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Still clockwork and kerosene in Bahamas

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Postby island » Sat Feb 18, 2012 12:17 am


In August of 1996 the Port Department, under the Ministry of Transport, was prompted by economics to automate the last three hand-wound kerosene-burning Bahama lighthouses, these included Elbow Reef, San Salvador and Great Inagua. The Bahamas Lighthouse Preservation Society got the government to reconsider automation IF the Society could furnish the Department with the parts that were no longer available to them through their long-standing suppliers.

Since April of 1996 the Society has been successfully using mantles from the Coleman Company of Wichita, Kansas -- the well-known manufacturer of outdoor equipment. Coleman would send tubes of mantle material. Members of the Society would cut it to length, sew one end into a bunch, like a cheap sock and stitch a non-burnable draw-cord in the other end. An engineer for M.I.T. in Boston was found who could make burner and vaporizer hardware.

All of this effort went into simply keeping the light burning. Other parts of the Lighthouse demand maintenance too. As of November, 1997 Jeffrey Forbes, senior Principle Keeper, returned to Elbow Reef Lighthouse. He brought the brass up to shine standard, cleaned and sorted parts and organized them in the lovely curved teak parts cabinet. The parts cabinet has been repaired and the original locks and keys have been restored. The exterior of the cabinet will be taken down to bare wood and re varnished. All the hurricane shutters of the tower had to be repaired, scraped and painted. Many of the hinges were pulled loose and all of the barrel bolts were either missing, frozen in place by years of careless painting or otherwise unusable. Some shutters were completely off and none could have been secured in the event of a storm. Tower windows had glass replaced, were scraped, painted and had related hardware repaired.

The BLPS will soon be able to provide, from their inventory, whatever parts may be needed at all of the three remaining hand-wound lighthouses. However, the funds are not currently available to pay for some of these critical parts, which are now being produced. The BLPS has vowed to pay for the parts even if the money has to be borrowed. Automation could still happen if the inventory cannot be built and maintained.

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Last edited by island on Sat Feb 18, 2012 7:08 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Fred » Sat Feb 18, 2012 5:37 am


I always found the kerosene/paraffin lights were extremely reliable,we used Chance Brothers which had reached there simplest and most efficient design,I think the Bahama lights use the "Hood" light never used those so cannot really comment on them.

I like the picture,on the lefthand side is that part of the pump handle for pressurising the kerosene tank?
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Postby island » Sat Feb 18, 2012 6:57 am


I believe you are right about Hood.


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These instructions are posted in the tower.

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Postby island » Sat Feb 18, 2012 7:24 am


Pressurized fuel tanks

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Postby Fred » Sat Feb 18, 2012 8:36 am


A photograph by Damien Entwistle of Ardnamurchan lantern shutter also showing the kerosene/paraffin bottles.
One bottle contained kerosene the other air,which was pressurised by the air pump,
lot less complicated than the Bahama version.

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Postby island » Sat Feb 18, 2012 9:10 am


Clockwork timing--
How close the lens clockwork time compared to real time minutes per hour was expected of the keepers?
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Postby Fred » Sat Feb 18, 2012 12:00 pm


I have never seen anything laid down about timing,but the Artificers set it
at zero tolerance when they did the annual service?

We had two sizes of weights to adjust the timing,I think the smaller weight
made 1 minute per hour difference and the larger 2 minutes per hour.

So we would aim for plus or minus 1 minute per hour maximum.

So for Maughold Head which was a revolution of 30 seconds it would
be + or - ½ second,with Maughold having a mercury bath there was little variation.

For Point of Ayre which was 7½ revolutions per hour and having chariot wheels ,
we used to keep them well oiled and variation in temperature made quite a difference,
so more adjustments would be required.
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Postby island » Sat Feb 18, 2012 1:04 pm


This appears to be that of meeting the Artificers demand and not that of the mariners for I would not think one minute per hour or two or three would cause a mariner at night to misidentify the lighthouse. Another consideration might be the accuracy of the timer used to time the clockwork.
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Postby Fred » Sat Feb 18, 2012 2:30 pm


Might well have been a problem in the old days,as the aproved method
of checking the lighthouse clock was to check it against the sundial,
so theoretically you were supposed to use the sundial to check whether
the clock was going fast or slow,adjust if neccesary then use the clock
for timing,very hit and miss.

Then again I presume most of the time the mariner would only roughly
count the seconds to themselves?

I would check and adjust the timing as a matter of personal pride that
things were as good as could be,you were in the lightroom winding up
anyway,so no bother to check and adjust.
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Postby island » Sat Feb 18, 2012 4:03 pm


I would agree that keepers as a matter of pride should maintain the clock timing as close as reasonable. This is efficiency but not necessarily effectiveness of the light displayed. Most importantly the clockwork and associated apparatus must be maintained is good working order. Timing gives evidence of such.

For a mariner first making landfall at the end of an ocean voyage with the ship pitching and rolling in storm waves and perhaps with limited visibility a most effective light would display a characteristic that would be correctly identified without the need for timing its period, or timing the duration of flashes and ellipses. And this perhaps observing the light for several periods at the outer range of light visibility when rising and falling from the waves causing apparent eclipsing of the light and in weather conditions causing atmospheric eclipsing. Thus, at times it was difficult to determine that which was a true flash from the light which might support the position that longer flashes would be more effective.

For the keeper he does the best he can do and while hoping the best for the mariners.
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