WHO TAKES CARE OF THE "LIGHT"?
The US Coast Guard has access to the lighthouse and is responsible for maintenance of the light, as it still functions as a navigational aid for ships. The light is powered by a set of solar panels that charge batteries in the watch room.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR ELECTRICITY?
We are "off the grid," which means that if we want electricity, we make it on the spot. Originally this meant flashlights and lanterns, then a hardware store generator. Now we have a more sustainable system with solar panels (donated by Joan and Jackie's sister Donna and her husband Jack), a large bank of 2-volt batteries (donated by Pete Jurewitz, owner of Thimble Shoal Light, and Surry Nuclear Power Plant), and a 10 KW diesel generator, all tied together by an inverter/charger that turns DC into AC and vice versa.
HOW DO YOU GET THERE? HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
By water of course! We keep two boats at a local work-boat marina. It's an easy 10-minute boat ride to the lighthouse.
Do you pay taxes?
The historical record had very good news for us - by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on April 16, 1874, the governor was authorized to relinquish the title to and jurisdiction over lands for sites of lighthouses to the federal government. The Act further states the land and buildings "shall be exempt from taxation." On December 11, 1888, a proclamation assigned by Governor Lee "does cede, convey, assign, transfer and make over to and for the use of the United States the said tract ... together with all the jurisdiction which the said State possesses over the same." On October 26, 2009, the city of Newport News, after being presented with the original deed, officially decided to not charge us real estate taxes.
WHAT DO YOU USE FOR FRESH WATER?
We use rain water for showering, cleaning, and flushing. Gutters collect the rain water and channel it into two 1,200 gallon cisterns below the cellar. We scrubbed each cistern clean and added a protective layer of plastic to the sides. The Health Department claims our cistern water is safe, but we use bottled water for drinking.
what about your sewage?
While it would be historically accurate to dump it over the side, we installed a Coast Guard-approved Marine Sanitation Device, basically our own little sewage treatment plant.
Do you have air conditioning?
Yes, and heat too! At first we used portable electric heaters when it was really cold, but the gasoline generator would run out of gas in the middle of the night. Then a couple of extremely hot summer work days convinced us that we needed to install air conditioning. The heat pump compressor wouldn't fit up the stairwell, so we had to haul the 350-pound unit up the outside of the lighthouse by block and tackle.
Who did all the work?
Family and friends. We did everything ourselves except hook up the air conditioning, install the roof covering, and refinish the floors, although we provided the manual labor for these tasks. Jackie and her dad even built 17 pieces of custom curved furniture to fit specific radiuses in different parts of the lighthouse. Together, we've put about 7,000 hours of labor into the lighthouse (with very few disagreements!).
What was the biggest surprise?
The media attention was totally unexpected. We've been the subject of about a dozen newspaper and magazine articles, two or three television spots, and given countless presentations. Check out our Media page for more information!
Who painted the murals?
Joan and Jackie's sister, Elaine. She's always been a wonderful artist and was happy to accept the challenge of beautifying the rust covered, curved walls.
What's the weather like out there?
Funny you should ask! Weatherflow (accessible through the Sailflow or Fishweather mobile apps) installed a weather station right on the lighthouse. You can check the current wind speed, tide, temperature, etc. on their website.
How many gallons of paint did it take?
350 gallons, the paint store invited us to their Christmas Party! Two coats of two-part epoxy primer and one finish coat, both inside and outside. The paint color is called "Shocking Red" and traces of it are on almost every piece of clothing we own.
CAN YOU FISH OFF THE SIDE?
All year round. Croaker and Spot can be caught two at a time during the summer, sometimes we can catch them almost every cast. In the cooler months, we'll catch Striped Bass and Tautog. Tautog are harder to catch, mostly because we haven’t perfected the technique yet. When we do, they almost break the rods. They can easily get over 10 pounds and are the best seafood to eat out there. There are also plenty of oysters on the side of the lighthouse. They are difficult to remove due to their sharp edges, but are delicious on the grill.
IS THE LIGHTHOUSE HAUNTED?
The lighthouse has been the scene of at least one death. Late on Christmas Day 1938, W.S. Brown was returning to the lighthouse in a rowboat with gifts, food, and mail for the other keeper, Captain Cox. The weather was terrible as freezing rain fell and winds whipped up white caps on the large waves. On the lighthouse, Captain Cox watched as his friend in the small boat fought the elements. Brown stayed the course, and as he approached he saw a line thrown out to him. He was able to pull himself and his cargo in to the landing. When Brown climbed up on the narrow walkway, he saw his companion lying on the edge of the planking. It only took a glance to see that Cox was dead. After a medical examination it was determined that Captain Cox died of a heart attack. Anyone who has spent the night will tell you they've heard spooky noises at night...
DO YOU RENT IT OUT?
Unfortunately, we do not rent out the lighthouse due to the expertise and experience needed to comfortably stay for extended periods. Life on the lighthouse is largely a relaxing time, but the power, climate control, and sanitation systems sometimes require on-the-spot maintenance.