All In A Day's Work

By Bob Trapani, Jr.

Lewes-Rehoboth Canal Jetty Light
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Lewes-Rehoboth Canal Jetty Light

The sun was shining bright and Rehoboth Bay danced with sparkling brilliance, but the scene was hardly suited for a day of fun on the water. On December 4, 2003, summer was but a distant memory and “Old Man Winter” was less than 12 hours away from ushering in season’s first major snowstorm. Ahead of the storm, frigid winds blew steadily throughout the day and effectively disarmed any of the sun’s warming powers. Look as you might, not a single sign of summer’s recreational boaters could be found – only the occasional duck hunter or waterman. The aura of quiet over the bay was both serene and ominous.

Despite such an uninviting winter seascape, weeks of planning and preparation by U.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Cape May had culminated and it was now time for action. The Lewes-Rehoboth Canal Jetty Light that marks the entrance from Rehoboth Bay into the canal was in need of dire replacement due to fatal structural problems. Work to build a new light tower couldn’t wait for the warmer lures of spring.

Senior Chief Dever
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Senior Chief Dennis Dever

Timing morning’s high tide on Rehoboth Bay, ANT Cape May’s 21-foot buoy boat (TANB) was eased off its trailer and into the cold waters at Massey’s Landing – its gray hull serving as a perfect compliment to the sullen mood of the bay. Getting underway from the public boat ramp, however, only marked the beginning of the day’s hurdles, none of which were more challenging than navigating the shallow, shoal-laden waters of the bay just to arrive at the jetty light safely. Handling the task of navigating an unmarked channel and avoiding the troublesome sand bars lurking below water’s edge was the responsibility of the boat’s coxswain, Senior Chief Dennis Dever, officer-in-charge of USCG ANT Cape May.

MK2 Green & FN Panas remove optic stand
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

(L to R) MK2 Brad Green
& FN GregPanas remove
the optic stand

Utilizing his accrued knowledge of the dynamics associated with an ever-changing bay, as well as appropriate caution for the situation at hand, Senior Chief Dever successfully guided the TANB and crew of five across the four miles of unmarked waters to the entrance of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal. Upon arrival, the TANB was carefully nosed up to the jetty light on the west side in an effort to avoid the jagged hazards consisting of stone and metal lurking at water’s edge near the base of the light - hazards that could instantly wreck a prop or severely damage a hull.

The toll exacted by the heavy hand of time on the doomed light tower was starkly evident. Years of salt-air corrosion had finally compromised the light’s structural integrity, leaving its metal components weakened, while its appearance presented a precarious frontal lean. The time had arrived to replace the worn-out structure.

Jumping off the bow of the TANB onto the light’s concrete cylindrical base, Chief Dale Metcalf, MK2 Brad Green and FN Greg Panas assessed the best course of action to “bring down the old light.” In the meantime Auxiliarist Bob Trapani carefully handed the crew’s tools across from the boat to the light. After a few moments of examination, Chief Metcalf settled on his plan, and thereafter the process to salvage the light’s aids to navigation (ATON) equipment was commenced. Once all the necessary ATON equipment was removed, the quiet solitude of the bay was set to be broken.

Crew unhooks wires from battery
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

(L to R) FN Greg Panas and Senior Chief
Dever unhook wires from a battery
being exchanged out

Moments later the hideous sound of a spark-breathing power saw was striking against the metal tower and serving notice that its mission would not be denied. In the hands of Chief Metcalf, the saw and its hungry steel teeth cut through the years of rusted metal with ease until the moment of truth arrived when the tower surrendered by toppling into the bay.

By now, the effects of a low tide were being experienced. The reduced water levels in the bay brought added challenges for ANT personnel. No longer could Senior Chief Dever nose the bow of the 21-ft TANB up against the light’s concrete base. The lack of water around the light also revealed some of the stark dangers in the immediate vicinity that just hours before were concealed and rendered somewhat harmless by the depth of water carried upon morning’s high tide. For the remainder of the day, Chief Metcalf, MK2 Green and FN Panas were going to get wet, and in doing so, were forced to endure the numbing effects of the bay’s icy water that invaded their boots when they worked while standing in the bay.

Taking down the light
Taking down the light
Taking down the light
Photos by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Chief Dale Metcalf uses a power saw
to cut down the old jetty light

With the light tower laying face down in the water and looking more like a fallen soldier on a battlefield, the process to retrieve the tower, and subsequently disassemble it, was initiated. The tower, with the added weight of the dayboard, was too heavy to simply lift, so Chief Metcalf waded into the water to unfasten the light’s muted warning sign. After lightening the load of the tower, Chief Metcalf lifted the structure’s top out of the water while Senior Chief Dever, MK2 Green and FN Panas hoisted the tower back onto the concrete cylindrical base by brute strength alone. The tower was then systematically cut into pieces and set aboard the TANB for proper disposal on land.

Despite all this work, the mission was only halfway complete. With the approach of the low-pressure system to the south, the outer edge of a snowstorm in the form of dark cloudbanks was visible looming on the horizon and slowly winning the battle by overtaking and obscuring the late-afternoon sun. Time was not on crew’s side, but no one had any intent of heading to shore until the new light was established and shining bright.

Fortunately, the good planning of ANT personnel to ensure the new prefabricated wood tower was ready for establishment in short order saved valuable daylight hours that were now retreating in the face of nightfall’s pursuit. In clockwork fashion, bolts were installed to secure the light’s supports, anchor holes were drilled into the aged concrete and in no time at all, the new light tower was lifted up and secured to the base.

After a new dayboard was mounted on the front face of the tower, MK2 Green scaled the structure and affixed the 155-mm optic assembly to the top of the light tower’s platform. Once the solar panel was positioned in the direction of a southern sky, MK2 Green connected the solar array, battery and optic to complete the day’s arduous mission. By now, the sky was growing prematurely dark by the approaching low-pressure system, and soon enough, the new light was activated by its daylight control mechanism. With the satisfying knowledge that the light was once again on duty to warn and protect boaters, a weary and cold crew headed for home.

In the end, establishing the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal Jetty Light under less than ideal conditions was all in a day’s work for U.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Cape May. It’s a job they do with pride and dedication – a job they carry out every day to keep the waters of Delaware and New Jersey safe for the commercial and recreational boater alike.

Crew retrieves old light
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

(L to R) FN Greg Panas, MK2 Brad Green,
Senior Chief Dennis Dever and Chief Dale
Metcalf retrieve the old light

Bob Trapani
Photo by Dennis Dever

Coast Guard Auxiliarist Bob Trapani
supported the crew during the project

Lifting the new tower in place
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

(L to R) Chief Metcalf,
FN Panas and MK2 Green
lift the new tower in place

New Lewes-Rehoboth Canal Jetty Light
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

New Lewes-Rehoboth
Canal Jetty Light

MK2 Green secures light
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

MK2 Green secures the
light to the top of the tower

Rehoboth Bay - Delaware
Photo by Dennis Forney

Approaching low-pressure system looms
on the horizon of Rehoboth Bay

Created: December 2003