Papakura Radio Club inc.
& NZART Branch 65, Papakura.
1 Great South Road, Papakura.
“Working towards NZART Guiding Light award”
Nigel and I were so impressed by our Cape Brett experience we had originally planned to return and activate Cape Brett lighthouse for the 09 Lighthouse weekend. But Nigel’s work had progressed slowly and was at a stage he couldn’t leave. Deciding cost, weather and time wise, it was a bit risky to proceed with Cape Brett, we chose to go with nearby Cape Egmont Lighthouse.
Nigel was so excited with the up coming Lighthouse weekend. He studied antennas, built antennas, had me quietly going crazy inventing ways to sew carry bags for antennas and solar panels. As needed sanity breaks, I was out shopping for more ropes and tent pegs for the rapidly multiplying antenna pole collection. Nigel managed to encourage several radio mates to join in the weekend and sign up for lighthouses. Information was eagerly researched and exchanged between radio club mates on who to contact to gain required permissions for various lighthouses. Nigel also established a network of connections on who to contact regarding the Cape Egmont Lighthouse.
On one of our visits to Cape Egmont, we had been at the foot of the lighthouse when looking out across the paddocks; we saw something unusual that made us look the second time. Near the fence and gate that led to the lighthouse there was a small shed. Protruding from the shed wall was the back and hindquarters of one HUGE cattle beast! It looked as if the beastie was either stuck or having a good scratch. He couldn’t fit in the shed! He backed out of the shed and turned to face us. He was Jersey by the look of his huge curling horns. There had been a lady in blue overalls working around the keeper’s cottage and when we went to ask her about who to contact regarding permission to set up antennas near the lighthouse we met the lovely Jane at the lighthouse gate.
She is diminutive and the huge beastie towered over her, but there was a bond of trust and affection between them. Jane had so many stories she could have told us, had time permitted. She had been the wife of a lighthouse keeper… Cape Egmont was their last posting. On retirement from lighthouse duties, Jane and her husband bought the lighthouse keeper’s house and nearby farming property and remained in the shadow of Cape Egmont Lighthouse till his death. Jane remains at the lighthouse caring for their property. She told us they had been to Mokohinau, and a number of other remote lights. I intend to go back and interview her again for the details.
From Cape Egmont Lighthouse, Nigel and I visited the Cape Egmont Boating Club to discover it had a smaller replica lighthouse built into the club house buildings. When you have a camera but no pen, the camera took down the contact phone numbers on the sign board. Nigel looked into setting up station at the replica, but on looking closer at the rules, it had to be the working light at Cape Egmont. His time was not wasted though, as he made a valuable contact; Len who is curator of the replica light museum, a hamster and local dairy farmer. He is also a guardian for the Cape Egmont Lighthouse. It was through Len that Nigel was able to procure the keys to the generator room for the International Lighthouse weekend. Nigel had seen through the replica light museum and told me it had on display the old working parts, the lens and lantern that had been removed from the Cape Egmont Lighthouse.
A few weeks out from August 18th, Nigel had several trial runs in preparation for the lighthouse weekend. His 15m spaghetti pole was untried. To gain more height with little weight, Nigel bought a dowelling rod the thickness of a broom handle to increase the pole to 18m. The wooden dowel had the halyard pulley set in it.
The aluminium Spaghetti Poles got their name by the way they look like a strand of cooked spaghetti trying to stand upright. They bend and bow and threaten to turn over and crash down like wet spaghetti strands. The only thing holding them upright are the supporting guy ropes angled at 45 degrees apart and at 5m sections in height.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t with him the day he raised the 18m spaghetti pole. I was at home fighting with yacht upholstery, but I laughed when he told me what happened.
Nigel working solo, managed to get the 18m spaghetti pole raised to its full height and attached the antenna wires successfully. But shortly after, the dowel bowed sideways with the weight, and the guy ropes under the bow slackened. As the bow increased, the guy ropes slackened more, allowing the pole to bend further. In about 20 seconds Nigel watched the pole flex over like a dropped spaghetti strand into a graceful spaghetti arch.
Nigel removed an aluminium section and tried again, only to make spaghetti arches for the second time. He gave up after the second try and arrived home early.
