Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rock formation at the end of Swallowtail

Not only were light houses important to navigation before Loran C and now GPS but also having precise knowledge of the coastline and various landmarks or rock formations helped mariners find their way. Around Grand Manan there are many unique rock formations, many of which are named, such as Seven Days Work, the Bishop, King Point, Southern Cross. These are so distinctive that they are often printed on the nautical charts but some are small and are not documented but are local knowledge.

There is a unique rock formation at the eastern tip of the Swallowtail peninsula beneath where the fog bell and small building (now attached to the lighthouse) were located. From a certain angle these rocks look like a woman with a baby on her back or children climbing the rocks with a dog waiting beneath them. Even if the light house wasn't visible in thick fog, if these rocks were glimpsed, the mariner would know where they were. Of course, at Swallowtail, the fog bell and later fog horn would be another clue, but most of these formations are not located at a lighthouse.
I first learned of this when I was sailing around Swallowtail with one of the older fishermen. He pointed out the rock formation and had described it as a woman with a baby, but it was later described as a girl and a boy, a boy with a backpack, etc. The dog, however, is always the lower rock.

Next time you are travelling on the ferry, look for these rocks. They can only be seen from certain angles.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Remembrance - 1918

With Remembrance Day just past, a story involving the light keepers at Gannet Rock during WW1 was brought to my attention. Light keepers were often involved in life saving and the light keepers of Grand Manan lights were no exception.

In 1918, the German navy sent U-boats to the eastern seaboard which was largely unprotected. The vessel U-156 had orders to mine New York Harbour, patrol the Gulf of Maine and in particular Boston, Saint John and Halifax harbours, cut the transatlantic cable at Canso and capture a vessel to use as a raider. Her presence in the Bay of Fundy was unknown until a load of sailors from the schooner Dornfontein landed at Gannet Rock lighthouse in dories at 6:30 AM on August 3, 1918.

"On July 31, 1918, the new four-masted schooner Dornfontein cleared Saint John harbour bound for South Africa with a load of lumber. Three days later, 10 kilometres south of Grand Manan Island, N.B., U-156 suddenly rose from the sea and brought the Dornfontein to a halt with two shots across her bow.

While the schooner’s crew was hustled aboard the submarine, the Germans looted the vessel and then set it ablaze. As the ship burned to the waterline, her crew were fed a dinner of bully beef and rice. Then, five hours after the ordeal began, the schooner’s crew was put into dories and sent off amid waves and wishes of “Good luck!”, a sentiment not shared by the crew who had been “robbed of all we had on board worth taking.” But at least the sailors had escaped with their lives, and brought their story ashore at Gannet Rock, Grand Manan, the next day." Read the complete article:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Watching herring purse seiners

Herring purse seiners usually work at night when the herring schools are closer to the surface and easier to encircle but this time of year the herring are sometimes closer to the surface earlier. Such was the case today in Pettes Cove, where three herring purse seiners set their nets. My husband and I went up to the new deck at Swallowtail for a better view than from our deck which also has a view of Pettes Cove. Much to our pleasure six other people were also on the deck enjoying the view, two people were in their vehicle and two people had hiked out to the lighthouse. Even in November, Swallowtail is a major attraction to islanders and tourists alike.

We were also thrilled to have two humpback whales and a minke whale feeding in the cove. At one point the two humpbacks whales were next to one of the purse seiners before both moving more inshore.

It is great to see our work being appreciated, although there was a wish for a bench, which is on the list for next year's projects.
Here is a photo of two of the purse seiners and an arrow where the humpback surfaced. The two small boats or tow boats, help set the purse seine and also tow the larger vessel away from the net and therefore keeps it from collapsing on itself. The herring is used for many things including canning (sardines), farmed salmon food and lobster bait.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Link to some photos of painting buildings

Here is a link to photos posted on the Grand Manan Rotary Club website when the Seminole, Florida Rotary Club came to Grand Manan in September to help paint the keepers buildings.

Swallowtail Quilt

A local quilting guild, Tidal Threads Quilt and Needlework Guild, on the island have been producing wonderful quilts that they have been donating to charities to be raffled.

Last year the quilt was donated to the Rotary Club and each square was a smoke house, which used to be a prominent feature of every community on the island and used to smoke herring. The quilt raffle was very successful.

This year the quilt was donated to the Action Ministries as a fund-raiser and is entitled "Let it Shine" and highlights Swallowtail Lighthouse. See for yourself:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

20 Year Lease

November 2: The Village council voted to accept a 20 year lease for Swallowtail Keepers Society for the light keepers property with a few changes to the lease drawn up by our lawyer. A long time coming, this is a great positive move and allows us to start applying for certain types of grant money and potentially achieve property tax exemption if we qualify. A long-term lease is often the prerequisite for these.

