings and replaced them with automated lights. In some cases the Coast Guard actually burned lighthouses to the ground just out of spite to keep people from squatting in them! In other cases the buildings were invaded by vandals who broke the beautiful Frensel lenses apart with pry-bars to take pieces home as prisms. If you have ever seen a complete Fresnel lens in a lighthouse, the thought of burning or smashing such a wonderful, beautiful object should bring tears to your eyes.

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse fortunately escaped these fates, but the equipment and buildings eventually fell into disrepair. In recent years a unique combination of private (North coast interpretive association) state (Coastal conservancy) and federal (Coast Guard) organizations has funded a project to restore the Point Cabrillo Light. The Coast Guard even agreed to wire a new electric light into the beautifully restored Fresnel lens and use it again instead of the ugly automated light. (Although they did install a newer unobtrusive flasher light as a backup). Friday night was the official re-lighting of the Fresnel lens and I felt very privileged to be there.

After dark the lens in the lighthouse started pulsing. Was it warming up for the re-lighting? No, it was just light leaking through from the new flasher on the other side of the tower. There were speeches from politicians and other bureaucrats who had little to do with the millions of volunteer hours that have made the reconstruction possible. Then there was a ten second countdown and the Fresnel lens came on again after years of darkness. Four beams of light lanced out into the night. Like a six foot tall diamond on display at a jewelers, the lens rotated and the four beams spun around the sky.

I assume that there will be curtains to prevent the light from shining on-shore but they are not up yet. The light flashed over the continuing celebration and added a disco effect to the dancing until all hours. The light flashed over the windows of the Lighthouse Keepers Houses where some of us volunteers were trying to sleep later that night. The light flashed over the houses of people in the community nearby. But nobody seriously objected. The restoration project has been well received by the community (where many volunteers came from). Everyone is proud of THEIR lighthouse. And well they should be.

The next morning, John and Karen Wagner, John Somer, Steve Schriedman, Ken Mannshardt, Maryly and I launched our kayaks from nearby Russian Gulch Beach. I had originally planned to paddle up to Point Cabrillo and back. But instead we planned to just paddle north until we used up one half of our time, then return to our volunteer duty.

Maryly was taking her Tsunami X1 kayak out on the ocean for the first time. We had just spent a lot of time making a seat back and extending the sliders for the pedals to allow the boat to be used by an "altitude challenged" person like Maryly. Apparently the fit is good now but Maryly is a bit insecure paddling such a narrow (and therefore tippy) boat on the ocean. Fortunately our abridged trip was just the right length to give her some experience in the boat and build her confidence.

The swell at sea was a nice calm three feet every eight seconds, so my plan was to go through every cave and arch we could reach. I told Maryly that her boat NEEDED to go into the caves. It turned out that many of the people on this trip had never been in a sea cave before. But in the mild conditions they were all willing to let me drag them through a whirlwind introduction to Mendocino Caves.

First we went into and out of the small cave inside the Russian Gulch cove. Then we exited the cove and turned right to go through the series of three arches I took Maryly through last year. I assured everyone that the choppy water outside the first arch was the worst they would see and from here on it would be easy. Maryly backed me up on this and everyone followed us. They were all glad they did. Inside one of these coves is another side cave that turns a corner and disappears into darkness. I bemoaned the fact that I had not brought my dive light with me. John Somer volunteered his flashlight but I told him that an ordinary flashlight will not pass muster in a cave. He went in and proved me right by casting a pale anemic orange spot on the rock walls. Someone else said that John's flashlight just needed new batteries, but I know that it takes a SERIOUS flashlight to shine a useful amount of light inside a cave.

We continued through the three arches and on to some coves farther north that I have never completely explored. So we found ourselves inside caves that I have never been in. One of them went deep into the rock and opened up into a large chamber, then exited out a larger arch to the right. Several people refused to go into the first entrance until I told them about the larger one closer to shore. I think everyone, even the people sea caving for the first time, felt comfortable going in through that entrance.

By then half of our time was up and we headed back for Russian Gulch (going back through the three arches in preference to paddling around). Everyone else then went around the last point, but I hugged the shore and found yet another arch and shortcut through that point! It was a little narrow and too close to where waves were breaking, but I told John to go around and tell everyone else I was trying a short-cut. I made it OK, and so did John who had to travel through and area where waves sometimes broke between the rocks and the point. We re-joined everyone by the time we landed on the beach. No way was I going to be late for my volunteer duty at Point Cabrillo Lighthouse!

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All text and images Copyright © 1999 by Mike Higgins / contact