Scanning for dinner in the marsh below, a Red-tailed Hawk perched atop the Eastern Point Lighthouse for a moment before resuming the hunt.
“I’ve been living in Gloucester now since 2013 (and love it of course!). When we first moved to the city, we could hear the foghorns during inclement weather. However, about a year ago, I noticed that I no longer hear them. I loved this soothing sound on a gray day and am wondering what happened? Have the foghorns been turned off? Thanks!” –Patricia
Sort of. The foghorn sound has not changed but their frequency has dropped significantly because the systems are no longer automated in situ on light house grounds. Instead, foghorns are on demand now, manually kicked in by vessel operators. They are VHF automated to frequency 83 Alpha. Five or more consecutive clicks sets the foghorn off for 30, 45 and 60 minutes depending upon the lighthouse.
The USCG in Gloucester explained that the USCGNortheast out of Boston tends the Cape Ann Lighthouses, albeit Thacher Island North Light which is private. The USCG division responsible for all technology elements is called the “Aids to Navigation Team”, aka the USCGNortheast ANT unit.
Since 2010, slowly but surely the USCG has been replacing the automated VM-100 fog detector systems with “Marine Radio Activated Sound Signal” or MRASS systems. VM-100 were problematic as parts were no longer fabricated and the systems were deemed less reliable and obsolete. Boaters rely on common knowledge. Many access USCG light list, GPS on their cellphones, chartplotters, and radar. When the weather hedges to the odds of even one boater being confused by fog, evidence suggests crowdsourcing engages the signal. Expect frequency to increase in summer when more boats are on the water.
The change was not without controversy. See the history of transition in Maine. Locally, a 2013 Gloucester Daily Times editorial expressed support of the Rockport Harbormasters’ opposition. Because of broad push back, the roll out was slowed down for better outreach and acceptance. The “drop date” requiring all foghorns nationwide to be in compliance was May 1, 2019.
“The upkeep of the MRASS foghorns is so much easier,” explains Petty Officer ONeal of the USCG ANT in Boston. “All the foghorns from Plymouth to Newburyport have been converted. Eastern Point was switched over yesterday.”
I sympathize with this lament for the foghorn. And I appreciate the challenge of maintenance and adaptation. Understandably safety, navigation, cost and care were essential topics of discussion, less so audible texture, mood, sense of place & culture. (Never mind the challenge of mastering dead reckoning when vision fails.) The allure of the sound from shores, often traveling great distance, is in the ear of the listener. Beguiling. Haunting. Soothing. Despondent. Scary. Annoying [see bestselling author Elizabeth Stuart Phelps LTE complaints ca.1880 about the whistling buoy off Mother Ann and that’s no foghorn] What do you think, GMG readers, and vessel experts?
Like train engineers blowing the whistle obliging ogling toddlers, maybe a few boaters will queue the sound in dreary weather for pining landlubbers. Technology changes that’s certain. Perhaps the poetic qualities will be baked into future foghorn design despite obsolescence.
The MRASS system is robust and here now. Thanks to USCG Gloucester and Petty Officer ONeal USCGNortheast ANT unit Boston for confirming details and to GMG reader Patricia for a great inquiry!
On Sunday’s podcast we asked our guest, Chris Spittle, the Cape Ann weatherman to predict whether 2018-2019 would be a snowy winter, or not. Judging by the snowstorms of the past that have brought the greatest amounts of snowfall, it is likely that we may very well have a snowy winter and here’s why Chris suggests yes.
Historically, the greatest amounts of snowfall occur when North America’s trade winds are transitioning (Neutral state) from La Niña to El Niño. During the transition, and at the beginning (weakest) state of the transition to El Niño we are most likely to experience the greatest amounts of snowfall. Currently, La Niña (east to west trade winds) is oscillating to El Niño (west to east).
Chris shared the graphic below classifying the ten worst snowstorms of the past two centuries.
On the plus side, El Niño summers are generally warmer 🙂
NOAA website: What are El Niño and La Niña?
El Niño and La Niña are opposite phases of a natural climate pattern across the tropical Pacific Ocean that swings back and forth every 3-7 years on average. Together, they are called ENSO (pronounced “en-so”), which is short for El Niño-Southern Oscillation.
The ENSO pattern in the tropical Pacific can be in one of three states: El Niño, Neutral, or La Niña. El Niño (the warm phase) and La Niña (the cool phase) lead to significant differences from the average ocean temperatures, winds, surface pressure, and rainfall across parts of the tropical Pacific. Neutral indicates that conditions are near their long-term average.
Our front dooryard, in 2015, between blizzards.
We even had visit from a Snow Goose during the winter of 2015! He mixed with a flock of Canada Geese, staying for about a week, foraging on sea grass at Good Harbor Beach.
Sometimes a walk on the breakwater connects you to some history.
I met Steve Macy, who is in the area on a business trip, he decide to come out and visit Eastern Point Lighthouse where his grandfather, Francis Macy was the lighthouse keeper from 1931-1941. Steve’s father lives out on the west coast and hopefully he will see this post. I provided Steve with a GMG Sticker.
With warmer coming, hopefully, the fog has been very pretty. If you can imagine, take a deep breath and you can smell the sea.
The culvert that allows marsh water to flow into the beach survived all four storms with flying colors, providing continual drainage. The culvert was restored by NOAA and has proven storm after storm to be a great success story.
It appears as though the Eastern Point Lighthouse parking lot and road were hit with surges from both the harbor side and from the Atlantic, washing away the road and leaving the area littered with surge debris, mostly rocks, seaweed, and seagrass. The storm drain, which formerly ran under the road, is now completely exposed. At low tide early this evening, the marsh was still completely flooded.
If you are planning on checking on the EPLighthouse, park your car and walk. Several folks got stuck as there is nowhere to turn around under the current conditions.
Living in a coastal community as do we here on Cape Ann, the weather plays a formidable role in our everyday lives. I consider each day to be uniquely beautiful, although with a storm approaching that has been given the name “Bomb Cyclone,” the word beauty may not be the first word that comes to mind tomorrow morning.
Yesterday morning as the full Wolf Moon was setting, the sun rose clear and brilliantly on the icy rafts forming at Smiths Cove, sea smoke swirled around Ten Pound Island Lighthouse, and the Harbor was rough with whitecaps.
Today the sun rose over the backshore through a bank of low lying clouds shading the light in hues of violet, red, orange, and yellow and this thought was on my mind, ‘red in the morning, sailor heed warning.’ Fishermen were shoring up their boats, house builders furiously hammering, and the grocery stores were as mobbed as the day before Thanksgiving.
See you on the other side of the storm. Please stay safe and warm ❤
Evocative views looking through sea smoke along the shoreline this morning, from Ten Pound Island to Twin Lights, and at every vantage point along the way. On my very last stop photographing a buoy in the sea smoke, I spied a mystery bird far off shore. Bobbing in the water and with a bill not at all shaped liked a seagulls, it was a SNOW GOOSE! He was too far away to get a great photo, but wonderful to see nonetheless!
With a house full of family from Ohio here to meet baby Charlotte, our daughter Liv visiting, too, and loving every minute, there’s not much time to post. Liv took this snapshot of Eastern Point Lighthouse just now with a seagull perched on the Lighhouse, a schooner (I think it’s the Lannon), a teeny Boston in the background, and the sun going down. Joyous Times!
Liv Hauck Photo