By Tom Walsh
BAR HARBOR — The 175 lighthouse aficionados who recently enjoyed a nine-hour, 181-mile cruise that include photo opportunities at 17 American and Canadian lighthouses seemed to agree that the July 25 Grand Slam Lighthouse Tour mirrored the iconic observation of Hollywood film siren Mae West: “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”
The 2015 version of the tour was year three for the popular annual excursion organized by the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company. It was also the first year the trip included an itinerary that included six Canadian lighthouses situated along and near the rugged shoreline of Grand Manan Island. Stops there included Southwest Head, Great Duck Island, Swallowtail and Long Eddy lights – and the Machias Seal and Gannet Rock lights located some miles southwest and south of Grand Manan, respectively.
While commissioned and well-provisioned for the event, Friendship V made stops offshore at three Acadia area lighthouses – Egg Rock, Winter Harbor and Prospect Harbor – and eight Washington County lights – Lubec Channel, West Quoddy Head, Little River, Libby Light, Moose Peak, Nash Island, Pond Island and Petit Manan, which is coastal Maine’s second tallest light house at 119 feet.
Each 10-minute stop afforded not only those aboard opportunities to shoot photos and video but allowed three well-known lighthouse historians to provide historical narratives.
At some lights, former keepers shared their experiences. Chris Mills of Nova Scotia, who as a member of the Canadian Coast Guard was a keeper at Machias Seal and Gannet Rock lighthouses, provided insights into the six Canadian-waters lights visited. His American counterpart, prolific lighthouse author Jeremy D’Entremont, provided narratives about the lights visited along the coast of Down East Maine.
Bob Trapani Jr., the executive director of the American Lighthouse Foundation and a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, had much to share about servicing the lights (often by helicopter) and their conservation.
“It’s been a great day, and I’m really thrilled to be here,” Mills told those aboard, who were spread over three enclosed and open-air decks. “I want you to know that I may tear up when we get to Gannet Rock, as it has been 22 years since I have been there and served as a keeper,” said Mills. D’Entremont told participants that the daylong excursion was unique in terms of its international itinerary. “This is my third time [working a Grand Slam lighthouse excursion], but this is the first-ever international tour,” he said. “I’ve never heard of a cruise like we are doing today.”
The tour afforded an eclectic assortment of participants, both young and old, a chance to pursue their passions, beyond those enamored by the dignity and history of the lighthouse structures. Birders on board were able to experience the variety of seabirds that nest and thrive on many of the islands, including thousands of puffins, razorbills and murres on the 20-acre Machias Seal Island.
Also on board were dozens of amateur and professional photographers who spent the cruise shooting countless images. To facilitate their photo efforts, also onboard, from Hunt’s Photo & Video in South Portland, was photography expert David Draper, working with Alana Gallego of Tamron USA, who brought with her from Commack, N.Y, dozens of high-tech camera lenses. They were offered without charge to any tour participant eager to try them out.
The tour was also something of a movable feast. Those who came aboard at 9 a.m. were treated to a buffet of fresh fruit and were given vouchers for snacks, including clam chowder, hot dogs and chips. The lunch provided on all three decks included an elaborate assortment of hefty deli sandwiches – from roast beef and ham, to egg and seafood salads – followed by a seemingly endless supply of cookies. It appeared when those aboard disembarked in Bar Harbor at 6:30 p.m., that no one had gone hungry.
Even with 175 tickets available for the 2015 tour, the trip sold out in March, with some 200 others on a waiting list. Organizers say plans for multiple 2016 Grand Slam tours are now a work-in-progress. The U.S./Canada 17 light Grand Slam is scheduled for July 30, 2016. On August 27, 2016, a 15-light Mount Desert to Penobscot Bay Grand Slam potentially will include lunch onshore in Rockland.
“We are really excited for future grand slam tours and giving the public access to these beautiful and often remote lights,” said tour organizer and naturalist Zack Klyver, with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company.