Safe Passage: St. Paul Harbor Entrance Light

The newly rebuilt St. Paul Harbor Entrance Light in Chiniak Bay, Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The newly rebuilt St. Paul Harbor Entrance Light in Chiniak Bay, Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by BMCS Shaun Wunch, ANT Kodiak

St. Paul Harbor Entrance Light in Chiniak Bay is an essential navigational aid, marking landfall for vessels transiting inbound Kodiak Harbor, Alaska. More than 1,000 vessels transit in and out of Kodiak Harbor each year and the aid serves to mark the channel entrance, as well as a hazardous reef.

Originally established in 1939, the aid consisted of a steel skeleton tower and was lit by an acetylene lamp. The light was later converted to battery power in the 1950s using incandescent bulbs. Eventually, the skeleton tower was replaced in 1996 with a single pile steel tower. Over time rough seas, high winds, and debris have taken a toll on the structure’s foundation. The aid began to lean, making it unsafe to climb and service. The only viable solution was a full rebuild with a new tower.

During the third week of March, Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Kodiak, with support from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, took on the daunting task of rebuilding the dilapidated aid. The rocky reef did not provide a suitable approach for the ANT’s small boat and all transportation of personnel and equipment was provided by the air station via MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter. Making the job even more complex, all work had to be scheduled to coincide with low tide each day in order for the reef to be exposed. This only allowed for a 3 to 4 hour work window each day.

St. Paul Harbor Entrance Light over the decades.  U.S. Coast Guard graphic.

St. Paul Harbor Entrance Light over the decades. U.S. Coast Guard graphic.

The project began on Monday morning with the transportation of five aids to navigation technicians from ANT Kodiak; each hoisted down to the reef from a hovering helicopter. Air Station Kodiak crewmembers then expertly delivered all the necessary tools, equipment, and replacement tower kit, which weighed in excess of 2,500 pounds. After selecting a suitable location for the new aid, the crew drilled new holes in the rock and installed a new base plate and bottom section. The crew then installed four sections of tower, each five feet long and weighing over 350 pounds before the rising tide forced them off the reef.

Tuesday began the same way with the air station transporting the crew and sling-loading the 3,000 pound leg kit. The crew met their daily goal by drilling and installing the four support legs to support the tower.

On Wednesday, high winds and seas made it unsafe to work, so Thursday the task turned to installing the tower platform. After the air station crewmembers delivered the 1,000 pound platform, the crew completed the painstaking task of disassembling the platform, and installing it piece-by-piece on top of the tower.

The crew completed the rebuild on Friday, installing the new day-boards, batteries, solar panels, RACON and new LED lighting equipment. With the help of a cutting torch, the old tower was taken down.

After a week of hard work and the coordination between ANT Kodiak and Air Station Kodiak, a safe path for mariners is lit and the new aid should serve Kodiak’s mariners for decades to come.

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