July 7, 2012
The Westport Fishermen’s Association’s summer exhibit at the recently restored Horseneck Point Life Saving Station features photos, antique instruments used for navigation and a terrific 4’ by 6’ diorama of the entrance to Westport Harbor. Guest speakers Chip Gillespie, Cukie Macomber and Tom Schmitt weighed in on the intricacies of maintaining government navigational aids, a history of Light Ships in the waters off Westport, and the making of a strikingly accurate diorama of Westport Harbor.
Today’s opening reception covered all the waypoints of navigation: Chip Gillespie, a charter member of the Westport Fishermen’s Association since 1983, presented a concise history of aids to navigation gleaned from his years of service on 180’ Class C Buoy Tender in the Pacific. “There were about six tenders to service all of the government aids to navigation in the Pacific. We could service 10 or 12 a day when all went well,” he said.
Chip described the makeup of a sea buoy from its innards to the coat of paint on its surface and everything in between - batteries, buoyage systems, chain and anchor systems, energy supplies, types of auditory signals and the kinds of vessels that service the buoys.
The Buoy Tender uses a huge boom on the deck to hoist a buoy, makes a list of repairs needed and returns later with materials to complete the job. For time efficiency, the tender works on a cluster in the same area. By the time they’ve finished, they’ve done everything from replacing parts to scraping and painting. The junior man on the crew has to go inside the buoy and clean the gunk from its innards. Not great for the appetite.
The green buoy that marks the entrance to Buzzards Bay, formerly a huge Texas tower, is now 6’ wide, 20’ long and 6’ deep. It’s loaded with watertight battery packs, redundant systems to insure the light source does not extinguish, the light sensors that turn buoy light on and off, buoyancy compartments to keep it upright and sturdy chain bridles attached to a concrete block set in sea bed to keep it in place.
Every New England town needs a storyteller like Carlton Davol Macomber, Jr.. Better known around town as Cukie, this 83-year-old charter member of the Westport Fishermen’s Association has a recall button in his brain with instant access to the history of Westport. He’s operated a welding business, been a sword fisherman, a ship’s captain, a volunteer fireman and lord know how many other occupations.
Today, using the WFA’s collection of black and white photos mounted on the wall, Cukie spoke about the history of light ships in Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds.
Early on, and before the use of government placed and serviced aids to navigation, the Light Ships were essential waypoints for vessel entering and exiting Vineyard Sound. Forget about loneliness. Life aboard a Light Ship could be perilous. One sank in a violent storm when its anchor became dislodged from its lashings on the bow and pierced it amidships as it rolled in the seaway. Another was cut in half by the sister ship of the Titanic when it homed in on its light and didn’t bother to alter course to avoid it. All hands were lost on both Light Ships.
Cukie recalled that MIT engineer Harold Edgerton used his newfangled invention of side sonar scanner to pinpoint the hull of one of these vessels after it was lost in 1944.
And when Buzzards Bay tower a Texas type tower was built for the entrance to Buzzards Bay, “I could see the flashes at night even though my house on Drift Road is four miles inland.”
In 1942, Cukie told of being caught in pea soup fog as he returned from a sword-fishing trip. After using dead reckoning to reach his estimated location for the light ship off Hen and Chickens, he was flabbergasted when he reached his waypoint and had no evidence of a Light Ship. After a nervous minute he was startled to hear the Light Ship’s foghorn blast astern of his vessel.
“When I talked to the old timers ashore, they said the fog couldn’t penetrate the fog and wind till I got past it, “ Cukie said. Live and learn.
WFA Exhibit hall and rebuilt Horseneck Point Life Saving Station on East Beach Road near Gooseberry Neck
Guests examine maps, dioramas, and antique navigation tools before the lectures begin
Executive Director Jennifer Gelinas welcomes the guests
Chip Gillespie explains the makeup of aids to navigation
to interested listeners
Cukie Macomber's turn to talk about Light Ships in Vineyard Sound
Tom Schmitt explained how he built this extraordinary diorama of the entrance to Westport Harbor. Using Google Earth and satellite images as his guide, he created it as it would appear in April.
The basics: a 4x6 piece of homosote which he liked because he can stick pins into (little buoys, the same color as the ones in the harbor for example), and add plaster that will not crack on the homosote. He used acrylic paints and on water areas added a coat of clear polyurethane to give the water a marvelous sense of depth.
"You must have the hands of a surgeon," I marveled. "Nope, I made about 150 of those houses on the diorama out of pieces of pine or basswood, took me a couple of hours," he replied. I'd still trust him to operate on my heart.
Schmitt really got into detail with Tripps Boatyard. You can recognize mostly every feature there in his diorama, right down to the individual slats the of little wooden docks boats are tied up to.
Several sailboats on the piece are quite detailed, but most are like the houses, cut up carefully and painted but with litte detail.
The real kickeroo is the buoy system. Schmitt used tiny LED bulbs and programmed them to flash exactly as they do in the channels into the harbor. Quite awesome.
The funniest and possibly most creative part is how Schmitt created landscape colors - from a market! Schmitt roamed the herb aisle at Lees Market in Westport where he picked up sage, italian spices and a bunch of other spices and herbs he thought would be the right color for beech grass, vegetation, and other kinds of topography. That's thinking out of the box!
A fellow model builder admires the work and compares notes with designer Tom Schmitt. He says the whole thing took him about one month. Obviously, he's no beginner or slacker. This is a piece of work to be cherished for its authenticty and brilliant artistic merit. The newly renovated Horseneck Point Life Saving Station is a perfect place Mr. Schmitt's creation.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.