Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Hopetown, Abacos, Bahamas 26º32.228N | 76º57.53W

I've loved the Hopetown lighthouse since the first time I saw it three years ago. It's hard not to love a lighthouse anyway, but climbing this one makes me feel like Dr. Dolittle. Did he live in a nautilus shell, or did I make that up? Either way, check this out:

Inside the Hopetown lighthouse.
I'm pretty sure, had I been asked, I would have totally poo-pooed painting the inside of a lighthouse pink and green, but leave it to the Bahamians to slap together two unlikely colors and make it fabulous.

As we were leaving the lighthouse, we saw this guy sitting on the dock.

Jeffrey, the lighthouse keeper.
The lighthouse is across the water from Hopetown, only reachable by boat. He was looking, I thought, longingly across the water, so we offered him a ride.

"No thanks, that's me," he said, pointing back at the lighthouse over his shoulder.

"Can we watch you light it?" I asked.

"Sure," he said. "Go on up. I'll be there in a few minutes."

So, all alone, we climbed to the top, leaning precariously out the open windows to take sweeping photos of the glory below.

At dusk, overlooking Hopetown harbor and Cara Mia and the ocean beyond.
At the top, I crawled through a Hobbit-sized door (yes, mixed literature) and onto the open observation platform.

Looking north from atop the lighthouse.
Jeffrey joined us and dropped the curtains that cover the Fresnel lens during the day.

Known officially as Elbow Reef Lighthouse, it was built in 1863 to warn ships off of the reef just offshore, much to the consternation of the "wrackers," who made a living harvesting booty from wrecked ships. It is one of the last remaining kerosene lighthouses in the world, an actual flame lit and monitored by humans. A Fresnel lens concentrates the flame making it visible 17 miles offshore. The entire lens apparatus, 8,000 pounds of it, floats in a mercury bath allowing it to spin at the touch of a finger. Every two hours, all night, the lighthouse keeper cranks up 700 pounds of weights that slowly drop, spinning gears that turn the lens.

Sitting in the tiny, round room with Jeffrey as he methodically cranks up the weights, just as his father did for decades before him, you just melt into the powerful calm that surrounds him like that cloud of dust around Pigpen in Charlie Brown. It must take a certain temperament to live the storied and solitary life of a lighthouse keeper. Contemplative Jeffrey obviously has it.

Once the weights were wound up, he told us to climb up a rickety green metal ladder, right up onto the platform with the Fresnel lens.

So here I am, waiting to observe the lighting of the flame, camera in hand, thinking, "Dang, the lighting's really bad here. How am I going to get any good shots?" Sometimes I really frighten myself.

Jeffrey took care of my lighting problem, and our last night in Hopetown turned into pure magic.

"This is the best job in the world," Jeffrey told us, and standing there watching that spectacular lens cast a shaft of deliverance into the gathering darkness, I believed him.


  1. This will be another that I want to save. Your writing and photos are so touching.

  2. I couldn't pick a favorite photo from this if my life depended on it. Stellar work, Kennon. =)

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