Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse Tour

It was an excited group that met last Thursday morning, May 17, 2012, at the Annapolis Maritime Museum, ready to embark on the first Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse tour of the season. In a gathering of 15 people that included former Mayor Ellen Moyer, SpinSheet Editor Molly Winans, and myself, an Annapolis Maritime Museum volunteer, we were all under the guidance of Museum Director Jeff Holland and docents Gregg Gregory and Bob Stevenson.

Arriving at the Light
A quick scan around the room showed that everyone was well-prepared for what awaited us. People were in boat shoes and windbreakers, for the day outside was sunny but windy, and the water on the Bay was choppy. We settled into chairs in the museum’s McNasby Oyster Company building to watch a short documentary called Legacy of the Light, which provided us with quintessential background information about the lighthouse, the last screwpile lighthouse left intact in its original location. We then watched a brief safety video, reminding us about the risks involved in undergoing this particular type of adventure tour. 

We were also introduced to our captain for the tour, Capt. Mike Richards of Chesapeake Lights Inc., and our docents Gregg Gregory and Bob Stevenson. Both had personal connections to the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse. Gregg recalled fond memories of visiting the lighthouse with his recently deceased father, and Bob described the view of the lighthouse from his house, remarking on the sense of continuity and contentment that its presence provides.

Nicola boarding the Light
We then carefully boarded Capt. Mike’s boat, Sharps Island, one at a time. Not an avid boater myself, I made sure to hold tightly to the ropes, using them as a guide as I found my way to my seat. Once we were all seated, Capt. Mike started the engine and Sharps Island took off for the lighthouse. Despite the choppy, white-capped waves the thirty minute voyage was pretty smooth, and before long the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse loomed into view.

We started the tour on the first level, the red platform under the keepers quarters and close to the water and the rip-rap (rocks) surrounding the lighthouse. Bob pointed out one of the beams below us, noting how clean it looked compared to the ones next to it- it had recently been replaced. The wind was gusting, so we soon moved up the next level of the lighthouse, which was where the keepers resided. 

Docent Bob Stevenson
The rooms are currently undergoing renovations, with the hope of achieving as accurate a representation of how the keepers lived as possible. We walked into the keeper’s bedroom first, which was small and dark. It was hard to imagine such a life. We learned that keepers would live on the lighthouses for weeks at a time, before being given leave to return home to their families. We passed through the bedroom into the kitchen, which was white and simple and deep in the process of renovations. On the other side of the kitchen was the assistant keeper’s room, close to the steep, spiral staircase leading up to the top of the lighthouse where the keepers would tend to the light all through the night.

We were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to climb this staircase. At the top of the lighthouse, I learned why two of the panels surrounding the blinking light were red as opposed to the rest of the white ones. They were a signal to approaching vessels that the water was too shallow from that direction. The other white panels told boaters that the water was deep enough to accommodate them. 

Breathtaking view from the Light
The views of the Bay from the top of the Thomas Point Lighthouse were breathtaking- we saw sailboats and steamers making their way through the water, and the line against the horizon where the water turned a dark navy because of the waves was markedly clear from that height. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge was a faint grey line in the distance. I also noticed Thomas Point itself, a peninsula of lush greenery not far from the lighthouse. It was odd to orient myself with areas of Annapolis I have grown up around, from this new angle out on the water.

Just as I was beginning to imagine a life for myself as a keeper on Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse, it was time to leave. We again boarded Sharps Island (I like to think I was a bit more practiced making my way through the vessel this time around,) and started back for the Annapolis Maritime Museum. Sharps Island cut through the waves under Capt. Mike’s practiced hand. The waves crashed around us with more force than before, creating arcs of froth on either side of the boat and spraying us with drops of water. 

Before I knew it, we had docked at the Maritime Museum and I was back on solid ground, a bit wetter and a lot more knowledgeable about this historic landmark, a symbol of the Chesapeake Bay beloved by many. 

Nicola Payne
AMM Volunteer


  1. Nice place to visit. We are once in Pakistan for trekking but we cancel that trip because of bad weather and temperature is -15C.