Digest>Archives> Mar/Apr 2012

Up In the Air at Conimicut Lighthouse

By Frederick W. Mikkelsen, Jr.


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Aerial view of Conimicut Lighthouse as it ...
Photo by: Ron Foster

On the return from a routine trip to Conimicut to pick up the mail at the Post Office and a few groceries for DuQuette’s Market, an event began that I wish to tell you about.

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The old fog bell at Conimicut Lighthouse, which ...

The sound of the Evinrude outboard engine changed and that usually meant that I had snagged some seaweed or something that would obstruct the cooling water intake. As I tipped the engine up, I spotted a mass of string with two lines trailing off into the grey water which reflected the slate-colored March sky. Curious as to what might be at the end of the line, I pulled and pulled, piling the string in the bottom of the boat. It was quite a pile of tangled string and when done, I found one end tied to a round stick and the other to the bridle of a kite frame without any paper. I would be alone for the next three days so I could dry it out, untangle it, and salvage the string at least. Our motto, as was that of the Lighthouse Service before us, “Use it up, wear it out, and make it do, or do without.”

It took several hours by the light of the Aladdin kerosene lamp to untangle and wind the string back on the round stick after the string dried out. By then a silly idea had taken hold of my 19 year old brain; could I fly a kite from Conimicut Light? We had a roll of brown wrapping paper in the day room closet and some white glue, so why not give it a try.

The next afternoon I became totally frustrated (you recall the Charlie Brown’s attempts at kite flying). I could get the kite airborne by running the 20 feet across the bell deck, but as the kite drifted off it would get caught in the eddy caused by the wind wrapping around the tower. Time after time it would rise, only to crash when it got 50 feet or so away toward the Barrington shore. The afternoon wore on and just when I was ready to quit, the kite broke free of the turbulence and rose away as I had hoped. Carefully feeding the string and counting on the wind to remain steady, I was delighted to send it far over the channel down toward Rumstick Point. With all the string out, it was about 1/3 of a mile down wind from the light and I tied the end of the string to the bell deck rail as night fell.

The next morning as I extinguished the main light, I noticed that the kite was still flying but had swung more south and was now over the bay in an area called Conimicut Middle Ground. During that day a small plane flew low and investigated the strange object, and the crew of a Providence Towboat gave it a long look see. I wondered what they were thinking. The wind began to lessen in intensity, and the kite dropped lower until it was level with the height of my tower; the string drooped in a long arc almost due south but it was still flying!

By the morning of the 3rd day, the kite had dropped so low that the string touched the water at the low point of its arc and I knew the end of my adventure was near. As the string became water-soaked, it sagged even more, and by afternoon it had dragged the kite to a watery grave. I cut the string loose (which may not have been the best thing to do) and smiled to myself thinking how cleaer I was.

There weren’t a lot of things to entertain a 19 year old Coast Guard EN3 lighthouse keeper in 1958 at one of the last kerosene 35mm IOV lighthouses in use in the United States!

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2012 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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