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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

15 December 2011


Story takes place July 1959.
Essay from author to web admin in 1997.
Published in Water Work, Hockett, L. W. (Trafford) 2005.
Smith Island Light Station, June 1949.
In 1858 the station was 200-ft from the cliff edge.
In 1949 sand & clay banks had crept to within 40-ft.
The two buildings at left center are the keeper's homes.
Further left are the power house & control buildings,
water tower, and wartime barracks.
Photograph by the US Coast Guard.
Original in the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society.©

"Smith Island is at the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The lighthouse stone work, materials, cast-iron lantern- house, lens, and auxiliary equipment were shipped from the east coast around Cape Horn. The structure was built in 1857; the lamp lit 18 October 1858.
      After a century of wasting waves at the confluence of currents, a recorded Haida attack, and numerous earthquakes, the Coast Guard replaced the lighthouse with an unmanned airway-type light on a steel tower set farther east. The solid stone block house was about thirty-feet from the edge of the bluff at the time.
      Jim Gibbs, former editor of the Marine Digest and former Coast Guard lighthouse keeper had acquired the lighthouse and asked me to remove the lantern from the tower, set it up on his property on the bluff above Skunk Bay, several miles northwest of Point No Point.
      While raising the F.V. MIDWAY, in June 1959 near Partridge Bank, I had the tug AMAK take me to Smith Island to check it out. On 4 July 1959, we left Ballard with my 88-foot crane barge, the MV- 41. Jim Gibbs was aboard with Bob Butts and Ralph Mote.
      Arriving at the island we anchored in four-fathoms near the bight on the south side of the Island. That night a southeast blow caused us to weigh anchor and shift into deeper water; we returned inshore in the morning to work.
      Jim went ashore to look over the tower and lantern with me; he did not want the floor plate or railings. I radioed Bob Monroe to send a float plane for Jim. When the plane arrived in the afternoon he wished us well and departed.
      The brick light tower was approximately forty-feet high. On top was the ten-sided lantern housing from which the window glass, lens, and auxiliary equipment had been removed. It was made of cast iron segments bolted at their bottom to a circular cast iron floor, eight-feet in diameter and 1.8-inches thick. Inside, a square hatch opening was cast at the side of the floor with a hinged cover at the top of the spiral iron stairway.
       The lower part was made of solid panels with ventilators in the center of every other one. On the outside of the panel, at the ventilator openings, was an integrally cast box open on the bottom. Inside was a radial disk damper that could be adjusted from open to closed to accommodate the original oil lamp. On top of each intersection of the panels was a mullion that supported the conical top and framed the window glass. The top was made of ten triangular shaped castings that, when bolted together, formed a conical roof of approximately half-pitch that was fitted with a finial ventilator.
       Around the outside of the lantern was a brick walkway with eight forged-iron railing stanchions, equally spaced and mortared in. They supported three one-inch round iron railing rods that penetrated the stanchions. These rods were joined by tubes slipped over the ends and riveted. We had rigged an "A"-frame to hang over the side with a block and a manila line to lower the lantern parts. They had been assembled with 5/8-inch bolts, with pump rod threads and cast iron square-nuts on each end. Disassembling the structure was as easy as if it had been installed the previous month.
      Having lowered the thirty-one components of the lantern we cut the railing rods, dug the stanchions out of the brickwork, and threw them down. We dug the floor casting loose from the brickwork, pried it up, blocked it, then tied a line on a toggle through the hatch hole and prevailed upon the Coast Guard to yank it off of the tower with their Jeep.
      The back porch was of three granite steps, 7.5" x 11.5" x 48". The Coast Guard obligingly transported the pieces to the water's edge where we loaded them with my crane at high tide in about one-fathom of water and right in the kelp.
      Loaded, we moved to the ferry dock at Kingston. Arriving on 7 July 1959 at 0530, we off-loaded onto my crane truck then delivered the load to Jim's site above Skunk Bay. There we assembled the lantern of the floor plate on the ground.
      The granite back porch and steps were sandblasted of what appeared to be a yearly coat of hard, coast-guard-gray paint and are now on the patio in our back yard forming a solid and child-proof table.
      The lantern has been installed on a wood frame small scale lighthouse. It is named Skunk Bay Memorial Lighthouse, privately maintained, and showing a continuous, low-power, red light in the USCG Light List. The lens is part of the collection at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle. The house and tower are rubble at the bottom of the bluff on the west side of Smith Island".
Business card from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society.
Below Text:
James A. Gibbs
West Coast Lighthouses
Superior Pub., 1974
Official since 1965.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
"Skunk Bay Lighthouse is the only official privately-owned lighthouse on Puget Sound. It is a navigational aid by accident. It was an oversight one night that caused the writer [Gibbs] to leave the light blinking in his 'retreat' lighthouse on the shores of Skunk Bay off Admiralty Inlet.
      The structure was built in 1959 and fitted with the lamphouse from the abandoned Smith Island Lighthouse. But the idea of it being a permanent light was only a lark. When the flashing lighting apparatus was accidentally left on one night calls poured into the Coast Guard headquarters from confused navigators and from air pilots at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. Fearing nefarious schemes to lure vessels astray, high ranking officers appeared next day to reprimand the culprit. After inspecting the structure, they labeled it as good a lighthouse as any in the district, and gave strict orders to either keep it lit or to keep it off. The former course was followed, it became official in the Light List, and a red light has been displayed every night since from a lamphouse that dates back to 1858.
      The unit was sold to the Skunk Bay Lighthouse Association in 1971, a group of several owners."

The autobiography of Seattle's Captain Hockett's sixty years of boatbuilding, commercial hart hat diving, marine surveying and related endeavors.
This book is out of print.
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