There is always a starting line.
Last week progress began on the Cape San Blas Lighthouse relocation project with the removal of the large lens at the top of the tower.
Professional Lampist Joe Cocking, the only certified lampist in Florida, set up a pulley system last Wednesday and successfully removed the lens by Thursday afternoon.
Special air-tight boxes were constructed for the lens.
They were fabricated with materials provided by the city and there was a slight delay in operations when another box had to be constructed at the last minute.
Cocking dismantled the lens and packed each piece of glass into the boxes, wrapping them in a copper paper to keep any moisture out.
Cocking pointed out that a major obstacle to the removal process was that the lighthouse lacked a center well. Common procedure is to lower the boxes down the middle of the interior.
“You always need to be flexible,” said Cocking. “There’s always something unexpected.
“You have to be Gumby.”
According to the lampist, the danger of using the pulley system, or “old school physics,” as he called it, was that the boxes stood a greater chance of being blown around by winds coming off the water.
Luckily, the wind was busy elsewhere and the lens made a safe journey to ground level.
Arlyn Danielson, curator for the U.S. Coast Guard was on hand to oversee the process.
“The Coast Guard owns all lighthouse lenses,” said Danielson. “For preservation reasons decommissioned lenses often go to a museum or are borrowed by lighthouse groups to interpret maritime history.”
The lens will be restored and ready to reinstall if and when the lighthouse is relocated to Port St. Joe.
While the additional box was being crafted down below, up in the lighthouse tower Kathleen McCormick, the director of collections in St. Augustine, was hard at work dismantling the clockwork mechanism which regulates the weights which ascend and descend, rotating the tower’s lenses, and controlling the rate at which it flashes.
McCormick has a museum conservation background and has been visiting lighthouses with Cocking for more than eight years, helping with adjustments, repairs, dismantling or even just appreciating the technology.
“I have a fascination with 19th Century machinery,” said McCormick. “Railroad technology, music machines, clockwork gears and lighthouses…it’s all very similar.”
McCormick pointed out that a unique feature of the lighthouse is that it’s constructed of steel. Most lighthouses constructed around the same time were made of brick, stone, wood or iron.
When lighthouses were built at the turn of the 21st Century, they were constructed with whatever materials were most readily available and designed to fit the local geographic and climatic conditions.
Cocking said that the hardest part of the job wasn’t lowering the lens, but rather clearing out the wasps that had made the lighthouse their home. During their first visit several weeks ago, Cocking and McCormick had to ascend through more than 100 stairs of stinging terror.
Bids have been received for the relocation of the lighthouse though they have not been presented to the public. Bids for moving the keepers’ quarters and oil house were due this week.