BAY WATCH

Spend the night in his­toric Bal­ti­more Har­bor Light

Soundings - - Contents - BY GARY RE­ICH

A 110-year-old light­house in the mid­dle of Ch­e­sa­peake Bay has been con­verted to a rus­tic and re­lax­ing B&B.

It was a pic­turesque, late- sum­mer af­ter­noon as we slipped the lines and mo­tored into Back Creek in An­napo­lis, Mary­land. Skip­per­ing the cen­ter con­sole was Tom Weaver, whom I met in the early 1990s. Back then, I was a clerk at Fawcett Boat Sup­plies and he was run­ning Gau­cho, the hot new Farr 44 sail­boat in town. Weaver and I re­con­nected re­cently when he in­vited me to visit his­toric Bal­ti­more Har­bor Light.

“I’m run­ning fish­ing trips that re­volve around the light­house,” he told me. “Maybe we can do some fish­ing and you can stay on the light overnight, if you want to.” I was an im­me­di­ate yes.

My ex­cite­ment pre­vailed through a month of plan­ning. And now, fi­nally, we were mo­tor­ing up Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, then past the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Bridge to­ward the light­house, which is a mile off the Magothy River on the west side of Craighill Chan­nel. “We can take as many as six peo­ple fish­ing with three guides,” Weaver said. “They get the guides, all meals, a night in the light­house, and then we take them to Boat­yard Bar and Grill in An­napo­lis where the chef will cook their catch for lunch. It’s $6,250 for the two days, ev­ery­thing in­cluded.”

The United States Light­house Board first re­quested funds for Bal­ti­more Har­bor Light in 1890, but it took un­til 1894 for Con­gress to ap­pro­pri­ate them. Test bor­ing be­gan in 1895 and re­vealed a bot­tom com­posed of 55 feet of soft mud over hard-packed sand. A se­ries of al­ter­nate lo­ca­tions were stud­ied in 1898 be­fore the project shut­tered for four years. Fi­nally, in 1902, the U.S. Con­gress ap­proved an ad­di­tional $60,000. A 48-foot wood cais­son was the first struc­ture towed to the site, and work­ers sunk it to the bot­tom, weld­ing iron plates around it along the way, but the cais­son flooded and de­vel­oped a heavy list. In the fall of 1902, a storm cap­sized the struc­ture. The con­trac­tor said he would re­turn in spring 1903 to fix it, but de­faulted on the con­tract.

Work on the light­house idled un­til 1905, when a new con­trac­tor came on-site. In 1907 the struc­ture was righted, and in 1908, Bal­ti­more Har­bor Light was com­plete. It was com­mis­sioned on Oc­to­ber 1 of that year.

Nearly 110 years later, Weaver and I ar­rive at the light­house, but my ex­cite­ment turned into ab­so­lute panic. What I had fig­ured to be a short, 10- foot climb up to the light­house land­ing plat­form was more like 20 to 25 feet up the side of the round, iron cais­son on a wrought- iron metal lad­der. De­spite my fear of heights, I scram­bled up two lev­els and ar­rived on the con­crete land­ing where Mark Jef­fries, one of the in­vestors in the light­house, was wait­ing.

“You get used to it,” he said, chuck­ling. “Some peo­ple aren’t both­ered by it at all, but oth­ers need a lit­tle coax­ing.”

Weaver stayed be­low and loaded our gear into a bas­ket be­fore Jef­fries hoisted it

up on a mul­ti­part tackle. “We’ve hoisted ev­ery­thing from dogs to cool­ers up with this thing,” Jef­fries said. “There are 100 feet of light­house un­der your feet. It works out to 25 feet of wa­ter, around 25 feet of abovethe- wa­ter cais­son and 50- plus feet that’s sunk in the bot­tom.”

Jef­fries and a small group of in­vestors pur­chased the light­house for $260,000 at a 2006 U.S. Coast Guard auc­tion. They have fur­ther in­vested per­sonal and grant money to pre­serve it. The Coast Guard still main­tains the nav­i­ga­tion light and is al­lowed 24/7 ac­cess as part of the deal.

