Tom Butt
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  Nice Article on East Brother from a German Publication (English Translation)��
April 23, 2024

And the foghorn greets us daily

"East Brother" is nothing more than a tiny rock surrounded by waves, pelicans and passing ships. But the B&B in the Victorian lighthouse has probably the most magnificent view of the bay and the San Francisco skyline.

Dre looks like one of the last hippies of the flower power movement. Dungarees, beard, hair tied back in a ponytail and always a casual saying at the ready. Pushing a bow wave in front of him, he has steered the "Lucretia" to the pier at Point San Pablo Harbour with great momentum. The small harbour appears like a mirage at the end of a bumpy, dusty road that leads through the wasteland of dried-up meadows and half-rusted refinery tanks on the Richmond coast, and you almost think you're on the wrong track until the cheerfully colorful houseboats come into view. At four o'clock sharp, the B&B guests of the "East Brother Light Station" should arrive at the jetty. Dre rushes in with the 200 hp metal boat right on time.
It officially takes ten minutes to get from Point San Pablo Harbor to the small island in San Francisco Bay, which has served as a navigational aid for ferries, cargo ships and the navy for 150 years. Dre goes full throttle. It takes just five minutes for the "Lucretia" to dock at the steep ladder that leads to the jetty and up to the lighthouse island. Light hand luggage now pays off. He then uses a winch to pull the boat out of the water, where it rocks dripping in the air. The fast ferries rush past several times a day at over 25 knots. "In the long run, the high waves would damage the Lucretia," he explains.

East Brother is nothing more than a rock in the water. A stone plateau with three picturesque Victorian-style wooden houses and a tower whose kerosene fire first guided ships and their crews safely through night and fog in 1874. The islet is just 3000 square meters in size and we can walk around it in five minutes. You can't be claustrophobic here. "And not overly sensitive to noise either," grins Dre. The foghorn sounds every 30 (!) seconds, once short and once long, the signal for "Attention rocks".

Tröh-Rööööh. And yet the sun is shining brightly, no fog far and wide. "I don't even hear it anymore," he says. Officially, the foghorn at East Brother Light Station is in use from October to April when visibility is poor. "But something's broken at the moment. It's on all the time," Dre says, getting us in the mood for the night - Tröh-Rööööh. But that's part of the charm of spending the night in a lighthouse that is still in operation.

Deckchairs are lined up in front of a panorama that silences even the locals. The silhouette of San Francisco rises in the misty distance from the azure blue of the mirror-smooth bay. The elegantly curved steel mesh of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge slides into the picture like a filigree embroidery and in the far background, the Bay Bridge spans the water with its double deck. Behind the hills to our right is the Golden Gate Bridge. Tröh-Rööööh, the foghorn sounds like the toot for a spectacular performance. Lighthouse tenants Dre and Charity Elmore serve a welcome champagne and canapés on the terrace to match. Anna and Jeff are blown away: "What a view." The couple have lived in San Francisco for many years, "but we've never been here before." A very special place, says Anna.

There are six of us. "Most of our guests come from the USA or the surrounding area," say the Elmores. Just like the "locals" Anna and Jeff or Paul and Lori, who have traveled from Maine on the east coast. You usually have to book months in advance, as the East Brother Light Station is almost always fully booked. The small bed & breakfast offers just five rooms, all lovingly furnished with period furniture. Four are located in the main house and one room in the engine house, where the historic foghorn was powered by steam for almost 30 years. Nowadays, it has long since been replaced by a modern version. The successor model sprouts like a mushroom from the rocky ground below our window, as we can see and hear shortly afterwards. We have booked the "San Francisco Room", with a magnificent view of the city - and of the acoustic tormentor. No matter. The basic room amenities include a book about lighthouses, binoculars and... earplugs.

The East Brother Light Station looks like a gingerbread house. Red roof, light brown wooden façade, white confectionery trim and balconies. A residential building with a tower, in which the lighthouse keepers and assistants initially lived and later entire families of tenants lived all year round. The first were immigrants from Sweden and Denmark. This was the splendid Victorian look of some of the 50 lighthouses built on the west coast of California in the 19th century, often based on plans similar to East Brother.

In the region around San Francisco Bay alone, the government had a dozen built as aids to navigation, as the 450 square kilometer bay with its many harbours, some of them natural, was already bustling with shipping traffic at the time.

The East Brother Light Station belongs to the coastguard. As one of the few remaining Victorian lighthouses, it is listed as a Californian and National Historic Landmark. The fact that it is still standing is thanks to the initiative of local residents and private individuals who took action when the Coast Guard initially automated the station in the 1960s and later even wanted to demolish it to save money and replace it with a plain concrete tower. There was a protest against this. The island was left to decay for ten years until an association was founded in 1979, which leased the lighthouse and, with the help of hundreds of volunteers, restored the old buildings to their magnificent original state. In 1980, the first private keepers moved in and the B&B opened.

Dre and Charity Elmore are the 22nd couple to live on the rock since then. So far, they have neither regretted it nor suffered from island sickness. "I always wanted to live on a boat, and this is like a boat that can't sink," laughs the 63-year-old. Dre and his wife are actually from New York and quit their jobs when they heard about leasing the island. The job interview took place online. They were chosen from 1,000 applicants. Dre appeared at the video conference in overalls, "maybe that was the deciding factor," he jokes. As a lighthouse tenant you have to be able to do everything: Steering a motorboat, entertaining guests, cooking a four-course meal, operating the historic machinery and, if necessary, fixing a blocked toilet.

Dre has always been a bon vivant. He has worked as a journalist, craftsman, boatman and a lock keeper. On the island the couple now hosts and entertains guests from Thursdays to Sundays. From Mondays to Wednesdays the rooms are cleaned, supplies are replenished and laundry is done on the mainland. According to Charity, there is a shortage of water on the island. There is no natural source other than rainwater, which is collected in large above-ground and underground cisterns. Therefore only guests staying longer than a day are allowed to shower.

The couple can no longer imagine living in the city. "I love nature, the Pacific Ocean around us. Every now and then a sea lion comes by and, unlike in New York, the sun almost always shines," says Charity. Their predecessors only lasted three months here, but the couple would like to extend the lease beyond the two years. "Whenever I've been in the bustling city, I want to get back to our island as soon as possible," says Dre. After a night in the lighthouse we can understand that.

For the sunset spectacle, hundreds of pelicans circle the island and settle on the neighboring rock with loud cooing and growling. At night, the waves splash against the shore and in the morning, we climb the steep stairs to the top of the lighthouse with a coffee and let the morning sun, salt air and feelings of happiness flood us. East Brother is only half an hour outside of downtown San Francisco and yet light years away.

To say goodbye, Dre fires up the steam engine that powers the historic foghorn. A powerful, sonorous bass note hits the pit of our stomachs. The device below our window is nothing in comparison. In the end, we didn't even hear its Tröh-Rööööh...

Astrid Ludwig

 INFO: East Brother Light Station is located in San Francisco Bay. The overnight stay costs around 500 dollars for the room and includes the crossing, welcome snack, a multi-course dinner and breakfast,