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Chatham Point Light (Vancouver Island British Columbia)
by Lynn Salmon 2013
Chatham Point Lightstation from the Sea. (Photo from the Captain Alec Provan collection.)
Discovery Passage approach to Chatham Point Lightstation. (Photo from the Salmon collection.)
In the late summer of 2012 my husband Dan and I took our 16.5 foot Polaris inflatable vessel for a transit up Discovery Passage with the intention of stopping at Chatham Point Light Station. I work as a Radio Operator at the Comox Coast Guard Radio Station and even though I regularly speak with the light keepers around Vancouver Island on the radio I rarely get to meet any of them in person.
Principal Light Keeper Lynn Hauer (third from left) with son Tier (to the left), wife Ann and Assistant Keeper Matt (far right in blue) in front of principal residence. (Photo from the Salmon collection.)
We started our day by trailering our boat to Browns Bay Marina and launching from there. Our itinerary included the lightstation stop and then a quick turn up Mayne Passage, a brief transit in Cordero Channel to take us as far as Nodales Channel to then run back down Discovery Passage to Browns Bay. It was an overcast and rainy day brightened considerably by our pre–arranged stop at Chatham Point Light Station for a visit with the Hauer family who had been stationed there for a year.
Looking up Johnstone Strait towards Mayne Passage. (Photo from the Salmon collection.)
Chatham Point Lightstation is picturesquely located at the confluence of three waterways: Johnstone Strait, Nodales Channel and Discovery Passage. The point was named for H.M.S. Chatham (under command of Lieutenant William Broughton RN) by Captain George Vancouver RN when he lay over for two days in July at the convergence of these waters during his exploration of the area in 1792. Shipping traffic increased steadily in the ensuing years and the necessity for a light was eventually recognized late in the Twentieth Century.
The actual light – the ‘bump’ in front of the light is one of the cement anchors. (Photo from the Salmon collection.)
A curious feature of the lightstation is the position of the actual light. The light itself is not on any of the buildings or towers at Chatham Point. The two houses, foghorn shed and boathouse weren’t built or manned until 1957. Instead it is positioned about 100 feet off the point built on a cement pillar anchored to a drying rock and was established there in 1908. The light flashes white atop a green–banded marker. Surrounding it on other rocky shelves that barely break the surface are the remains of cement blocks showing above the waterline for use in days past when the supply/buoy tending vessels secured to them against the racing tidal waters of the confluence. Eventually a landing pad was built for helicopter use to manage resupply and mail delivery.
The helipad looks directly up Nodales Channel. (Photo from the Salmon collection.)
Chatham Point marks the ‘dog leg’ in the Discovery Passage – Johnstone Strait transit. Bulk carriers, cruise ships and multitudes of fishing vessels and tug boats with tows transit past this treacherous corner every year. However, mishaps still occur and in January 2009 the large Alaskan cod and crab processing vessel Independence failed to make the turn and ran into East Thurlow Island opposite Chatham Point while on a northbound journey. No one was injured and the vessel was soon afloat with the rising tide.
The metal ramp from the float to the shore – the beginning of a long and steady uphill climb. (Photo from the Salmon collection.)
The ascent from the float dock to the radio room at the top of the property is a steady incline. A gravel road winds past the assistant’s quarters, up past the principal house and finally up to the small shack that functions as the radio room. This is ‘weather central’ where the keeper makes the observations that get passed to coast guard radio every three hours (except midnight hours) around the clock. A myriad of weather monitoring equipment and radios occupy this shack as well as a large chart table and the generator.
The ALEN circuit ‘phone’. It’s actually a VHF radiophone. (Photo from the Salmon collection.)
Self–sufficiency has always been an important element in daily life on the lights. Even in today’s modern world it is necessary for those living in isolated areas to be able to fend for themselves in case of catastrophe. Chatham Point has a well–worked garden area - both veggies and berries – with extensive beds carved from the steeply sloping yard using rocks and flotsam picked from the shores. Netting keeps the animal poachers from having a free lunch. Of course the ocean provides much good food with fish and shellfish near at hand. Possessing the skill to can and freeze these delicious bounties fill the larder for enjoyment during the less productive winter months.
Ancient wind indicator mounted on the wall of the radio shack – it still functions – here it glows to indicate an easterly trend. (Photo from the Salmon collection.)
Water is collected when it rains and stored in a large water cistern under the houses. The modest principal residence is nestled half way up the property with a dandy view looking up Nodales Channel. The assistant dwellings are closer to the ramp but still has an impressive view. The entire property slopes severely so sturdy legs are a must for getting around the station. A dirt logging road does connect the station to the highway – a rarity at most light Stations – but it is weather–dependent for access and often ruts dangerously deep with heavy rain, ice and snow in the inclement months.
The large garden plot. (Photo from the Salmon collection.)
Our impression of life on the lights: it is a challenging yet rewarding one. Our day trip continued without incident and we were chased back to the marina by a fast–moving squall to the very doorstep of Browns Bay. My thanks again to the Hauer family and to Assistant Keeper Matt for a most enjoyable afternoon visit.
To quote from this article please cite:
Salmon, Lynn (2013) Chatham Point Light (Vancouver Island BC). Nauticapedia.ca 2013. http://nauticapedia.ca/Articles/Chatham_Point_Light.php
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