Fog, fog horns and shipwrecks along the Central Coast

Special to The TribuneApril 20, 2013 

Navigating the waters along the coast of San Luis Obispo County in adverse weather or in fog was a nightmare for ship’s captains. Without any visual or audio references in the fog, you can develop vertigo related to the overwhelming feeling that you’ve lost all sense of direction.

According to Carson Porter, who’s been commercially diving Central Coast waters longer than I’ve been alive, this fog has been responsible for numerous shipwrecks over the years.

The installation of the Point San Luis and Piedras Blancas light stations and their fog horns in the late 1800s helped improve safety and navigation tremendously.  These lighthouses were and are still important in keeping boats off the rocks, especially if you lose electricity that powers modern navigation devices on your vessel.

They also act as navigational aids. You see, the lighthouses have their own light characteristics, providing a secure navigational tool. If you were to travel southward on a ship from Big Sur to Point Conception, you would probably first notice the Piedras Blancas Light, which flashes white every 15 seconds. As you continue southward, you would see the Point San Luis Light, which flashes every 20 seconds. Heading further southward on your journey, you would observe the Point Conception light, which flashes every 30 seconds.  The light from these stations can be seen over 17 miles out to sea.

The Point San Luis Lighthouse was first lit on June 30, 1890, with a fourth order Fresnel lens that was manufactured in Paris. The original lens served until 1969, when it was replaced by an automated electric light by the U.S. Coast Guard.

In 1992, the Port San Luis Harbor District received the Light Station from the Federal Government with the requirement that the light be restored and opened to the public. In 1995, the harbor district formed the nonprofit group Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers to take on this responsibility.  I can tell you that this group of dedicated volunteers has done a tremendous job of refurbishing this jewel of the Central Coast.

One of these volunteers, Edward Taintor who works as a human performance coordinator at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon power plant along with his wife Ann has spent countless hours volunteering at the Light Station.  Earlier this year, while working on the Coast Guard duplex at the station, he donated over $1,000 of his own money to help remodel its kitchen.  He told me, “My ancillary duties include special event preparations and support where my title changes to "Chief Dishwasher".

However, his primary responsibility is that of a docent.  He leads hikes across the PG&E property along the Pecho Coast Trail to the Point San Luis Lighthouse.  As you hike the trail, he offers historical perspectives of Avila and its' evolution from a whaling community to a major oil distribution port to a vacation destination. On his tours, you're actually transported back to the times of the Light House Bureau as you walk through the historic buildings.

If you’re interested in hiking along the Pecho Coast Trail and visiting this beautiful lighthouse, visit www.pge.com/recreation.  For a trolley or kayak tour or to arrange a special event at the Light Station visit www.sanluislighthouse.org/. You can also call (805) 540 5771.

John Lindsey’s column is special to The Tribune. He is vice president of the Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers. He is a media relations representative for PG&E and a longtime local meteorologist. If you have a question, send him an email at pgeweather@pge.com.

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