As I was one day busily studying and filing, the Chief Clerk came in our side of the office, accompanied by an energetic young man. “Mr. Dillon,” said he, “I want to you to meet Captain Emile Redell of the Lighthouse Tender Snowdrop. You will probably have many trips with Captain Redell. He is a busy man.”
I was immediately impressed with Captain Redell. He was so forthright and full of information and ideas. As a matter of fact, he was a Captain-Foreman and was a natural born engineer without formal training. He wanted to tell me all. He was of German parentage, worked for the U.S. District Engineer side of the Light House Board, knew the sixth Light House District “like a book,” as well as the personnel.
The Snowdrop was a small inside tender-construction boat built like a pleasure craft, glass cabined, sixty five feet long, twelve foot beam and four foot draft, a small pilot house, then a saloon and with mess department and crews quarters aft; room for two passengers, two bunks, a dining table central; normal crew: captain, quartermaster, carpenter-handyman, engineer, cook. The tender had twin engines (standard gasoline, twin screw, 50 H.P.)
In the early period of the Reorganization , Captain Redell encouraged me to take his tender on numerous inspection trips through the 500-mile Inside Passage [South Carolina] by means of which all the coastal light stations could be reached in protected waters.
For example, we decided to take a 50-mile trip from Charleston to Cape Romain Light Station. We entered the Inside Passage going northerly, behind Sullivan’s Island (Port Moultrie) where I had worked, through twisting tidal channels with vast marsh lands on either side to Bull Bay.
Captain Redell preferred to cross the open water of Bull Bay at high tide rather than go around through the twisting channels. At low tide Bull Bay was absolutely bare sands. As we were crossing, Captain Redell said to me, “Do you know how we drydock the Snowdrop? We just pick out a nice level sand spot, anchor, and quietly wait till the tide goes out. Gently the boat lays over not too far on a soft sand bed.
“Then we hustle around, wearing rubber boots, of course, with tar felt and “yellow” metal sheathing and nails to patch any places that need it to keep out the teredos [boring worm]. If they get once into the planking, it would have to be renewed on a marine railway, a very costly job. Of course, we clean off any barnacles or seaweed. We have to work fast—all hands including the cook.” That was a new one for me.
As the Snowdrop approached the boathouse at Cape Romain Light Station alongside of which the tender was to tie up, Captain Redell said to me, “Out in the stream here is a good place to catch ‘weakfish’ (sea trout).” He was thinking of the “mess” aboard. Fresh fish right out of the water would taste fine.
“Captain,” I replied, “you come with me to look over the station and let the crew go fishing until our return in about two hours.” This proved to be good strategy. When we were ashore, I looked back and saw them lower the “batteau” and make off to the fishing grounds and they caught fish for the tender and the keepers, too, in great quantity.
So, I went around the district on the lighthouse tenders on construction work, carefully making notes and reports on the efficiency of the keepers and the need for maintenance and repairs at stations. No thought was given by the tenders’ complements nor myself as to hours of labor. We all worked to get the job done to take advantage of the tidal conditions. Equitable time off for fishing or relaxation was granted which satisfied everybody.
This excerpt is taken from “Lighthouse Engineer, Sixth District, Charleston, S. C., 1911 to 1917” in The Making of a Lighthouse Engineer, the unpublished memoirs of Commodore Frederick P. Dillon.
This story appeared in the
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