“It’s rough and rocky on Libby Island.” Gary Craig, assigned by the Coast Guard to the lighthouse on that Maine island, was routinely hauling drums of gasoline dumped by a Coast Guard supply boat on the shore.
“The little trailer hit a bump, and a drum bounced out and began rolling slowly down the slope toward the sea, fracturing a seam.”
Gary quickly soaked a rag in diesel fuel, ignited it, and tossed the flaming cloth toward the gasoline drum. “The gasoline fumes ignited with a whoosh, then burned with black smoke. But that was better than running into the ocean.”
Richard Gary Craig joined the Air Force in 1958 directly out of high school in his hometown, Eastport Maine. Returning in 1962, jobs were hard to find and keep. So he went to join the navy and wound up in the Coast Guard. “Best thing that ever happened to me,” he said.
After training in Cape May, New Jersey, and a first assignment on cutters, Craig was placed on LORAN duty in the farthest reaches of the Hawaiian Islands. Then with some seniority Gary sought duty closer home, at Southwest Harbor, Maine. Expecting small boat duty, he was asked instead, “Are you willing to be officer-in-charge at Libby Island Light Station?”
The Coast Guard stationed three men on remote island lighthouses with one off duty at any given time
Compensatory leave placed each man 14 days out, seven days leave--28 and 14 days in winter. Libby Island, craggy, tree-barren, fogged in even more than most Maine lighthouses, had its drawbacks, but Gary Craig could easily reach home on those leave periods where he had met Patrcia, his wife-to-be, also an Easport native.
Gary saw duty for 1½-2 years each at three lighthouses. After Libby Island, was West Quoddy, also in Maine, and was home in 1968-69 where Craig was Acting Officer in Charge. “West Quoddy Head Light was probably the best place the Coast Guard ever stationed me. One morning I went out to raise the flag and the whole lawn was covered by migrating Monarch butterflies. It was beautiful!” After a couple hours they all headed west. Gary also remembers a television commercial which Delco Batteries taped at the lighthouse. “They had permission to operate the lantern with their batteries, and they even included ocean sound for atmosphere.”
I asked Gary about any major problems at West Quoddy. “Nothing big,” he answered. “I do remember discovering 300 bats in the engine room and wondering how to get them out. I could scare them with a 22, but inside a brick building?
“So I got a five gallon can and stuffed it with rags soaked in diesel fuel. When that started smoking they hightailed it.” Sounds familiar.
Gary helped close the West Quoddy Life Saving Station, then opened a similar station in Eastport under his brother, also a Coast Guardsman. “I had it made. Living at home with my family, then I got my brother’s position. But orders sent me to Dolphin Island Alabama, second in charge and second engineer on an 82 foot ship. Patti and the kids remained in Eastport then lived with me in Alabama until we transfered to Eastern Point Light Station on Cape Ann, Mass.
“We faced a lot of challenges there,” Gary told me. “A large crack in the tower required attention.” But at least it was on the mainland like Quoddy, not an island. And my wife and family were with me.”
After the Coast Guard they all moved back to Eastport where Gary took another career, twenty years with the Postal Service. Now fully retired, Gary Craig really has it made. Turning to Patti he said, “I’m the luckiest man alive.”
This story appeared in the
December 2007 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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