Digest>Archives> November 2002

Light Reflections


By Sharma Krauskopf


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For a few seconds I stared at the envelope before I ripped it open. A letter from the Northern Lighthouse Board was unusual. Most of the communication between Eshaness and the Board is made by email. Finally getting up enough courage I tore it open. Quickly skimming its contents the word that stuck out was ‘redecorating.’ The NLB was going to redecorate our lighthouse tower.

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The Northern Lighthouse Board’s successful system of managing their automated properties, as regular readers already know, is to sell the land and the buildings with the exception of the tower. The ships that travel the treacherous waters around Scotland demand that the lighthouse towers remain in operation even though it costs them every time they travel through a lighthouse’s jurisdiction. To keep the lights operational the NLB keeps control of the tower and provides an attendant keeper to watch over it. Every year technicians from Scotland’s lighthouse authority come to Shetland to do the necessary repairs and adjustments to Eshaness beacon’s equipment.

I was curious what redecorate meant so I called and found out that our tower was going to get a complete cosmetic overhaul meaning it was going to be cleaned and painted inside and out. My husband and I, the attendant keeper and our caretaker were enthused about the prospect of the Eshaness tower getting redecorated. As far as anyone could remember it had been 5 - 7 years since the tower had had major attention. Certainly nothing had been done since we bought it four years ago.

The first step in the process was a group of technicians arrived to inspect, photograph, and diagram the repairs needed. In an arrangement like ours where the tower and the house are connected it is difficult to draw a definite line of responsibility. An example of this was where the house roof met the tower there was some leakage that caused dampness in our master bedroom closet. The situation was getting worse so the first step was to repair the roof to stop the leakage into the house.

I could not wait until the day the work began. The repair of the roof was to be done by a local contractor. It wasn’t long after their arrival that my excitement turned to pure despair. In order to repair the leak the contractor’s had to cut a ledge into the tower’s concrete. I had always known the Stevensons built sturdy facilities but when the cutting started the noise was magnified a hundred times by the sold concrete walls and echoed through house. I tried to work but it was impossible and ended up calling the generator house my office and using a portable heater for warmth. Thank goodness that lasted only a couple of days. The rest of the roof repair was quiet and in ten days we had a leak proof roof.

The second stage of the redecorating was much more extensive. A firm, Pyeroy Ltd of Gateshead, whose speciality is maritime structures, was going to complete this portion of the project. When the crew arrived I was surprised they were three men who were members of the same family. I was impressed with how hard they worked and quickly they got the big job done. I enjoyed watching what they were doing and their company. Noise in the house was still a problem but at least they would let me know ahead of time when it was going to be bad and I could try to make plans to be out of the house. That is not straightforward for me since I did not have a car.

This redecorating was not an easy task even for three highly trained professionals as they had to remove the plastic protective storm covers that protected the glass, strip off a gigantic number of paint layers before they could put on the new rubber based paint that lasts 10 years in wild ocean conditions.

The finished facility looks superb, the freshly painted walls sparkle, the new floor in the tower’s kitchen and bathroom is cheerful. The biggest improvement is a red covering applied to the floor and the steps to the tower. This covering has a gritty substance in it, which keeps it from becoming slippery. One of my biggest fears had always been that someone would slip on the metal stairs and fall.

The redecorating is over. There was some agony for me with the noise and the smell of the paint coming through the air vents into the house. It was worth it. We did not spend one cent and have a pristine new tower. Also I learned so much about how to protect lighthouse property from the technicians and the contractors which will be helpful in the future. Most of all Eshaness’ tower and that end of the building look just like it did when David A Stevenson built it.

This story appeared in the November 2002 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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