Now we can start the planning for the 150th anniversary next year with confidence.
I didn't take this picture last night but the council meeting was the same day as the full moon and the clouds did clear last night to reveal the bright full-moon, maybe an omen for good things to come. Next month there is a blue moon on December 31, another cause for celebration.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Boat house resurrection, continuing project

The boat house next to the keepers house is in need of resurrection. I'm not sure how old the building is but it is definitely over 100 years of age.

We have begun the the slow task with the rebuilding of the southern wall which had become completely derelict with the cladding floating away from the studs. The nails had rusted away from corrosion from the salt spray driven at the building and the doors and windows leaked relentlessly. You know there is major work to do when shingles and boards all come off in a unit. The building will be relatively water tight for the winter and more work will begin again in the spring. We have a long way to go, replacing windows, doors, roof, southern wall, part of sill, skirting, paint, before we can consider possibly returning the winch, skiff, tracks, etc. that made it a working boathouse.

This is what the loading system looked like in 1958 when the new keepers house was being built. It is interesting that the doors were of different width. There appeared to be two platforms that could be winched up the steep hill filled with supplies or loaded with the dory which could also be lifted up the hill. A swinging boom and winch were used to lift the supplies or dory up to the rails since they did not extend to the high water mark.

Looking back through pictures taken in April 2008, there is a section of the wall that had blown off the previous winter in some of the monumental pile of "stuff" removed from the keepers house and boathouse. The boathouse was literally stuffed with none of the construction debris removed from the renovations for the short-lived bed and breakfast.

Here are photos taken since April 2009 of the southern wall. In the first photo, already, one of the doors, the header, part of the wall are gone or ready to collapse.
The next series of photos are the tearing apart and then rebuilding of the door frame and wall in September and October 2009:
The southern end is now relatively weather tight for the winter. Work will begin next spring to finish this side and then address the other issues with the building. The biggest surprise was that the door that had been carefully stored in the boat house was neither the same width nor the same height as the other door. We are not sure where this door was originally. We will have to build at least one new door to replace the short door next year.

There seems to be a never ending amount of material that needs to be removed from the site, as witnessed by these two photos, one from April 2008 and the next from September 2009. The material from 2008 was, of course, hand lifted off the peninsula by a human-chain of volunteers, while the material in 2009 was lifted off by helicopter which took 6 minutes per load. This could not have happened with out the support of all of our volunteers, the Canadian Coast Guard and CleanEarth Technologies who did the lead paint cleanup around the light house and the foundations of the old keeper's house.
We have the paint for this building which was donated and a few bundles of cedar shingles for the southern wall but we will need to replace the roof soon and replace the glass in the windows. The windows and doors in this building have changed greatly over time, either being moved or replaced with different sizes and styles.

Excerpt from 1876 publication extolling Swallow Tail

J.G. Lorimer wrote "History of Island and Islets in the Bay of Fundy, Charlotte County, New Brunswick: From their earliest settlement to the present time; including Sketches of Shipwrecks and other event of exciting interest" in 1876. There are several references to "Swallow Tail" as it was then called, including:

On this peninsula we have at its extremity east, the Swallow Tail, and on the Swallow Tail a lighthouse, from base to deck 45 feet: and the point on which it stands, being 103 feet above high water, makes the elevation of the light 148 feet total elevation. There is a keeper's house, in addition to the lighthouse, and other smaller buildings for stores, tools, oil, &c., all painted white. The keeper, Mr. John W. Kent, being quite neat and tasty of himself, spares no pains to keep his buildings in trim also. The light reflectors cast a brilliant gleam over the waters of the bay and help to chase away the gloom of darkness, and it may be of fear from many a storm-tossed mariner. The view from the Swallow Tail, or west of the bridge, neat the Saw-pit, on a clear day, can hardly be excelled. Part of the coast of Maine, of the north shore in Charlotte County, Campobello, the Wolves Islands, Pennfield, Chamcook Mountain and the numerous hill tops extending from St. George to St Andrews are all visible to the naked eye. It is a standpoint from which the observer can see too, the blue line of the Nova Scotia shore lying along the horizon as if pencilled there by a marine artist. Now a large square-rigger looms up, and another, and another; then smaller craft in scores. The smoke, too, of a steamer lazily floating along over the still waters gives rise to thought. Has she crossed the Atlantic, or is she from Halifax or Yarmouth or the State? Or is she bound out to traverse the treacherous ocean, bearing a precious freight of human souls? If so, may the voyage be propitious and free from harm over the wide waste of waters. No visitor to Grand Manan should leave it, if convenient at all, without a walk to the top of the highest land at Pettes' Cove, especially if the day be fine and free from fog. The scenery of land and sea from it will well repay the time.

Even in 1876, Swallowtail was appreciated for both the neatness of the lighthouse and keeper buildings, and also the amazing vista it affords. The only exception to that written above is that part of the coast of Maine is not visible unless a high hill is visible above Campobello Island.