Aids to Navigation Team assists with Fresnel lens removal

Chief Petty Officer Casey Curry, Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Badar, and lampists James Woodward and Jim Dunlap at a Santa Barbara Maritime Museum dedication ceremony on September 21, 2013. Photo courtesy ATON LA/LB.

Chief Petty Officer Casey Curry, Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Badar, and lampists James Woodward and Jim Dunlap at a Santa Barbara Maritime Museum dedication ceremony on September 21, 2013. Photo courtesy ATON LA/LB.

Story by Chief Petty Officer Casey Curry, Officer in Charge

The Aids to Navigation Team in Los Angeles – Long Beach (ANT LA – LB) has only one Fresnel lens left in service, a statement that might make you ask, “What is a Fresnel lens?”

The Fresnel lens was created in 1822 by French physicist Augustin Fresnel, and it’s a type of glass that is able to bend light into a narrow beam and focus it for great distances. Some of the largest lenses could be seen up to 26 nautical miles offshore, a necessity for mariners encountering the kinds of hazards to navigation that can occur during a voyage.

Installed in 1856 at Point Conception, Calif., the Fresnel lens operated for 143 years until this “first order lens” — by definition, a lens that is 12 feet tall — was decommissioned in 1999 and replaced with a modern light.  Known as the Cape Horn of the Pacific, Point Conception is located approximately two hours north of Santa Barbara and surrounded by private land.  Access is extremely difficult and only authorized if escorted by a member of the Coast Guard. 

The Coast Guard has worked for many years to find a way to remove the lens and find a new home for it. Since 2005, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum has shown an interest in housing the Fresnel lens and so, in December 2012, it was decided that the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum would become the new resting place of this maritime artifact.

Fresnel lens during the restoration process.

Fresnel lens during the restoration process.

On June 3, 2013, three “lampists” — people who specializes in antique lighthouse lamp restoration — from around the country came together to disassemble the Fresnel lens and restore it to its original beauty. ANT LA – LB was given a history lesson in Fresnel lenses and assisted the lampists in their dismantling and moving of the 5,500 pound lens to the bottom of the lighthouse.  After many long days of climbing and descending 157 steps of the massive staircase, it was time for the lens to be transported to the top of the bluff.  All total, it took 23 lifts by a helicopter and then a two-and-a-half hour drive to the museum in Santa Barbara, where the three lampists spent the next four weeks fervently restoring the lens.

Point Conception, Calif.,

Point Conception, Calif.,

During the removal of the lens, members of ANT LA –LB removed a 7-foot by 7-foot bookshelf that dated back to the late 1800s.  The crew worked arduously to restore the bookshelf, protecting and returning it to its original condition before giving it a new home in the ANT LA – LB office.  In addition, they removed a 1,000 pound “oil butt’s bench” which held the drums of kerosene used to light the lamps before the process was converted to electricity. This extremely rare piece is now on loan to the Lompoc Heritage Museum.

The Fresnel lens was officially unveiled at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum on September 21, 2013, where engineering Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Badar and I were in attendance.  It was an excellent opportunity for our unit to work with community members of Santa Barbara and Lompoc to ensure that the history and artifacts of the Coast Guard are preserved.

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