To his wide circle of online friends, the lighthouse-loving frequent contributors to the message boards at www.lighthousing.net, he’s known as “Boats,” a wisecracking, coffee-gulping old seadog. But “Boats,” a.k.a. Al Clayton, a veteran of more than three decades at sea, has a serious side. The new 26-foot lighthouse he’s erected at his home in Seabeck, Washington, dubbed the Eternal Sea Memorial Light, stands as a memorial “for all the folks that didn’t come home” from their travels at sea.
After 31 years divided between the Navy, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines, Al Clayton’s seafaring days were rudely interrupted in 1999. On board a Navy tugboat, a ship line hit him in the head and sent him to a hospital in Seattle. Clayton had recurring dizzy spells after the accident, and his wife Diana suggested he pick up a new hobby to occupy his time.
Lighthouse building was a natural to this lover of all things nautical, who had sighted beacons of all shapes and sizes in his travels. He started small and built a variety of lighthouses under the company name “Nordic Finn Lighthouse Co.” Some have been commissioned, but most have been given away as gifts. The notion of a larger lighthouse percolated in the back of Clayton’s mind for years.
Clayton paid all expenses and designed and built the Eternal Sea Memorial Lighthouse completely on his own. “There was no blueprint or any now, “ he explains. “I build them all that way. I took some ideas from other lights, like the lamp and the motor room below the lamp. The rest is all my design, starting off with the round bottom working into sixteen sides, then eight sides the rest of the way up. No other lighthouse is built that way as far as I know.”
The project took about two years from start to finish. The lighthouse was constructed on its side in Clayton’s shop, using a variety of wood. One piece is said to come from a century-old ship. The design of the tower, inside and out, goes far beyond the typical “lawn lighthouse.” “There is as much paint inside as outside,” says Clayton. “She has two fans inside to move the air up and down, plus a heater for the winter to keep the moisture out.” There are even speakers near the top that allow Clayton to pipe music or sounds from inside his home.
Tom Weese, another maritime and lighthouse afficianado living in Washington, made contact with Clayton through the lighthousing.net message boards, and he eventually visited during the creation of the lighthouse. “His lighthouse is built like a battleship,” says Weese. “I expect it to last longer than any of us are alive!” He was impressed by Clayton’s creativity and intelligence. “He comes across a problem and will often stay up all night to come up with a fix for it somehow,” says Weese.
In early September the 2,350-pound tower was placed on eight tires and rolled out of Clayton’s shop to its final destination. With the help of a crane and several friends and neighbors, the tower was lifted into place atop a concrete pad. As the tower was lifted, the anxious Clayton joked, “If it falls, I’ll just start over, that’s all.” In its position on the pad, the lighthouse stands 26 feet 6 inches tall. Its rotating red flashing light makes two revolutions per minute.
Last September 19, a public dedication and memorial service was held at the Eternal Sea Memorial Lighthouse. Landscaping around the tower includes anchors and a yardarm, and the job is never quite finished. “You might say I’m a lighthouse keeper,” says Clayton. “The upkeep is another job. Will I ever be done? I’ll let you know in about ten years.”
His latest will be hard to top, but Clayton says he’s not through with lighthouse building by a longshot. “The thirty-foot lighthouse coming up next,” he says, “will be a little better, I hope.”
Clayton’s passion for the life and lore of the sea has won him many friends, many of whom know him through the Internet. He has a strong appreciation for the dangers of life at sea. “Many folks have gone down out there. We sea folks are different in that we do go out there, knowing the danger.” He adds, “I’d go back in a heartbeat, if I could.”
Al and Diana Clayton invite visitors to pay their respects at the Eternal Sea Memorial Lighthouse and to reflect on those lost at sea.
This story appeared in the
November 2004 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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