New Dungeness Light Guides Northwest Mariners
by Walter Ham, U.S. Coast Guard HQ
The New Dungeness Lighthouse has guided mariners around the
longest natural sand spit in the United States since 1857.
The New Dungeness Lighthouse has guided mariners the longest natural sand spit in the United States since 1857. The 63-foot-tall lighthouse shines a flashing white light that can be seen for 18 nautical miles. The light is maintained by Aids to Navigation Team Puget Sound.
(U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo - April 6, 2015)
The storied beacon has welcomed mariners into the Puget Sound since
it was first lit on Dec. 14, 1857, more than 30 years before
Washington became the 42nd state.
From Washington State’s
Dungeness Spit in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the 63-foot-tall
lighthouse shines a flashing white light that can be seen for 18
“The lighthouse is the first lighthouse
within the Strait de Juan Fuca that the mariner will see as they
make their way to the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma,” said Jeffrey
Zappen, a retired U.S. Coast Guard chief warrant officer with 29
years of service who serves as the civilian lighthouse coordinator
at Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound.
Dungeness Spit, a
five-mile-long flat sandbar barely visible in the distance, is
nicknamed Shipwreck Spit, according to Zappen.
Native American culture and early settlers niched out a unique
territory that included the need for the 1857 lighthouse,” said
Zappen, who is from Glendora, California. “Farming and logging was
the primary source of migration and settlement.”
the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, the lighthouse tower is
maintained by the New Dungeness Light Station Association, which
offers a “keeper program” that allows visitors to spend a week at
U.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team
(ANT) Puget Sound keeps the light shining. Based in Seattle, the
16-member ANT maintains 297 Aids to Navigation (ATON), including 14
lighthouses, and the team has secondary responsibility for 300 other
Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound’s ATON mark channels,
safe water, obstructions and shoals across complex waterways and
According to Chief Warrant Officer William
E. Martinez, the ATON Officer for Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound,
the buoys and beacons around the Puget Sound are vital to navigation
safety and maritime commerce in the region.
“The majestic San
Juan Island Archipelago is made up of dozens intricate channels,
waterways and island passages all coupled with hazardous
conditions,” said Martinez, a Tacoma, Washington native. “Local
knowledge of ATON in the San Juan Islands is absolutely essential to
safe navigation. The area would be unnavigable without properly
Puget Sound-area U.S. Navy warships also
navigate these waterways.
“The U.S. Navy maintains and
operates several large installations in this area, all of which rely
heavily on the ATON in ANT Puget Sound's area of operations,” said
The largest ferry system in the U.S. connects the
area and transports nearly 25 million passengers a year.
Before it was automated in 1976, the New Dungeness Light was home to
legendary keepers like Henry Blake, its first lighthouse keeper.
Blake served at the remote and secluded lighthouse guiding ships
into Puget Sound. By himself for 10 years, Blake kept the lantern
lit and tolled the bell in heavy fog.
In 1868, Blake took in
and cared for a pregnant Native American woman after she survived an
attack by a rival tribe. He refused to return her to the attacking
tribe. She would later recover and return home. In 1902, a young
Native American man went to the lighthouse and said he was the child
that Blake saved.
Homeported in Everett, Washington, U.S.
Coast Guard Cutter Henry Blake (WLM-563) is named to pay homage to
the famous lighthouse keeper.
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Henry Blake (WLM-563) sails past the New Dungeness Lighthouse where its namesake served as the lighthouse keeper for 10 years. The Everett, Washington-based coastal buoy tender maintains the buoys and beacons that keep military, commercial and recreational mariners on course in the Puget Sound and Grays Harbor. (U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo - May 31, 2007)
“The crew of the Henry Blake
lives up to our name by aiming to give the same level of due care
and dedication for all of our assigned aids as Henry Blake did for
New Dungeness Light,” said Chief Warrant Officer David Emerson, the
second-in-command on USCGC Henry Blake. Emerson, a Portland, Oregon
native, has served in Coast Guard for nearly three decades, with
nearly 20 years at sea.
The 25-member crew of the 175-foot
coastal buoy tender spends months underway maintaining the buoys and
beacons that keep military, commercial and recreational mariners on
Henry Blake crewmembers maintain 157 buoys and 70
beacons in the Puget Sound and Grays Harbor. Occasionally their
travels take them past their namesake’s lighthouse.
by the New Dungeness Light regularly and the visible reminder makes
it is easy to connect the long history of the Coast Guard in this
area and the very challenging job early keepers like Henry Blake had
when carrying out their duties to our work maintaining navigational
aids,” said Lt. Joshua W. Branthoover, the commanding officer of
USCGC Henry Blake. A 15-year U.S. Coast Guard veteran, Branthoover
is from Richlands, North Carolina.
“We are proud to continue
the tradition in an area steeped in the legacy of Henry Blake and
strive to uphold the high standards of those that came before us,”