Coast Guard Cutter TACKLE – Keeping with Tradition at Shag Rock

By Bob Trapani, Jr.

Shag Rock Daybeacon 9 stands just northwest of Owls Head Lighthouse
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Shag Rock Daybeacon 9 stands
just northwest of Owls Head Lighthouse

A short distance northwest of Maine’s Owls Head Lighthouse stands a unique, pyramidal-shaped structure situated on a cluster of rocks.

Just what this 57-foot structure is and why it stands silent sentinel in such a place is often a mystery to both Maine residents and visitors alike.

To the mariner, however, there is no mystery. The wooden pyramidal icon, known as Shag Rock Daybeacon 9, is an important navigational aid and serves as a warning to nearby boats of the hazards that exist in and around this half-tide ledge.

Shag Rock is also well known to U.S. Coast Guard cutter TACKLE, based in Rockland and under the command of BMC Jesse Deery, officer-in-charge, which is responsible for the upkeep of the daybeacon.

BMC Jesse Deery, officer-in-charge of USCGC TACKLE
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

BMC Jesse Deery,
officer-in-charge of
USCGC TACKLE

On October 21, 2009, the TACKLE set out to ‘dress up’ the daybeacon by giving it a fresh coat of white paint – and in doing so, continued a 150-plus year tradition of caring for a daybeacon at this wave-swept location. A daybeacon has stood at this site since the mid-1800s.

“Maine’s navigable waterways have been marked with many historical and unique aids to navigation (ATON) over the years,” said BMC Jesse Deery. “Shag Rock Daybeacon 9 is sure to capture the attention of even the most seasoned ATON and maritime professionals as one of those unique aids.”

BMC Derry goes on to note, “The daybeacon receives the same due care as every aid under TACKLE’s responsibility; however, conducting routine visit’s at Shag Rock means we are not only preserving an aid to the mariner, but also a piece of Maine’s rich maritime history. As with most ATON servicing, it takes timing, cooperation of the elements, and a coordination of available resources to get this job done safely.”

BM1 Keith Nichols (back right) served as small boat coxswain during the Shag Rock repainting evolution
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

BM1 Keith Nichols (back right) served
as small boat coxswain during the
Shag Rock repainting evolution

With a good plan and cooperative marine weather conditions in place for late October, the crew of the TACKLE wasted no time carrying out their project. The cutter served as a base of operations just off Shag Rock during the evolution as its small boat ferried crewmembers and supplies back and forth to the ledge.

In many cases, landing crew and supplies at a rock ledge site is just as challenging as the project being carried out. The tide, wind and swells must be factored in, and even with that, skillful boat handling abilities and experience are still paramount to ensure a safe evolution.

BM1 Keith Nichols, executive petty officer aboard cutter TACKLE, is quite adept at such a challenge as landing at a ledge site like Shag Rock, despite its unnatural feeling to the prudent mariner.

SN Matt Goode (on ladder), SN Drew Pelletier (left) and SA Steven Leavitt work on repainting the east face of the daybeacon
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

SN Matt Goode (on ladder),
SN Drew Pelletier (left) and
SA Steven Leavitt work
on repainting the east face
of the daybeacon

 

“My Coast Guard training and instincts as a small boat coxswain make it very difficult to comprehend the necessity to land a small boat on rock ledges. I’m now stationed on a cutter that is designed to drive through ice and a work boat intended to operate within shoal waters. It takes a lot of skill and finesse to place a work party and their gear safely on a rock ledge. We have to be very mindful of incoming swells and wakes from other passing vessels so the work boat doesn’t sustain unnecessary damage from the jagged ledges.”

Once the crew was safely landed on the ledge and the tower properly prepped, the crew repainted the face – or daymark, of the plank-board tripod in short order as rollers remained in constant motion for a few hours until the daybeacon was gleaming like new again.

The project’s success at Shag Rock was made possible by a team effort, with BMC Jesse Deery, MK1 DJ Gentile and SN Warren Gardner providing operational support from the cutter, BM1 Keith Nichols and MK2 Eugene Peters handling small boat duties and SN Matt Goode, SN Drew Pelletier, SA Steve Leavitt and Auxiliarist Bob Trapani, Jr. repainting the tripod structure.

Shag Rock Daybeacon is one of 34 aids to navigation maintained by the 65-foot TACKLE in Penobscot Bay. In addition, the cutter serves as one of the Coast Guard’s key icebreaking assets on the Penobscot and Kennebec rivers, as well as in local harbors such as Rockport, Camden and Carver’s Harbor in Vinalhaven.

 

USCGC TACKLE heads toward Shag Rock as the sun rises on the morning of October 21, 2009
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

USCGC TACKLE heads toward
Shag Rock as the sun rises on the
morning of October 21, 2009


USCGC TACKLE, under the command of BMC Deery, stood off Shag Rock during the repainting evolution
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

USCGC TACKLE, under the command
of BMC Deery, stood off Shag Rock
during the repainting evolution
 

SA Steven Leavitt works on repainting one of the tripods wooden pilings
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

SA Steven Leavitt works on repainting
one of the tripods wooden pilings
 


SN Drew Pelletier works on covering lower slat-work with a new coat of paint
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

SN Drew Pelletier works on covering
lower slat-work with a new coat of paint

SN Matt Goode applies a new coat of paint to the plank boards on the east face
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

SN Matt Goode applies a new
coat of paint to the plank
boards on the east face

Auxiliarist Bob Trapani, Jr. repaints the slat-work around one of the dayboards
Photo by Drew Pelletier

