St. John’s Harbour Leading Lights

Tilt your head back as you climb up Chapel Hill and you’ll see a curious contraption affixed to what was formerly St. John’s last Congregational Church. At the top of Chapel Hill Condominiums’ Victorian-Gothic style tower of is one of two leading lights that ships have used to navigate the Narrows since 1931. The second leading light sits on a red and white tower in Harbour Side Park, currently being replaced as part of the Coast Guard’s lifecycle management program.

Ships keep safely to the centre of the Narrows by positioning themselves so that the Chapel Hill light and the Harbour Side light line up vertically in their sights, says Paul Bowering, Coast Guard Acting Superintendent of Aids to Navigation. The line of bearing never changes, bringing the ships in at a steady 276 degrees.

The powerful 1000 watt bulbs have a range of 20 miles and the lights burn 24 hours a day, but standing right next to them you’d never know it. Each bulb is set in a scope to focus its beam, sparing residents a constant daylight. If a bulb burns out, the painted marker below it, a white panel cut with vertical red stripes, can be lined up in the same way—at least while the sun shines. With all the traffic in the harbour, keeping the lights lit is imperative. Within 24 hours of extinguishing, a Coast Guard employee must clamber up its perch to replace it.

– Lesley Thompson
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