In the cramped spiral staircase, the tower keeper Jeffrey Forbes Jr. climbed up carefully. It’s part of his job. Like his grandfather and father, 101 steps a day is the only way to work, and turning the winch 427 times every two hours is their job content. What they are going to guard is the only remaining manual kerosene lighthouse in the world-the Elber Reef Lighthouse.
The history of the lighthouse
Elber Reef Lighthouse is located in Hope Town, east of Abaco Island, Bahamas, so it is also called Hope Town Lighthouse. Elber Reef is located where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea meet and is the crossroads of transatlantic trade. Ships from New York, Boston, Baltimore to the West Indies, and from Europe to the Gulf of Mexico often pass through the waters east of Abaco, and sometimes lost ships stray into the surrounding reefs. The New York Times once said that ” The coast here is intimidating to all sailors, and there are more shipwrecks here than anywhere else in the world.”
Abaco averages one shipwreck per month, and insurance companies in the United States and Europe have asked the government to use more effective navigation aids in order to ensure the safety of the route. Since the middle of the 19th century, the British Royal Lighthouse Service has begun to build 11 lighthouses in the Bahamas, and the Hope Town Lighthouse is one of them. The lighthouse was built in 1862, completed and put into use in 1864, and has been on duty for nearly 160 years, warning ships to avoid Elber Reef, which is full of shallow water and coral reefs. The red and white lighthouse became the hope in the eyes of the sailors. During the day, the red stripes on the lighthouse are dazzling; in the middle of the night, the lights that cycle every 15 seconds can be clearly seen even 20 miles away.
Abaco Tower Keeper
After the independence of the Bahamas in 1972, the British Royal Lighthouse Service handed over the management of all lighthouses in the area to the Bahamian Port Authority. As technology improved, the government began replacing artificial kerosene lighthouses with new equipment. Of the 11 lighthouses, except for two that were decommissioned in the 1930s, the other lighthouses were gradually converted to automation from 1973 to 2012. The Hope Town Lighthouse should have been decommissioned, but the Bahamas Lighthouse Conservation Association, composed of five ladies, promised the Bahamian government to take over the maintenance of the lighthouse and successfully preserved this ancient lighthouse. Later, the association was also named Elber Reef Lighthouse association.
After the lighthouse was preserved, daily management and maintenance became an arduous task, and it became the mission of three generations of the Forbes family. “Some people think it’s an easy job, but it’s not. As long as he comes to this job for one night, he will know.” Forbes said in an interview. Forbes grew up near the lighthouses, and traveled with his father between lighthouses since he was a child, and later took over the baton of tower guards after his father retired. After all, Forbes has been working in the lighthouse for 18 years, and he still loves this job very much, “I will work as long as I can”.
beacon of hope
At the end of August 2019, while Forbes was on vacation, Dorian, the strongest hurricane since the 21st century, landed in Abaco. Wherever the hurricane went, houses collapsed, people and animals disappeared, traffic on the island was interrupted, power supply was interrupted, and helpless people were swallowed by darkness.
The Hope Town Lighthouse and surrounding buildings were severely damaged after the storm ravaged the area for 30 hours. The roofs of many houses were ripped off, the docks were completely destroyed, and souvenir shops and warehouses were flooded. The tower keeper Forbes was not on the island at this time, and the assistant tower keeper also left for refuge. The lighthouse that had not been extinguished for nearly 160 years fell into darkness in an instant and no longer shined.
Members of the Elber Reef Lighthouse Association decided to rekindle the lighthouse and restore hope. The road to the lighthouse had been destroyed and members made their way through the wreckage of trees, boats and houses. Although the facilities for storing kerosene were also damaged, the ancient and sophisticated equipment on the top of the tower was preserved. Because the traffic was blocked, Forbes could not return, and the equipment could not be repaired, and the members dared not take the risk of lighting kerosene lamps. As a result, artificial lighthouses used generators and light bulbs for the first time. After being extinguished for 11 days, the lighthouse was lit again, a beacon of hope igniting Abaco and inspiring the entire Bahamas.
Forbes joined the rebuilding effort immediately upon his return to Elber Cay. “When I returned to Hope Town, the scene in my eyes was unbearable and unbelievable. My eyes were moist. Looking back now, I still feel very difficult. Many people lost their lives in this disaster and many families were torn apart.” Forbes recalled road. A year after Hurricane Dorian, power is still not restored to many homes on Abaco, and the Town of Hope Lighthouse continues to shine a light on those in the dark.
In October 2022, the Hope Town Lighthouse was temporarily closed due to maintenance, but it is still Abaco’s online celebrity check-in point. The lighthouse was also printed on the 10-dollar banknote of the Bahamas.