Auxiliarist Bob Trapani, Jr.
repaints the slat-work around
one of the dayboards
 

(L to R) SA Leavitt, SN Goode & SN Pelletier repaint the south face of the daybeacon
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

(L to R) SA Leavitt, SN Goode
& SN Pelletier repaint the
south face of the daybeacon

SN Matt Goode (top), Auxiliarist Bob Trapani, Jr., and SA Steven Leavitt work as a team on the daybeacon
Photo by Drew Pelletier

SN Matt Goode (top), Auxiliarist Bob
Trapani, Jr., and SA Steven Leavitt
work as a team on the daybeacon


Shag Rock Daybeacon 9 gleams like new again following the TACKLE's repainting project at the site
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Shag Rock Daybeacon 9 gleams like
new again following the TACKLE's
repainting project at the site
 

SN Warren Gardner plotted the TACKLE's position during the repainting evolution
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

SN Warren Gardner plotted the TACKLE's
position during the repainting evolution


The Shag Rock evolution was the first aids to navigation maintenance project for SA Leavitt & SN Pelletier
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

The Shag Rock evolution was the first
aids to navigation maintenance project
for SA Leavitt & SN Pelletier
 

MK2 Eugene Peters (right) served as a small boat coxswain during the Shag Rock repainting evolution
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

MK2 Eugene Peters (right) served as
a small boat coxswain during the Shag
Rock repainting evolution


MK1 DJ Gentile made sure the cutter's engine room was functioning properly during the evolution
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

MK1 DJ Gentile made sure the cutter's
engine room was functioning properly
during the evolution

 

Historical Overview of Shag Rock Daybeacon

Shag Rock Daybeacon 9 is situated on a half-tide ledge outside Rockland Harbor
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

Shag Rock Daybeacon 9
is situated on a half-tide ledge
outside Rockland Harbor

In the 1890s, the Coast Pilot publication noted that Shag Rock was a danger to sailing vessels when approaching Rockland Harbor. According to the Coast Pilot, “Shag Rock is a cluster of bare rocks about ¼ mile NW. by N. from Owl’s Head Lighthouse. A black, wooden tripod marks these rocks, which are avoided by giving the south shore a berth of over 1/8 mile.”

It is unknown (based on research uncovered to date) when the first daybeacon was established at Shag Rock, but according to a Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury, a daybeacon existed at this site as early as 1856, for the report of that year noted a “spindle on rock near Owls Head, destroyed ($600).”

At some point the spindle structure that marked Shag Rock in the 1850s was replaced with a pyramidal tripod design, possibly to make the daybeacon more conspicuous to the mariner against the shoreline backdrop, or to establish a more substantial structure at the site that might hold up better at this wave-swept location.

A view looking up through the tripod daybeacon
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A view looking up through
the tripod daybeacon

The 1884, the Annual Report of the Light-House Board notes that a tripod was established at Shag Rock. According to the report, “A wooden tripod 60 feet high, covered one-half the way down from the top with plank slats, and painted black, was erected.”

Depending on the year, the Annual Report of the Light-House Board would list Shag Rock Daybeacon as being 57 or 60 feet in height, but what was consistent was the daybeacon’s structural description.

The wooden tripod design would eventually fare no better than the original spindle structure because eleven years later, the 1896 Annual Report of the Light-House Board notes, “A wooden tripod, 57 feet high, the upper half covered with boards, was carried away in January; a temporary tripod, 25 feet high, having the same general appearance as the former one, was erected in its place in February.”

In a subsequent entry contained within the same report, it stated, “A new tripod was built to replace the one carried away during a storm in December 1895.”

Based on documentation from the Annual Report of the Light-House Board and the Coast Pilot publications in the 1880s through the 1890s, Shag Rock Daybeacon was painted black in color.

A daybeacon has stood at Shag Rock as early as the mid-1850s
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

A daybeacon has stood at
Shag Rock as early as
the mid-1850s

This changed in 1900 when the U.S. Lighthouse Service altered the color of the daybeacon from black to white. No reason was given for the change, but by 1924, the color of the daybeacon reverted back to black and apparently remained do through at least the 1960s.

Today, the tripod daybeacon is painted white and shows (north and east) two square, green dayboards bearing the number 9.

The last time the Coast Guard rebuilt Shag Rock Daybeacon 9 was in 1989 with the help of two cutters and an Army National Guard sky crane helicopter.

According to a May 13, 1989 article in Rockland’s Courier Gazette newspaper by staff writer Leanne Robicheau, “The cutter Swivel crew assembled the 5,000 pound tripod at Owls Head Transportation Museum and crew from the cutter White Lupine assisted the helo operation in setting the structure on Shag Rock…”

BMC Robert Nedderman, officer-in-charge of the Swivel at the time, noted that the daybeacon “was scheduled for replacement in 1974 but the reconstruction never materialized. The newly constructed framework is made from pressure-treated wood; therefore a much longer life expectancy is anticipated.”

According to BMC Nedderman, it took $1,500 in construction materials and 140 man hours to build the new tripod for Shag Rock, which was secured in place by bolting the structure to iron rods that were driven into the rock.

The 1989 structure remains standing at Shag Rock and is maintained by the Coast Guard cutter TACKLE.

To learn more about daybeacons, visit: Daybeacons – The Anonymous Lifesaver of the Sea http://www.stormheroes.com/aton/daybeacons.htm

 

Posted: November 2009