GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 26, 2013

Straitsmouth foghorn's silence gets mixed reviews

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — ROCKPORT — Residents and boaters along Sandy Bay in Rockport may have noticed the increasing sounds of silence from the Straitsmouth Island’s foghorn this summer.

But don’t let the silence fool you; the two-second sound blast is working as planned, Coast Guard officials say.

Previously, as with the Thacher Island lighthouses, lasers that detect levels of moisture in the air would trigger the foghorn and warn weary boaters of a nearby hazard, according to Brian Fleming, a command duty officer out of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Sector Boston.

Months ago, that was all changed when a new system was installed; the foghorn at the 40-foot-tall Straitsmouth Island lighthouse is no longer automated.

Fleming said the foghorn was problematic; it would occasionally sound off even on a clear day and sometimes for much longer than needed.

In addition, it was harder for Coast Guard crews to get to the island if the foghorn needed to be fixed. It needed to be a clear day, and the Coast Guard often needed a helicopter to get to the island, Fleming said.

Animals, natural wear and tear, or other factors also contributed to the malfunctioning foghorn in the past.

Now, Fleming said, mariners in the area can set off the foghorn manually. All they have to do is signal their radio five to seven times within 15 seconds on channel 81A, he said.

“When it’s not needed, it’s not on,” he said. “I think it’s a nice change.”

While some have complained of the foghorn sounding off in clear weather in the past, others have come to enjoy it.

Rockport Harbormasters Scott Story and Rosemary Lesch said the automatic detection system was flawed, but still more practical.

“It would be a nice sunny day and the foghorn would have been going off,” Story conceded. With a manual system, those who need the foghorn the most may not know it.

If a boater who is not familiar with the area happens to be traveling around Straitsmouth Island on a foggy night, how are they supposed to know to sound the foghorn, Story asked.

Story said there has not been significant boater traffic in the area, and the harbormasters have not needed to set the horn off. Also, while Fleming said the alert was working properly, Story and Lesch tried the system out Thursday, but could not hear it from their office on T-Wharf.

Dr. Sydney Wedmore, who chairs the Thacher and Straitsmouth Islands Committee also said some people have complained about the sunny foghorns in the past.

“It became somewhat irritating,” he said.

But Wedmore would not speculate if people complained because of the sound, or because it alerted officials that something was clearly off, as the foghorn was going off during a sunny day.

“We liked it better the other way,” Lesch said.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.