The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has been “turned off” for roughly a month now, due to damage from a wave of January storms.
Though it was not clear which exact storm caused the lighting issue, (whether it was the early January storm or the severe thunderstorms on January 12), the damage was reported by the weekend of January 13 to the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The NPS manages the lighthouse itself, while the U.S. Coast Guard maintains the operation of the light.
The Aids to Navigation Teams in Wanchese sent an Electrician Mate to the site once the damage was reported in January. Since then, the parts needed to make the repair have been ordered, however there is not yet an exact timeframe of when the repair will be complete.
“Unfortunately, due to the custom nature of the parts, we are simply waiting for the parts to come in,” said Petty Officer Third Class Nate Cox, Public Affairs Specialist for District 5 of the U.S. Coast Guard. “The good news is that our team in Hatteras is ready. As soon as the parts come in, they are poised and ready to get them placed and mechanically working again.”
“The U.S. Coast Guard said they will fix it on the same day that the [parts arrive],” said Boone Vandzura, Chief Ranger for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, who has been in continual communication with the Coast Guard on the issue. “They understand the significance. They know it isn’t just a job, and we appreciate that they understand the importance [of getting the lighthouse fixed] for our community.”
The slow process to make the repair boils down to the initial paperwork, but more significantly, to the replacement parts themselves.
By the end of January, the paperwork to order the parts had been filed. Once the paperwork was submitted, the company manufacturing the parts, (which is based in Cincinnati, Ohio), required roughly 20 days to create the parts from scratch.
“They are not stock parts,” said Cox. “From what we can tell, they are the original parts to the lighthouse, and they’ve had to locate a manufacturer, go through the description process of what the part entails, and custom make the parts to fit a very specific mechanism.”
“[These parts are] extremely rare,” he added. “It’s an estimated 20 days [to build], but with custom parts, the design time and manufacturing times could take longer.”
The parts that need to be replaced and re-created tie into the lighthouse’s electrical systems. According to Vandzura, the light of the beacon itself works, however the problem is located where the electric goes to the power base to make the rotating arms move.
“This wasn’t a typical malfunction – this seemed to be a much more complex malfunction,” said Cox.
A similar issue popped up in February of 2016, when the lighthouse became stuck, with its beacon fixed into the homes of a number of Buxton residents. This go around, the lighthouse has been turned off, which removes any potential annoyance of a stray beacon shining into a local home.
“Instead of being in one position, it’s been temporarily turned off,” said Vandzura.
Monday, February 12, marked day 17 of the 20-day window for the parts’ creation, and Vandzura and the U.S. Coast Guard were jointly examining options for expedited shipping once the parts were complete.
In the meantime, the nearly one-month period marks the longest time in recent memory that the lighthouse hasn’t been continually shining its light.
“This is the longest time that it’s been off in history, that we’re aware of,” said Vandzura. “But as soon as the part[s] comes in, they will [install them] on the same day.”