Participants: André Dechbery, Kevin Mahoney, Glen Miller, Steve Kalil, Emily Perina, Dustin Peabody, Erin Urban, Scott Van Campen, Peter Yuschak
The day began at sunrise, a beau jour. I stopped at Dembner’s Hardware, got another caulking gun even though I suspected there was one out there, and the wrong kind of “silicone.” When I got to Miller’s, Kevin and Peter were relaxing in Kev’s van while looking out over the waterfront and discussing birds and boats. Scott and his helpers from Staten Island MakerSpace, Emily and Dustin, arrived and unloaded. Kevin and Peter ambled over, Peter looking spry on his new hip. It was 8:45. I called André; he was on his way.
We took the Emily out and had to wait for a huge, newly painted ship to pass by before we made the last jump out to the reef. The trips out and back are one of the best things about going to Robbins Reef. We unloaded heavy tools and materials from the launch up to the platform and then up the ladder to the caisson. Fortunately Glen had already delivered the steel cellar door Steve Kalil had made at Caddell’s shipyard and the cement. Unfortunately the cement was out on the caisson, and it had turned to rock. As Peter said, “Even without rain, it would have hardened out here.”
Dismayed, I feared without cement the day was lost. We were equipped to put in the cellar door, but to my ignorant mind it didn’t seem like a good idea to take off the sheet metal and set in the new door without being able to seal it. It was suggested we could break up the cement with a hammer, but André nixed that. Without even thinking I went upstairs and searched but found no cement mix. Down I went and asked Kev to come back up with me and look—just to see if I had missed any. He noticed a clear plastic bag with a black contractor’s bag inside it. “That’s just garbage,” he said, and there was a lot of garbage—cardboard and junk—in the dusty bag. I went to the side wall of the lighthouse, and again, without thinking, closed my eyes and, palm to palm, said, “Kate, please let there be cement.”
And there was!
And enough. André mixed it up and set out cementing the base of the lighthouse, Kevin preceding him, chipping and sweeping out bits of stone. They did the entire circumference. Meanwhile Scott and Dustin attacked the door with Peter. They pried off the rusty sheet metal cover and let the light of day into the cellar for the first time since 1966. They had to fit the door onto the original opening and see what needed to be drilled away around the sides. They had to slip the top piece of the door underneath the rim of the lighthouse. All hands, crowbars, and superhuman strength were called on and prevailed. It fit. They could make it work.
At a loss as to what to do, I started sweeping in the basement; it was a great vantage from which to observe the door installation. Each time they moved the new door away from the opening or opened up its doors was a good time to go down, and Kev and Emily joined me to sweep out the pieces of fine, sandy, smelly brown dirt. Scott, Peter, and Dustin got the cement sides drilled away, marked and set the places for the bolts, drilled them, and miraculously set the door in place. André descended and cemented upward, filling in cracks with a slap of his trowel, expertly, intensely. It would hold, he said, and the others agreed, until we can get back and do more.
Tools and garbage down on the platform, the last of the cement water carefully poured in crevices on the caisson, we ascended. Everyone had had a moment up on what we’ve come to call the balcony deck, but this was our time together. We settled our backs against the white wall on the wind-swept white deck, broke bread together, and talked about the Bay, like a lake below us.
Caption: Looking down as we install the new cellar door, fabricated for us by Caddell Dry Dock and Repair Company.
Lighthouse Log Book is a series of stream of consciousness writings by Executive Director Erin Urban after each Crew date at Robbins Reef. It’s informal and meant to impart a sense of the energy of the volunteers and the work they accomplish in regular seven-hour workdays to Robbins Reef Lighthouse.