Point Sur Lighthouse

The Point Sur Lighthouse is located south of Monterey, along Highway One. It is situated about halfway between Monterey and Big Sur.  Point Sur is tipped by a giant 361 foot tall rock that juts out into the Pacific Ocean.  The lighthouse and all of its support buildings sit on top of this rock.  There is a narrow one lane road that was blasted out of the side of the big rock and winds its way to the top.  The lighthouse on the rock is connected to the mainland by a half mile sandy spit of grassland that tends to flood in high seas.

When we toured the lighthouse, we had to get up early on a Saturday morning.  We and are other tour members parked our cars along the side of Highway One and waited until the gate was opened, then we all drove in and parked.  Our guide assembled us and marched us across the grassy floodplain.  The tour began at the base of the rock.

It was a cold, cloudy and blustery Saturday morning, perfect lighthouse weather.  The need for Point Sur Lighthouse first became apparent after the 1849 California gold rush, but it wasn’t until 1889 that the lighthouse was built.  Ships hugging the coast would often become disoriented in the regular fogs and run-a-ground on the point that protrudes noticeably on any California map.

Manned by a lighthouse keeper and three assistant lighthouse keepers and their respective families, the Point Sur Lighthouse made a small, but insular community.  Before the completion of Highway One, the overland journey was long and arduous.  Travel by sea was equally risky.  Three times a year a supply ship would anchor off the point.  Supplies in barrels were floated into shore.  The most famous Point Sur shipwreck was actually an airship, the USS Macon. From Wiki, here is an account of the event:

On February 12, 1935 the USS Macon was returning to Moffet Field (Sunnyvale) from maneuvers.  The Macon ran into a storm off Point Sur.  During the storm, it was caught in a wind shear which caused a structural failure to one of its tailfins.  The fin fell to the side and was carried away.  Pieces of structure punctured the rear gas cells and caused gas leakage.  Acting rapidly and on fragmentary information an immediate and massive discharge of ballast was ordered.  Control was lost and, tail heavy and with engines running full speed ahead, the Macon rose past its pressure height and kept going until enough helium was vented to cancel the lift.  It took her 20 minutes to descend from 4,850 feet and, settling gently into the sea, Macon sank off Point Sur.

Only two crewmembers from her complement of 76 died, thanks to the warm conditions and the introduction of life jackets and inflatable rafts after the Akron tragedy.  The two that perished did so needlessly: Radioman First Class Ernest Edwin Dailey jumped ship after it had lost most of its altitude but was still high above the ocean surface; Mess Attendant First Class Florentino Edquiba drowned while swimming back into the wreckage to try to retrieve personal belongings.  The cause of the loss was pilot error following the structural failure and loss of the fin.  Had the ship not been driven over pressure height (where the cells were expanded fully and lifting gas released) the Macon could have made it back to Moffett Field. Four F9C-2 scout planes carried aboard were also lost with the airship.

SOSUS, an acronym for Sound Surveillance System, is a chain of underwater listening posts that were situated around the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It was originally operated by the United States Navy for tracking Soviet submarines.  One such SOSUS station was located next to the Point Sur Lighthouse.  By the time of our lighthouse tour, the SOSUS station had been abandoned and had fallen into disrepair.  From a distance it looked like a bunch of dilapidated wooded buildings.  I later learned from my Dad, that his father, my Grandfather had worked there. Grandfather Earl was a civil engineer, who built waste water treatment systems.  So I imagine that is what he did at this particular SOSUS station.

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