Beverly Wright congratulates Spencer Booker after he ran the 2014 Gay Head 10K
Be part of a new island tradition and help us restore and maintain the iconic Gay Head Lighthouse. The third annual Gay Head 10K race will be held on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, at 10 am.
Run from beneath the treasured island landmark, down leafy State Road past Aquinnah Town Hall, to ocean-side Moshup Trail, back toward Aquinnah Circle, ending the race under the lighthouse’s famous beacon, now safely in its new location away from the cliff’s edge.
Following the relighting of the Gay Head Light two weeks ago, mariners, the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are updating their charts to account for the light’s relocation away from the eroding cliffs at the western tip of the Island.
The change was noted last week in the Coast Guard’s weekly notice to mariners from Maine to New Jersey. In nautical terms, the lighthouse is now about 8.4 seconds east and .4 seconds south of its previous location. A temporary beacon that had been put up by the U.S. Coast Guard has been extinguished.
Gay Head Light is considered a critical beacon for navigation in ledge-strewn waters off Cliffs. — Timothy Johnson
The Coast Guard’s Aid to Navigation Team in Woods Hole has already updated its paper charts, whiting out the old location and placing a sticker where the lighthouse now stands, 129 feet farther from the cliff edge. NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, which charts all U.S. waters, will issue an update online.
Since 1856, the Gay Head Light has watched over the western entrance to Vineyard Sound. Its alternating red-and-white light warns of the cliffs and boulder-strewn shore, along with Devil’s Bridge, which extends west from the tip of Aquinnah, and Sow and Pigs Reef, another dangerous ledge just south of Cuttyhunk. It replaced an earlier lighthouse that was built in 1799.
NOAA updates its digital charts weekly, in response to critical changes such as a sunken ship or a storm-altered shoal. The Coast Guard notifies the agency of any changes, including relocated buoys and lights. Updated charts are immediately available to the public at charts.noaa.gov.
After 160 years of sea cliff erosion, the Gay Head Lighthouse in the town of Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard was literally a few dozen feet away from being lost forever to the Atlantic Ocean.
Two years of planning, paperwork, heavy labor, and $3.5 million later, island residents and visitors alike can sleep easily again under the sweep of the familiar Gay Head light. After an extensive relocation campaign this spring, the lighthouse reopened on August 11, a safe 130 feet farther inland where its red and white beacon is shining brightly once again.
A journey of 130 feet, however, required the help of an entire community. Here are just a few of the local preservationists who made this vision a reality.
Paula Eisenberg is, compared to most people who live on Martha’s Vineyard, a newcomer. She came to Aquinnah in 2002, and immediately was drawn to historical restoration and preservation projects as a way to get involved in the community.
Len Butler moved to the island 45 years ago after his college graduation. He and the woman who would become his wife stood on the cliffs and decided to start a family in Aquinnah. Years later, their daughter got married just steps from the lighthouse.
Martha Vanderhoop has lived in Aquinnah her entire life. Her grandfather, Charles Vanderhoop, Sr., was a principal lighthouse keeper from 1920-33, and the first of the local Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head to achieve that status. Martha’s father, Charles, Jr., grew up in the building before becoming a ship captain.
A time-lapse video of the relocation of the Gay Head Lighthouse.
Paula, Len, and Martha are all members of the Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Committee, each bringing a unique perspective to this massive preservation project, and each forever entwined with the history of the lighthouse.
Paula was captivated by the rich sense of history in the town, which she says is “very much alive,” so she was more than happy to put her experience in media and Internet consulting to use through the lighthouse committee. Before the lighthouse was moved, she could see the iconic red and white beam from her bedroom window; she’s anxious to find out if that will still hold true from its new location.
Local building contractor Len Butler has been knee deep into the lighthouse project: he chaired the relocation sub-committee, managing the various builders, engineers, and movers that contributed to the move. He also had a big hand in the lighthouse transfer of ownership from the U.S. Coast Guard to the town of Aquinnah.
Preparing to turn the Gay Head Lighthouse light back on.
“It’s always been an important lighthouse — it has been a beacon,” Len says. “We’re a maritime community, going back to whaling days. The Island really depends on this lighthouse and it’s a part of our heritage.”
Not only is the lighthouse an active aid to navigation (and will continue to be operated by the Coast Guard), it also contributes significantly to tourism and business for the town of Aquinnah. Local businesses felt the impact of the temporary closure, and everyone is anxious for the lighthouse to be fully operational and open to visitors again.
While the details of the move itself are noteworthy and an incredible feat of engineering, as well as a great example of multiple municipal and federal agencies, organizations, and individuals working together for a common purpose, Len is most excited about the historical and cultural significance of the project.
