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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.