U.S. Coast Guard TACKLE Safeguards Mariners from the Danger of Drunkards Ledge

MK2 Peters and Auxiliarist Trapani work on Drunkards Ledge Daybeacon
Photo by SN Dan Kimbrell

MK2 Eugene Peters (topside) and
Auxiliarist Bob Trapani, Jr. work on
Drunkards Ledge Daybeacon in West
Penobscot Bay near the western entrance
to the Fox Islands Thorofare

On September 25, 2008, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter TACKLE continued the longstanding Penobscot Bay seafaring tradition of maintaining an effective aid to navigation at Drunkards Ledge – a U.S. Lighthouse Service & Coast Guard tradition that dates all the way back to the late 1870s.

For mariners plying Maine’s coastal waters, aids to navigation such as lighthouses, buoys and daybeacons serve as vital ‘traffic signals’ to help guide vessels safely past the dangers of the sea.

In West Penobscot Bay, few locations prove more hazardous to the seafarer than dreaded Drunkards Ledge, which is located just off the western entrance to the Fox Islands Thorofare, near Vinalhaven and North Haven.

Drunkards Ledge is a rocky swath of broken ground barely submerged at high tide, and if not for the lonely daybeacon that stands sentinel over this forsaken site, the ledge might snare many a vessel and cause them to wreck.

SN Kimbrell and BM1 Nichols observe crewmembers working on the ledge
Photo by Bob Trapani, Jr.

(L to R) SN Dan Kimbrell and BM1 Keith
Nichols observe their crewmember's
work on Drunkards Ledge before they
dropped off new dayboards for the aid
to navigation...note the new triangular,
red dayboards in the small boat

It was necessary for the 65-foot cutter TACKLE (WYTL 65604), which is homeported in Rockland, to carry out the September 25th work detail at Drunkards Ledge to repair the daybeacon so that mariners could sight the aid from all sailing directions.

Storm winds had destroyed two of the four triangular, red dayboards on Drunkards Ledge Daybeacon. The dayboards, which are situated atop a galvanized steel spindle, are important daytime identifiers that alert mariners of the navigational danger that is present at this wave-swept location.

“Drunkards Ledge Daybeacon provides a critical signal to mariners transiting the waters of Western Penobscot Bay, near Fox Islands Thorofare,” says Boatswain’s Mate Chief (BMC) John Anders, officer-in-charge of the cutter TACKLE. “Recreational boats, sailing vessels and lobstermen all benefit from the presence of this daybeacon, which warns them of the hazardous ledge beneath it.”

MK2 Peters and Auxiliarist Trapani raise a new dayboard
Photo by SN Dan Kimbrell

MK2 Eugene Peters (topside)
& Auxiliarist Bob Trapani, Jr.
raise a new dayboard that
was dropped off at the spindle's
base by the TACKLE's small
boat as a swell breaks
over Drunkards Ledge

Replacing old or missing dayboards on a daybeacon is generally normal aids to navigation work for the crew of the TACKLE, but at Drunkards Ledge, there is no such thing as ‘normal’ working conditions.

Arriving at high tide, Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class (BM1) Keith Nichols assessed the sea conditions at the ledge, before nosing up to the spindle in the ship’s small boat to allow Machinist Technician 2nd class (MK2) Eugene Peters to disembark on one pass and Auxiliarist Bob Trapani, Jr. on a subsequent follow-up foray.

As MK2 Peters and Auxiliarist Trapani climbed the spindle and maneuvered with their safety harnesses to get into working position atop the aid, Seaman (SN) Dan Kimbrell readied the new dayboards aboard the TACKLE’s small boat and prepared them for hoisting.

Once the dayboard preparations were complete, BM1 Nichols nosed the boat back up to the spindle so that SN Kimbrell could toss a heaving line that was attached to each new dayboard up to MK2 Peters and Auxiliarist Trapani.

BM1 Nichols transports crew and supplies from the Tackle
Photo by SN Dan Kimbrell

BM1 Keith Nichols handled the
TACKLE's small boat with skill and
safety, successfully disembarking and
retrieving his fellow crewmembers
from the spindle on Drunkards Ledge
despite the changing sea conditions

This evolution, which occurred twice during the work party’s 1.5 hours on the ledge, had to be timed just right with the rhythmic intervals of the swells that were rolling in over Drunkards Ledge, and facilitated in mere seconds so that the small boat could deliver the necessary dayboards, hardware and tools, and still have time to reverse the boat’s course safely away from the incoming surge.

What were gentle, rolling swells at high tide when the crew arrived; predictably grew more powerful on the ebb tide. With their window of opportunity quickly closing, the TACKLE crew hustled to complete the job at hand and safely disembark the spindle before conditions became too unfavorable.

“New England storms can often destroy the day marks or even the entire structure at sites like Drunkards Ledge,” says BMC Anders. “Challenges also present themselves when landing a team of servicing personnel on a ledge like this. We are often faced with tidal and sea conditions that hamper our ability to service or repair this aid to navigation.”

MK2 Peters & Auxiliarist Trapani raise a new dayboard for the spindle
SN Dan Kimbrell

MK2 Eugene Peters (topside) and
Auxiliarist Bob Trapani, Jr. raise
a new dayboard to the top of the
spindle before securing it in place

The successful work at Drunkards Ledge to reestablish a complete daybeacon on a difficult location was made possible by the teamwork of BM1 Nichols, MK2 Peters, SN Kimbrell and Auxiliarist Trapani at the site, and the additional support provided by fellow crewmembers BMC John Anders, MKC Samuel Hoy and SN Austin Brummett aboard the TACKLE.

The changing sea conditions at Drunkards Ledge during the September 25th work detail were slight evidence to how rough this location can be during a storm. The now-famous April 2007 Patriots Day Gale, with its high winds and seas, destroyed a previous daybeacon structure at this site, which was rebuilt by the crew of the TACKLE later that month.

Coast Guard Cutter TACKLE and its crew of seven maintain 34 aids to navigation in Penobscot Bay, including 4 lighthouses (Curtis Island, Grindle Point, Eagle Island and Saddleback Ledge), 8 lighted aids and 22 daybeacons. During the winter months, the TACKLE’s primary responsibilities shift from aids to navigation to domestic icebreaking.

USCGC Tackle rebuilt Drunkards Ledge Daybeacon in 2007
Photo by SN Dan Kimbrell

The crew of Coast Guard cutter
TACKLE rebuilt Drunkards Ledge
Daybeacon in April 2007 in the wake
of the Patriots Day Gale, which
destroyed the aid to navigation

US Coast Guard cutter Tackle
USCGC Tackle Photo

U.S. Coast Guard cutter TACKLE,
which is homeported in Rockland, cares
for 34 aids to navigation in Penobscot Bay