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24.07.2015 admin
In 1784, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law that levied a duty of six pence per ton on all vessels sailing up the Cape Fear River towards Wilmington.
The treacherous Frying Pan Shoals extend some eighteen miles southeast of Bald Head Island, and the first two lighthouses built on the island in 1794 and 1817 proved inadequate at marking the extremities of the shoals. The vessel will carry two lights at an elevation of about 40 feet above the level of the sea, on her two masts—she will be painted yellow, as well as her lower masts, but with white topmasts—and she will carry an openwork oval daymark, painted black, at an elevation of about 58 feet above the water line. In 1883, the Lighthouse Board had an experimental iron beacon prepared to test the stability of the shoals, likely with the intent to erect some form of a permanent structure. Even after the 150-foot, skeletal Cape Fear Lighthouse was erected in 1903 and equipped with a first-order Fresnel lens that was powerful enough to cover most of the shoals, the Lighthouse Board still felt a lightvessel was needed. David Melvin began his service aboard LV 115 in 1959, when the vessel was known by the Coast Guard designation WAL 537. After a couple of terrifying hours, the eye of the hurricane passed directly overhead, and the wind became eerily calm. The crew amazingly came through the hurricane without any injuries, but the ship was littered with objects, and all the food in the walk-in refrigerator was on the floor in a big heap. In 1964, a four-legged tower, resembling an oil-drilling platform and outfitted with a light tower, was activated on Frying Pan Shoals. The upper portion of the tower was built in Louisiana at a cost of $2 million and then barged to the shoals, where it was lifted by a crane and placed atop a four-legged foundation.
Patched one of the 13,000 gallon freshwater holding tanks — It now has over 3,000 gallons of rainwater from the helipad in it making the available total over 15,000 gallons of fresh water!
Repaired some of the electrical system to power lights, water pump, hot water tank, stove, microwave, washer, and dryer.
Installed two small backup generators next to the large Detroit diesel 40KW generator left by the Coast Guard (which still needs repairs). Returned the signal light to operation with a lesser light source to run when desired (non-navigational purposes).
Replaced the non-functional helipad lights with new donated lights (16) and installed new wiring to replace the old wiring.
As maybe the only person in this journal to have served in the Frying Pan of the Coast Guard era, it means so much to get back to this place.
For a larger map of Frying Pan Shoals Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.
I had read reports that the remaining Texas-tower-style lighthouses were unsafe and would soon topple into the ocean, but when that proved untrue, I decided I had to visit them. I suppose I had never really thought through how exactly we were going to get from the boat up to the living quarters, which are eighty-five feet above the ocean.

Being confined to a space for three days was an interesting experience and provided some insight into what life must have been like for the coastguardsmen stationed there.
Highlights of my stay at the tower included stargazing, viewing the sunset, sharing meals with very interesting people, watching Richard’s firework show, riding his unicycle, shooting skeet, observing the evermoving bait ball beneath the tower, the seemingly lazy barracuda, and the occasional shark and sea turtle, seeing the light tower activated, and, of course, being hoisted to and from the tower. I definitely recommend a trip to the tower – it’s a plus if you fish or dive, but even if you don’t, you’ll have an experience that’s hard to replicate elsewhere. The small, triangular complex of islands located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River and known collectively as Smith Island has had three lighthouses grace its shores. North Carolina’s first lighthouse had been built too close to the river’s edge, and in 1813, the endangered tower was ordered torn down.
The shoals forming the continuation of this cape (Cape Fear) for about 18 miles to the southeast are dreaded by shipmasters only a little less than those at Cape Hatteras. The present Cape Fear light (Bald Head), on account of its inland position and want of height does not cover the shoal and therefore does not give sufficient warning to vessels when the lightship may have drifted from her moorings.
On March 3, 1901, Congress provided the additional $35,000, and the following month, a contract was signed for an octagonal, iron, skeletal tower that would stand 150 feet tall. When the new Cape Fear Lighthouse was established, the old Cape Fear Lighthouse was changed from a fourth-order flashing light, with intervals of thirty seconds, to a fixed, fourth-order light, and its name was changed to Bald Head Light Station.
Captain Charles Swan, whose father had been captain of the Frying Pan Lightship, served as head keeper of Cape Fear Lighthouse from 1903 until his retirement in 1933.
In August 1906, the upper part of the tower above the columns was changed from white to black to provide a more conspicuous daymark. When originally installed, the lens revolved atop chariot wheels, but in May 1920, the crew of the lighthouse tender Water Lily delivered and installed a three-ton mercury float for the lens. Gus Swan lived with his parents and five siblings at Cape Fear Lighthouse for four months each summer when school was out.
The massive concrete blocks, which anchored the eight support legs that were arranged around the tower’s central column in an octagonal pattern, form a roundabout at the eastern end of the island. In addition to the footings, the tower’s redbrick generator room, which is now used by Bald Head Island Conservancy, remains at the site. Frying Pan Shoals Lightship remained on station even after the establishment of Cape Fear Lighthouse.
In 2009, the Old Baldy Foundation purchased the remnants of Cape Fear’s first-order Fresnel lens on display outside an antique dealer in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Bald Head Island and the surrounding waters have been home to numerous navigational aids for over two centuries. For a larger map of Cape Fear Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.

