Anglers have all kinds of names for places they fish, usually to throw off anyone near by listening. Sometimes the names are just for fun. For instance, my friends and I call Gordons Pond in Cape Henlopen State Park the airport, ever since that plane landed on the beach a couple of years ago. Our other favorite fun name is the “spark-plug” referring to the Harbor of Refuge light house on the end of the Harbor of Refuge Breakwater also known as the outer wall. Which was started on May 4, 1897, and completed on December 11, 1901. A pretty amazing feat by today’s standards with the equipment they had back then. If you have ever been to the “outer wall” you know what I mean, that water even on a calm day is incredibly turbulent. When the storms roll in forget about it, the place becomes a very violent environment, especially nor’easters and hurricanes. The fact the Harbor of Safe Refuge lighthouse is still there today is amazing. In 1926 it was built, and went into service November of that year. I have fished near it, under its shadow, and in front of it at the point in Cape Henlopen state park. I have always wanted to go inside and check it out and see the view. On Saturday I got my chance.
The Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse foundation is a non-profit organization headed by President William “Red” Moulinier. I met him over the summer when we took a regular sunset tour of the lighthouse. This was not a tour inside, but a tour around the lighthouse by boat, he told me there would be a trip soon to explore the lighthouse as soon as they had a new dock. Which was destroyed for the thirteenth time about six years ago. No one has been in the lighthouse since. Just recently the foundation had a new dock built with steel and concrete. It is one seriously, solid piece of engineering. It is also off-limits to any boaters or anglers as it is private property and the wall itself is Army Corp of engineers property in case you are wondering. I was asked to mention that so people would not use the dock or tie up to it to fish. I met the foundation members, some VIP’s, and the press at the boat launch area at the Lewes Ferry terminal. Captain Beau Fibelkorn and Brian Baker took us out on one of the Delaware Bay launch boats, normally used to supply the ships at the anchorage. Everyone loaded up and we headed out. There was a lot of excitement in the air, the foundation members haven’t been out there or in the Harbor of Refuge lighthouse for over six years. This would be my first time.
We arrived at the lighthouse and climbed the ladder onto the new dock. We had life jackets on just in case, not the time of year or place you want to fall into the water. Not that you ever want to fall in any water off a boat, but the added danger of the wall’s environment and the fact it is winter required PFD’s. Red Moulinier and Scott Browning, the project manager for Marine Technologies Incorporated (MTI), told us about the new docking structure. Then we took a tour inside. No I did not see any ghosts, it is rumored the lighthouse is haunted. We did need flashlights for the first section of stairs. The windows are all covered in white lexan on the lower levels to protect the inner structure from storm spray. I don’t want to spoil the tour for anyone, but below you can see a nineteen minute video with interviews about the lighthouse, foundation, and project. The video does not do the tour justice, I highly recommend you take a tour when they start back up this summer. I also recommend you volunteer to help do some of the restoration, then you will get an up close and personal experience.
The interior is the worse for wear but not as bad as you would think, after all this is an old structure in the middle of a very wet, salty environment. The paint is peeling on the tongue and groove walls and the shellac of the wooden floors is flaking. The construction in the interior is beautiful. Despite the age and wear, from a carpenter’s aspect the construction is gorgeous and solid. A little elbow grease, some paint or polish, and the place will look good as new. I’d pay money to stay there a night or two for sure, especially if I could fish that wall from above. Speaking of which that view was amazing, one you can only get from the deck of the Lewes-Cape May Ferry, but it doesn’t stop. I could see some friends fishing the point while I was up there too trying for striped bass from the surf. It was Ben Smith and his crew going for that record again this year. They killed it on skates and dogfish all day, so I didn’t miss much.
The old light is there, the foundation members found it inside when they acquired the property in 2004. It is a A DCB-36 “Aerobeacon” which was replaced by today’s automated light a Vega VRB-25. The Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse is now privately owned by the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation, but is still an active lighthouse today. By the way that horn is really loud when you are standing right next to it, which for navigators is a good thing in the fog. It can be heard from a half a mile away, you can’t miss it when you are nest to it. The old light on display in the upper living quarters area was found in pieces by the foundation. Luckily they were able to piece it back together with all its original parts. The light now is an automatic light, so there is no longer a lighthouse keeper. I can’t imagine what it was like to be in that lighthouse when a bad nor’easter hit. You are literally only couple hundred yards from land, but in some seriously violent water. It is a swim you would not survive in bad weather and in some cases even on a good day. That in and of itself is the reason the harbor of safe refuge was created, to allow ships a safe place from storms while at anchor. The tour was amazing. I don’t want to tell you all the details, because I don’t want to spoil the experience. The video below as I said, does not do it justice. I interviewed Red Moulinier, Charley Kopp, and the Mayor of Lewes, Delaware, Ted Becker in the video. The information they tell you is all you need to know, but a tour will be the best experience ever, I can promise you that.
Keep an eye on the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation’s website for upcoming tours and volunteer opportunities in 2107. Since they are a non-profit organization they are always looking for donations, which are tax deductable. There are some great pictures of the dock building process on the website. Red has applied for many grants and the latest one for some hurricane Sandy relief money paid for the new dock. While we were there a hinge came off the outer upper door, Red looked at me and said “Guess I will be applying for another grant, those doors aren’t cheap!” You know those doors you see on ships with all the locking handles and what not? It is one of those and rather heavy, I don’t imagine you can pick one up at your local lighthouse improvement store. I could write pages describing my experience, but I think you should get that for yourself. As I was leaving I couldn’t help thinking, what in the world am I doing out here without my rod and gear!
The video tour of the harbor of Refuge Lighthouse. I recommend a tour as this video does not do it justice.