A lighthouse hidden in plain sight
The restored lighthouse — East Brother Island Light Station — is now a bed-and-breakfast on the bay. Submitted photo
August 04, 2013 7:00 pm • LEE SCHWAB
Where would you think you were going based on the following hints?
• You will need to climb a ladder.
• You will not have access to a shower.
• Meals will be served.
• You will have shelter from the elements.
• Take an extra pair of shoes and clothes in case you get wet.
Below is my description of our adventure.
We took the Point Molate exit off Interstate 580 in Point Richmond and drove down a paved road that eventually turned into a bumpy dirt road with many potholes. At one point, we looked down the hill and saw the most rundown marina that I have ever seen. Some of the boats and houseboats had weathered wood without paint or sealer, and others had metal hulls that were quite rusty. Some appeared seaworthy, but others looked like they could sink at any moment.
We parked in the dirt lot of the San Pablo Yacht Club, and a guy named Richard greeted us on the dock.
We got in a metal motorboat, put on life preservers and headed out to San Pablo Bay.
It was a beautiful day on the bay and the boat ride was quite pleasant. After a short ride, the boat docked at a small island in the middle of San Pablo Bay. After climbing up a 12-foot ladder, I saw a sign that said “East Brother Island Light Station.”
Depending on the tide, the ladder climb can be four to 12 feet.
We walked up some stairs, and within a white picket fence saw a small island compound that contains the Walter Fanning Fog Signal building, the historic and beautifully restored East Brother Light Station — a lighthouse and bed-and-breakfast inn — as well as a cistern to collect rainwater, a tank to store the rainwater and the lighthouse keepers’ residence. There is also a small bank of solar panels beside the lighthouse. Richard, our host, gave us a tour of the island compound, and then we went to the top of the lighthouse to check out the view. It was spectacular. The view included the Richmond Bridge, San Francisco, West Brother Island, the Sisters Islands, Marin, Mount Tamalpais and San Pablo Point.
We watched boats and the Vallejo ferry speed by the island.
Richard rang the bell to alert us that it was time for sparkling wine and hors d’oeuvres.
We had the choice of dining outside or in the living room on the second level of the lighthouse. We chose the cozy living room. Jude, our other host, had prepared a wonderful treat for us that included shrimp, bruschetta, wasabi nuts, olives, pickles, cheese, dip and crackers.
When Richard rang the bell again, it was time to go down to the dining room for wine and dinner. This time Jude’s menu included carrot and pecan soup, a mixed green salad, salmon, veggies and chocolate-dipped cookies. It was a culinary delight.
After dinner, we went back to the top of the lighthouse to check out the night view. It was still spectacular.
The next morning, while we were enjoying coffee and tea outside, the bell alerted us that it was time for breakfast, which included fruit, yogurt, granola, muffins and eggs.
After breakfast, Richard gave us a more extensive tour of the Walter Fanning Fog Signal building.
He showed us a light that was recovered from an old lighthouse and the light that was recently replaced on the East Brother Light Station. The station now has an LED light.
He also explained the differences between the old fog horn engine and the newer fog horn engine. We looked forward to the opportunity to help start the old fog horn engine and to hear the horns blast.
It is quite a process, and Richard was continually tweaking stuff. We started the small motor that starts the big engine, engaged the clutch, opened the air valves to the horns, and when the pressure neared 40 pounds, I got to flick the switch to “on.”
We went outside, covered our ears and heard the fog horn blast four times. Not many people can say that they have blasted a fog horn. It sure is loud!
I wonder how Richard and Jude can sleep on a foggy night with the fog horns blasting. Our time at the East Brother Light Station had come to an end, and it was time to return to the San Pablo Yacht Club.
During the 2012 Napa Valley Film Festival, I saw a short movie called “Between Land and Sea” by J. Christian Jensen about East Brother Light Station. You can check it out on Facebook at facebook.com/BetweenLandAndSea, or at Jensen’s website, jchristianjensen.com/projects/lighthouse.
You can help preserve this hidden-in-plain-sight Bay Area 501(c)3 nonprofit by volunteering or making reservations to stay or bring a picnic to the island between 11 a.m and 3 p.m. If you would like to learn more about East Brother Light Station, call 510-233-2385, email email@example.com, or go to EBLS.org