Digest>Archives> November 2000

Relighting the Hillsboro Lighthouse

By Kathy Yonce

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The Hillsboro Light is quite impressive up close.
Photo by: Kathy Yonce

Lighthouses and lore go together. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that the Coast Guard recently relighted Hillsboro Lighthouse, but before any fiction starts spreading about the reason why, lovers of lighthouse lore may want to curl up close to a favorite lamp and read this true tale of two lightings.

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A view of the “Millionaire Mile” on the Atlantic ...
Photo by: Kathy Yonce

The tale goes back about eight years to 1992, when the rotation mechanism in the lantern failed. The Coast Guard was going to retire the Fresnel lens to the city of Hillsboro, Fla., and install a modern day version of the historic optic. The local public requested that the lens, along with the 174-foot lighthouse structure be restored to their original conditions.

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The view from the top and the shadow cast upon ...
Photo by: Kathy Yonce

The Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary, the service’s volunteer arm, and local civilian members of the Hillsboro Lighthouse Preservation Society teamed up to tackle the task of a thorough overhaul and restoration.

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A placard outside the lighthouse warns those who ...
Photo by: Kathy Yonce

In addition to hundreds of logistical details and work effort that took place in this process, the team had the challenge of finding an alternate way of rotating the lens without using the mercury found in the original bearing in the rotation mechanism. The mercury bath bearing was deemed environmentally hazardous by the Coast Guard Headquarters Health and Safety Office in mid-1993.

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Inside the lantern room, you can see past the ...
Photo by: Kathy Yonce

A new bearing system was built and the rotation mechanism was replaced in January of 1999. It was now time for a ceremonial lighting. Within a month, however, the rotation assembly that turns the light failed. The temporary light, commonly referred to in the aids-to-navigation world as the VRB-25, was put back to use while team members returned to the drawing board to re-design and build a new ball bearing that would eventually be hoisted to its station at the top of the tower. This was a sizeable job as the bearing came packaged in three, five-foot diameter parts, each weighing more than 125 pounds.

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The Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse.
Photo by: Gail Pouliot

Shortly after the new bearing assembly arrived at Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Miami, the lower bearing race (lower track) was hoisted to the top of the lighthouse and installed by members of Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 36 and a manufacturer’s technical representative using steel blocks to center and shim the race into place.

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Each of the steps is numbered on the way to the ...
Photo by: Kathy Yonce

“There were no major challenges until the bronze ball bearing retainer was accidentally damaged during installation,” said CWO Joseph Cocking, ATON Officer, Group Miami. A ball bearing retainer is a cage that keeps the actual balls in a set place and prevents them from traveling and bunching up together, which could cause an unbalanced load to occur, he said.

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The Coast Guard and Auxillary working together to ...
Photo by: Kathy Yonce

Due to the damage, a new retainer was cast, machined and delivered in late June. Upon delivery of the new retainer, it was immediately hoisted and installed.

“After the final installation of the bearing assembly, the Fresnel lens, weighing more than 4,000 pounds, was carefully lowered onto the new assembly and ready for testing,” said Cocking. “Sixty hours of operational testing was performed on the new bearing without any malfunctions.”

With the new bearing system in place, the light is expected to rotate for the next 50 years before needing any type of replacement parts for the bearing, stated Cocking.

A re-lighting ceremony was hosted by the Hillsboro Lighthouse Preservation Society Aug. 18 at Hillsboro Point Park, Pompano Beach, Fla., to top off the restoration.

Among the speakers at the ceremony were: Capt. Mark Kerski and Capt. Larry Yarborough, 7th Coast Guard District; members of the Boca Raton and Pompano Auxilliary Flotillas; local civic leaders from Pompano Beach, Fla., Lighthouse Point, Fla., and Hillsboro Beach, Fla.; the president and vice president of the Hillsboro Lighthouse Preservation Society; and the chairman of the Hillsboro Inlet District.

As the lovers of lighthouse lore curl up to a favorite lamp and read a tale of two lightings, they can now look out the window and come to a realization. Some lighthouse lore has been added to the scrapbook - the one with the light shining on it from that favorite lamp 174 feet up.

Story & photos by PA2 Kathy Yonce,

7th Coast Guard District

This story appeared in the November 2000 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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