Sentinel’s shine is stronger

2015-11-03 06:00
 Power at the Roman Rock lighthouse has been refurbished, following the failure of the light on occasion due to a loss of power.  PHOTO: david erickson

Power at the Roman Rock lighthouse has been refurbished, following the failure of the light on occasion due to a loss of power. PHOTO: david erickson

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Roman Rock lighthouse is set to shine brightly after a refurbishment of its power supply.

A team of engineers from Transnet Ports Authority installed new solar panels and a large number of heavy-duty batteries on Wednesday last week to replace the old items that are worn out or malfunctioning, says Simon’s Town Historical Society chairperson David Erickson.

The refurbishment will improve the electricity supply from the solar panels and also increase the battery storage capacity, so that there will be a more than adequate supply of electricity to the lamps and rotating mechanism.

“A few months ago, during the long winter nights, the light was failing or extinguished well before dawn due to insufficient stored electricity from the batteries. The undersea electric cable that formerly powered the light from the East Dockyard is no longer in use,” Erickson explains.

The lighthouse was built over 150 years ago and is considered to be one of only a few worldwide situated on a rock in the ocean.

The lighthouse was designed by Alexander Gordon of the British Lighthouse Authority and the cost was estimated at between £3 000 and £3 500 at the time.

The original lantern and lighting system was designed by James de Ville of London.

The first light consisted of a revolving platform carrying eight single-wick oil burners, set in polished metallic reflectors.

In 1919 an automatic acetylene gas apparatus was installed, together with a new lens. This lens and acetylene burner can be seen on the stoep of the Simon’s Town museum, as the entire lantern was removed in 1992 and replaced with a new lightweight glass-fibre reinforced plastic lantern containing low voltage quartz halogen lamps in a rotating array. It was initially powered by electricity from the East Dockyard via a sub-sea cable, Erickson explains.

A major modification was made in 1994 when a helicopter landing platform (helideck) was established on top of a stainless steel tower that was firmly bolted to an adjacent rock. The helideck is linked to the lighthouse by a 13-metre long walkway, which also carries a solar panel array, he says.

Carrying out the refurbishment is no easy feat, Erickson says.

“The lighthouse itself is infested with sea lice due to the birds that flock there – which also deposit a significant quantity of guano on every surface that they can perch on,” he says.

Landing at the lighthouse from a boat is also very hazardous, even in dead calm sea situations.

“The normal practice is to use one of the twin-hulled Namacurra-class boats, which is aimed at the large rock that supports the helideck.

“The boat is held against the rock with engines running ahead whilst the men jump from the bow on to the rock (which will be very slippery due to marine growth) and then climb up the ladder to the helideck. The equipment will then be manually hauled up from the boat,” Erickson explains.

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