We spent some of this preparation time looking up the history of the Cape Egmont Lighthouse. It is fascinating. Prefabricated in London, Britain, the lighthouse’s steel plates, the fragile lens and all its workings were shipped to New Zealand in 1864 and the lighthouse was constructed in 1865 on Mana Island, south of Kapiti Island and on the south west coast of the New Zealand’s North Island. It cost in the vicinity of (pounds) 5,550. It was first lit 1st Feb 1865. Unfortunately, the Mana lighthouse had the same fixed white light signature as the Pencarrow Lighthouse situated at the entrance to Wellington Harbour. In 1870, two ships the “City of Newcastle” and “Cyrus”, in a case of mistaken identity, ran out of water trying to enter Wellington Harbour on its signal. It was also found that thick fog would obscure the light. By 1873 the Mana lighthouse was proclaimed a “Mistake” and calls were made for its relocation.
Nigel bought a fantastic book on New Zealand’s lighthouses called Lighting the Coast by Helen Beaglehole. I highly recommend it if you are interested in lighthouses!
Since reading through the history of the lighthouses and what effort it took to construct the towers, I have a new appreciation for the determined efforts that the early pioneers put into making things happen. Horse and manpower were what they had and what they used. Communications as we know it today were lacking and added to the frustrations they faced.
In 1874 Cape Egmont was selected as the new site for the Mana Island lighthouse. The Taranaki wars were in the final phases. The Brothers lighthouse was constructed in 1876 and when the Brothers lighthouse was lit in September 1877, the Mana light was extinguished. Frustration would bug the relocation of the lighthouse and by 1881 it was re-erected in its new location and finally lit up 1st August 1881. The relocation cost pounds 3,353 17s 11d. Due to the unrest from the Taranaki wars, Cape Egmont lighthouse had to be guarded by 40 military soldiers who stayed in the first floor of the lighthouse. They apparently were less house proud than the lighthouse keeper liked. He complained of their dirty boots and the dust created by their residence in the lighthouse settling on the lamp and lens. The militia were a constant source of frustration to the lighthouse keeper who had to knock on his own lighthouse door to attend his duties. The militia opened the door when they felt like it. The answer to his letter of complaint to the Marine department was basically a curt… get on with the job, the men stay! It was expressed more in the manner of English spoken those days… Quote from the Marine department’s reply: “It is considered necessary for the men to occupy the ground floor of the lighthouse for the present, and I trust you will exert yourself to get on amicably with the Force and not let me have further complaints of the trivial nature of these now made by you.” The troops finally left mid February the following year. It is claimed that Cape Egmont is New Zealand’s only lighthouse to be fortified and placed under a military guard.
Of interest to me also is the fact in 1881 “The lighthouse was given a wrought iron door and shutters, flax had to be cleared from the entire reserve, the boundary ditched, the bank planted with “furze” (gorse).” [Lighting the Coast by Helen Beaglehole. P 133.]
I wondered at the significance of Nigel’s picking a Cape Egmont lighthouse gorse bush for his proposal… now I know! (hi hi) It is part of history! The flax is still absent, but the gorse bushes remain.
Also in Helen Beaglehole’s book is the following passage on page 135. “Dismantling towers (and lanterns) was almost as difficult as constructing them. At Mana, Scott expected that, even with the help of the other settlers and two horses, dragging the plates to the beach would take about four weeks – a timetable that had to accommodate not only the steep drop off Mana’s flat table land but a horse ‘far better adapted for a circus than to drag the plates’ Then rust was found to be flaking off the flanges, most of the lantern screws needed renewing, while the glass had been originally fitted too tight and the panes needed to be cut down. To cap it all, parts of the Mana tower were damaged in surfboat landings at Cape Egmont.” With the wars over, the land was settled by dairy farms and Cape Egmont lighthouse became one of the least isolated lighthouses.
Cape Egmont lighthouse on 9th December 1929 was fitted with an automated unwatched revolving lens with a fixed incandescent acetylene burner and sun valve. It was considered the most up to date lighthouse in the country and was maintained by a single keeper. In 1952 the lighthouse was connected to mains electricity. In the late 1950s the lighthouse keeper was not replaced on retirement. The daily operations light check fell to a local farmer. Unfortunately, on the 14th of July 1956 a storm extinguished the light due to power failure and the vessel “Calm” ran aground. The resulting inquiry found the Marine department negligible and had to compensate the owners of the vessel (pounds 50,000). A keeper was ordered to be reinstated.
The light was fully automated on 20th February 1986. But the first night the automated light failed. A nearby ship sent in a report and the installers were sent back out to fix the light. Bryan Richards, the last resident keeper who had been kept on as an observer for six months, says it was a mechanical failure. “A pin sheared off the lens-turning motor”. [www.newzealandlighthouses.com/cape Egmont.htm] The lighthouse has been unmanned since, operated remotely from Wellington.
The large lens and much of the lighthouse’s workings are now situated in the replica lighthouse museum. The generator room is empty of its machinery. Nigel intended to show me through the museum this weekend (20th Sept 09) but Len was busy with newborn calves.