“The spot where my daughter stood and got married 11 years ago is no longer there,” Len says. “That really brought it home for me. I’m happy we’ve preserved this for future generations.”
He and other members of the committee visited the community schools and invited students to watch the move and explained why it’s important: “We want them to feel a part of this, a part of this history, so they will have this love for the lighthouse that we grew up with, and pass it along to their children.”
Aerial view of the Gay Head Lighthouse before the move with its light shining bright.
Perhaps the most connected to the Gay Head Lighthouse is Martha, who grew up hearing stories from her father about a childhood as a light keeper’s son and how the whole family contributed to its operation and upkeep.
“In those times, it was a 24-hour, everyday kind of job,” she says. Tasks like turning the crank for the light, washing windows, and collecting water kept everyone busy. Martha remembers being disappointed when the keeper’s house was torn down, and did her part volunteering over the years to help manage the light, give tours, and preserve its legacy. She’s especially proud of her Wampanoag heritage and the tribal ties to the lighthouse.
“I felt like I was just continuing the tradition my father started, when he was working to save the lighthouse years ago, all the talks he gave about it,” she says. “I know that’s what he would have wanted.”
The lighthouse is open again, but the restoration work continues. The committee will host theirannual 10k race in October to raise funds for projects such as cleaning and replacing windows, reinforcing steel support and brick walls, and maintaining the lens. But Paula, Len, Martha, and the town of Aquinnah can rest assured that the lighthouse will stand strong at least another 150 years.
Messages left at the Gay Head Lighthouse after a Summer Solstice gathering.
“It’s a great sense of accomplishment,” Len says. “When that light’s sweeping through my window at night again, my job is done…well, not really. I’m kinda married to it now for the rest of my life.”
Paula isn’t sure what she’ll get involved with next, but now she’s made connections to last a lifetime. “You really can’t escape history walking around the town. You’re living in history. It’s a part of the present.”
Learn more about the history of the Gay Head Lighthouse and the relocation project here.
Gay Head Light awaits its ribbon-cutting and re-lighting. The iconic 400-ton structure was moved back from an eroding cliff in May. CREDIT BRIAN MORRIS/WCAI
After sitting dark for two and a half months, the red and white beacon inside the Gay Head Light shone again Tuesday night, illuminating the cliffs of Aquinnah. The iconic lighthouse had been moved 120 feet back from an eroding cliff face in May, and last night’s ceremony under a tent next to the lighthouse marked the end of an island-wide effort to save it.
On a rainy day, and despite a brief power outage, the Gay Head Light has resumed its watch over mariners. Maria Thibodeau
At 6:13 p.m. on Tuesday the Gay Head Light resumed its watch over the waters off Aquinnah. A large crowd gathered in a steady downpour, peering up from under umbrellas and hoods to witness the end of the lighthouse’s longest period of darkness since 1856.
Red and white light beams out again from new location. — Maria Thibodeau
Donors, government officials, members of the U.S. Coast Guard, and many others who helped move the lighthouse to safety made their way up a soggy path and gathered under a white tent for a private ceremony prior to the relighting. Rain pelted the tent and splashed those standing around the edges as several speakers offered their thanks and congratulations to the crowd.
Lead donor Amalie Kass, dressed in purple with purple earrings, was given the honor of cutting a large red ribbon wrapped around the lighthouse. Family members sheltered her with umbrellas as she stood in front of the open doorway and snipped the ribbon.
Under the tent, a saxophonist played This Little Light of Mine.
Amalie Kass, a summer resident of Aquinnah, cuts the ribbon at the door to Gay Head Light before it was re-lit. Kass was the lead donor to the project to relocate the 400-ton lighthouse some 135 feet from the edge of the Gay Head Cliffs earlier this year. Merrily Cassidy/Cape Cod Times
AQUINNAH — Just in time as a storm swept over the island, Gay Head Light came back to life.
The beacon was re-lit, cutting through the murk of a rotten evening on Martha’s Vineyard like an old pro, and wet, happy fans of light roared in the rain.
“It’s beautiful, it’s invigorating,” said a drenched Anne Moser, part-time Aquinnah resident. “It shines so brightly, even though it’s raining like it is. I think that everybody’s spirit is shining through, just like the lighthouse.”
After all, bad weather is perfect lighthouse weather. That’s when you really need that beaming friend on the cliff to show you the way.
And you just had to laugh, wetly, when a power outage in the town of Aquinnah delayed the lighting by 10 minutes, further soaking the already-sopping spectators.