Digest>Archives> Nov/Dec 2018

From the Commodore

“A Sinking Experience in Charleston”

By Debra Baldwin


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Frederick P. Dillon

I have mentioned projects where I had success in supervising. Just to show that I was not infallible, listen to this one. The entrance range for Charleston Harbor consisted of St. Phillips Church spire at the top of which we maintained with difficulty an oil locomotive head lamp as the rear range light.

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South Carolina’s Castle Pickney Lighthouse Depot. ...

Fort Sumter had a tower and an oil locomotive head light for the front light. It was a very sensitive range but in periods of thick weather the very high rear light was obscured so we decided to build a new front light closer to the entrance channel out seaward of Fort Sumter using the Fort Sumter front light as a rear light.

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The steeple of St. Phillips Church in ...

The reinforced concrete piles for the new front light had been cast and properly cured on the Castle Pinckney Depot dock. The Cypress picked them up and placed them on a rented scow for the Snowdrop. Mr. Crouch, a local pile driving contractor, rented his floating pile driving plant with a rotten deck to the Office (with crew), the only plant available in the vicinity of Charleston.

I was aboard the Snowdrop as the work started. The scow with piles on deck and the piledriver were anchored in position just about ready to begin jetting operations with a sudden squall, similar to the Western tornados, broke loose. We could see the “mosquito fleet” (shrimp fishermen who went to sea early in the morning and came back late in the evening every good fishing day) under full sail scudding in to avoid the storm.

Captain Redell (of the Snowdrop) barely had time to collect all the laborers aboard and to hustle up the Cooper River to shelter. We saw the sea dump the concrete piles from the scow and carry off the scow and piledriver. The scow drifted ashore and later was recovered by the Snowdrop but the piledriver sank in about 20 feet of water.

The Cypress, with its powerful lifting gear, made fast to the gins (piledriver derrick) and the whole frame separated from the scow and came on deck with the hammer and cable to the hoisting engine. The Cypress reaved in the hammer cable and the piledriver engine was lifted aboard. Then what was left of the piledriver scow rose to the surface.

This mess of the contractor’s plant was secured at Castle Pinckney Lighthouse Depot. All the Lighthouse Service could do as compensation to Mr. Crouch was pay him for two days piledriver hire and assist him in every way practicable in a suit against the Federal Government for recovery of the value of the plant.

After several years, Congress passed a bill awarding him something like $10,000 for damages to his plant. The Lighthouse Service decided at the time to abandon the improvement to the Fort Sumter range.

This story appeared in the Nov/Dec 2018 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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