Hope Town Lighthouse

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Hopetown_Lighthouse_BahamasThe candy-cane striped lighthouse greeting visitors as they approach Elbow Cay is easily the island’s main attraction. Built back in 1864, the Hope Town Lighthouse is one of three kerosene fueled lighthouses that remain operational in the world (The others are also in the Bahamas)! Back in the day locals survived by salvaging boats that would wreck on nearby reefs and were highly opposed to a lighthouse that could be seen up to 17 miles away. Despite the opposition, the 89-foot lighthouse was built and is now one of the most well known landmarks in all of The Abacos.

As silly as it may sound, the Hope Town Lighthouse was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Elbow Cay. In a world thriving on technological advances there is something so heart warming about an operation that has remained the same for 150 years. There were times in the lighthouse’s past when things broke and it seemed impossible to find the replacement parts needed. At one point it was this close to losing its charm and having its light switched to a bulb that is charged by solar energy and a light that comes on automatically. Lucky for us, there are a lot of locals who love the lighthouse and raised enough money to find the parts needed.

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{A very winding staircase}

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Just before sunset Jason and I dinghied over to the lighthouse (you can tie up right in front of it just to the left of the Lighthouse Marina) and made our way up 101 winding steps to the top. The entire way up there are cute little windows giving you amazing views of Elbow Cay and the surrounding islands. One each level there are giant containers of kerosene or huge exposed and oiled gears that keep the lighthouse running. It was so weird to have everything exposed and not roped off like they do back in the States. Don’t they know that some sue happy American could easily get their finger caught? Or, at the very least, get some grease on their crisp white shirt and cause a scene? Once we made our way to the top there were five huge glass fresnel lens that I may or may not be able to tell you were easily rotated with the tiniest push from an index finger. It is amazing that something so massive can be rotated with such ease!

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{And, this is what lights the joint up.}

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{Here you can see the five main lenses and the relatively small lighting mechanism}

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{A close up of one of the lenses. Each lens is made up of multiple pieces of glass. Each piece was about an inch thick.}

After playing with the gears a bit (and somehow managing not to get any grease on us for a change) we crawled our way through a teeny tiny (trap?) door that was maybe 2 ft wide by 3 ft high to an open air balcony with panoramic views. It was amazing what you could see from 120 feet above sea-level. Its strange to think that it wasn’t even as tall as the shortest building I ever lived at in NYC, but I guess when the landscape is pretty flat 120 ft up gives you a pretty spectacular view. We could see the Atlantic Ocean, the surrounding cays, all the boats in the harbor, Chance, everything! We stayed and watched the sun set hoping the lighthouse keeper would make his way up and get this party started. A special tip from me to you: if you want to stay and see the master make sure you bring a flashlight (we didn’t) because the steep and winding stairs up the lighthouse get even steeper and really dark once the sun goes down. In fear of our safety we retreated down without running into the lighthouse keeper.

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{Maybe the coolest doorknobs I’ve ever seen. Perfect for a teeny tiny trap door}

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{View of the anchorage just past Eagle Rock and at the mouth of Hope Town Harbour}

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{Hope Town Mooring Field, with the Atlantic Ocean in the background}

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{The sun setting over the Abacos}

Feeling mildly defeated we headed back to our boat and waiting for the lighthouse to kick on. It took another 30 minutes or so for the lighthouse keeper to get things rolling. Once it is dark the lighthouse keeper has to climb the 101 steps to the top every 2 hours in order to hand crank the weights that keep the beacon moving. Once wound the light makes its way around and focuses every 15 seconds. We were anchored just outside the harbor and directly in front of the lighthouse so it was fun to notice when the lighthouse keeper didn’t get up in time to crank the weights and the light would stand still for a minute or so. Tsk. Tsk.

It doesn’t cost anything to visit the lighthouse (although donations are accepted), so be sure to put it on your “Must See” list while you are in The Abacos. And, don’t forget to sign their guest book. Or, to bring a flashlight.

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