Getting back to the lighthouse week end story:
Nigel had carefully researched suitable portable generators and bought a lovely quiet little one that was quite expensive and computer kind. He tried out his new generator, only to find it synchronised nicely with the radio frequencies, making it near impossible to make radio contacts. He was successful on setting the pole without the dowelling section.
Back to the research and he bought a little “cheepy” about half the price of the first one. This little red monster was set in the carport and a lead ran through the cottage to the radio room and Nigel made several test calls using the generator to power his radios. It seemed to work well without interference.
He intended to set the pole Friday afternoon ready for Saturday evening when he planned on joining the lighthouse radio activity. On the way home from work he stopped by the lighthouse. He was successful in setting up his spaghetti pole with the wooden section, only to have it crash again, this time breaking it in several places. Saturday evening was disappointing as Nigel joined the lighthouse activities listening in from home. It was a miserably wet night! I went to our neighbour’s 70th birthday party and got home late. Sunday morning, Nigel bounced out of bed as soon as his alarm went off at the unearthly hour of 0430. He was excited and rearing to go. Not me! I saw Nigel off at 0530 telling him I’d be down to join him a bit later. Two hours later I was driving down Surf Hwy 45 stealing glances at the majestic snow covered Mt Egmont out on full display in the early morning light. I should have pulled over and taken some photos of it, but I didn’t. The weather was so pleasant, I thought it could wait till later… little did I know the weather forecast was set to close in as the day progressed! I should have been better prepared and dressed for snow conditions!
Nigel had the poles and lines all laid out by the time I arrived. I started filming as soon as I’d dropped my bag in the generator room. It was suggested I leave the filming till later. I told Nigel we would have nothing to work on if I did that! When absolutely needed I put the camera away, gave Nigel a hand, and then went back to filming. The little digital Canon was on duty and I’d only used its video ability for the first time a couple weeks earlier. Much to Nigel’s amusement, I managed to have Mt Damper Falls shooting horizontally and caught Nigel’s Mr Bean impersonation. Together we had edited the raw film and corrected the falls.
I was having a heap of fun with the camera while Nigel scurried around. At last we had the radio connected and making an awful loud noise with a few minutes to spare to the Papakura Club Net at 0830.
ZL1GHT was the first contact Nigel made, booming in from Auckland’s Manakau Heads lighthouse. Later on the net, ZL signals popped in from a number of lighthouses, mostly from the North Island. A couple South Island lighthouses called in as well. Nigel was so excited picking up the Papakura club members. He informed me there were 5 lighthouses activated by club members from Papakura and it must have been a world record for a single radio club!
As the radio calls warmed up, the temperature outside the generator shed fell sharply. The mountain was hidden by stormy clouds and the air had the bite of snow falling on the mountain.
Nigel asked me to check off the lighthouses as we made contact with them. We had pages and pages of lighthouses to sort through to find the one on air. The computer printout helped clarify several not so clear call signs and helped with recording the lighthouse numbers. While searching for lighthouse records, the little Canon was busy recording the call. The little “gorillapod” was in use for the first time and was proving quite handy. It started off as a miniature tripod sitting on a box. It then moved and ended up entwined around the red trolley’s frame secure enough to leave the camera running unattended.
As the day progressed, it got colder. All the warm clothes I’d brought were on and I was getting colder. Nigel was warmly rugged up and said he was fine. The calls slowed down, I tried reading but the late night was catching up with me and it was difficult staying awake. Nigel started getting more VK calls coming in, quite a few of them Remembrance Day contestants and a few lighthouses, but by now I was feeling miserably cold. I pulled out. I was half way home with the car heater on full before the warmth started taking effect. Then I had to fight to stay awake and on the road. I fell into bed when I reached home.
Nigel continued making calls for another 3 hours and started packing up around 4:30pm. Len gave him a hand with packing up, which was greatly appreciated. Nigel arrived home happy with his day and excitedly told me he’d contacted 19 VK lighthouses, from nearly every state and many I knew. I was disappointed I hadn’t stayed.
We are now planning for the next lighthouse venture and would you believe it… Nigel and Kelly cat are building more antennas! Spider Beans and a Log Periodic. Another 150 metres of rope is on the shopping list and Nigel is hoping I will make more carry bags for his growing antenna collection… we now have squid poles to be kept under control as well as spaghetti poles! Aaahhh!! We are going to need a semi trailer to shift it all! (hi hi)
How to contact us:
Papakura Radio Club inc.
1 Great South Road, Papakura
P.O.Box 72397, Papakura 2244