To reach the footprint of Cape Fear Lighthouse, take North Bald Head Wynd east from the ferry landing, passing Old Baldy. The middle of the three cottages at Captain Charlie's Station is used as the home of Marina Lemke (Demi Moore) in the movie "The Buthcer's Wife," even though she is supposedly from Ocracoke Island not Bald Head Island. Coast GuardIf you take a look at a nautical chart, it is immediately clear that the shoals were named because their shape resembles a frying pan, with the circular portion of the pan centered around the mouth of the Cape Fear River and the long, thin handle reaching far out into the Atlantic.
Coast GuardMelvin was aboard WAL 537 in 1960, when the crew learned Hurricane Donna was headed their way. When the tower was completed, WAL 537 circled the platform, gave three blasts of its whistle, and sailed off to prepare for her new assignment at Cape May, New Jersey, as a relief lightship. Coast GuardFrying Pan Lighthouse was automated in 1976 and then deactivated in 2003, having been replaced by a large navigational buoy.
While your weekend adventure might not have as dramatic an impact on your life as it did for Arch Embler, it will certainly be an experience you will cherish for years. These beacons were erected to warn mariners away from the dangerous Frying Pan Shoals, which extend some eighteen miles southeast of the island, and to guide vessels to the mouth of the river.
Coast GuardIn 1784, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law that levied a duty of six pence per ton on all vessels sailing up the Cape Fear River towards Wilmington.
Coast GuardA twenty-acre plot of land along with a right-of-way was obtained for $4,000 on the southeastern point of the island through condemnation, and a tramway line was constructed to connect the site with the Cape Fear River, located roughly three miles to the west.
In 1915, $35,000 was requested for moving the tower and dwellings to the site of Bald Head Lighthouse, as it was believed that erosion would soon endanger the structures. Grissom (1903 – 1906), James Smith (1906 – 1909), Peter Larsen (1909 – at least 1915), Joseph Grisillo ( – 1919), Devaney Farrow Jennette (1919 – 1932), Albert E. The lighthouse was auctioned off by the General Services Administration (GSA) in 2009, with Shipwrecks, Inc., a South Carolina underwater archaeology company, submitting the winning bid of $515,000.
The funding request was not repeated, and the fact that the dwellings still stand today near their original sites indicates that the feared erosion did not occur. Three one-and-a-half-story keeper’s dwellings, painted white with lead-colored trimmings and green blinds, were built in a row, 450 feet southwest of the tower. Labriola, owner of the antique shop, in 1968, but over the years individual prisms and entire bull’s-eye panels were sold to customers.
In 2010, the lens pedestal was dismantled and cleaned, and future plans call for the construction of an exhibit building near Old Baldy so the historic lens can be displayed.

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