“So, this is it,” Jef­fries said as we walked from the 360-de­gree con­crete land­ing through a set of glossy, varnished dou­ble doors. “We re­placed ev­ery door and win­dow and are happy with the work. The light­house is on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places, so all of the win­dows and doors had to be ac­cu­rate for the time pe­riod.” Jef­fries was un­apolo­getic about the rus­tic feel of the place, which I loved.

“Our first goal was to get it com­pletely wa­ter­tight,” he said. “We shored up and re­placed the en­tire roof and sealed up the top deck with elas­tomeric sheath­ing. We had to bring ev­ery sin­gle piece of build­ing

ma­te­rial out here piece by piece. It’s been quite a chore. Next, we start pret­ty­ing up the in­te­rior.”

Walk­ing around the struc­ture gave me the feel­ing of go­ing back in time. I imag­ined my­self charged with keep­ing the light shin­ing, no mat­ter what Mother Na­ture threw my way. I can con­firm that the in­te­rior is cur­rently a rus­tic work in progress. Time- and weather- worn wood are on all five lev­els, floors and stairs creak un­der foot, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a square cor­ner in many places. Still, these are the things that make the place charm­ing—com­fort­able, even.

Three lev­els are fur­nished as liv­ing spa­ces for up to eight peo­ple, and sev­eral beds are scat­tered through­out. Wa­ter is cap­tured from rain­fall. A makeshift head/shower with in­stant hot-wa­ter heater looks like a great way to clean up af­ter a long day of fish­ing.

There’s no elec­tric­ity line from the main­land. “Ev­ery­thing is pow­ered by so­lar and bat­tery, but we’ll even­tu­ally in­stall a cou­ple of quiet gen­er­a­tors to run a split air con­di­tion­ing sys­tem,” said Jef­fries. “The good news is there’s al­most al­ways a cool­ing breeze out here, even on the hottest days. Most folks just love com­ing out here and com­pletely dis­con­nect­ing from ev­ery­thing.”

A spi­ral stair­case runs straight through the mid­dle of the light­house, pro­vid­ing ac­cess to its five lev­els. Af­ter look­ing at the base­ment, deep in­side the cais­son, we nav­i­gated up­ward, all the way up to the light room. It was sur­pris­ing to see that a small so­lar panel, a pair of bat­ter­ies and a fix­ture that looks like a house­hold bulb were vir­tu­ally all that it took to iden­tify this place as Bal­ti­more Har­bor Light to boaters and ships. An ea­gle replica mounted on the ex­te­rior light room rail­ing helped to de­ter birds from trash­ing the place, but ran­dom piles of fish bones and guts were ev­i­dence that os­prey had used the light as a din­ing venue.

An­other point of in­ter­est about the light: Bal­ti­more Har­bor Light­house was the first and only nu­clear- pow­ered light­house. A SNAP- 7B ra­dioiso­tope ther­mo­elec­tric gen­er­a­tor was in­stalled in May 1964 and re­moved only a year later.

We de­scended down to the main level and re­laxed in the gal­ley, where Jef­fries mixed up some dark ’n stormys as Weaver and I watched a ship steam by the west side of the light­house. We all stopped talk­ing for a few mo­ments and soaked it all in. “See what I mean?” Weaver asked. “Yup,” I said. “If you can’t re­lax out here, you’re likely wound a lit­tle bit too tightly.”

Glasses clinked in a har­mo­nious toast, sig­nal­ing ev­ery­one’s agree­ment. Maybe be­ing a light­keeper was the best- kept ca­reer se­cret in his­tory. bal­ti­more­light. org; fish­with­weaver. com.

A pooch is hoisted to the land­ing plat­form (left); Mark Jef­fries fer­ries guests by dinghy.

The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Bridge is just out­side the win­dow of this B&B.

A 12-volt light il­lu­mi­nates the way for boats.

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