Last month the Providence Journal published an article about RI Lighthouse tours along with an interactive map. It offers several options for seeing the 21 lighthouses in the state by boat and even by helicopter. Since I don’t think in terms of boats and helicopters, I looked at the map and thought “I want to do a tour of RI lighthouses by paddleboard.” Granted it is going to take a LOT longer my way, but it’s pretty cool to get up close to many of these landmarks.
map borrowed from the Providence Journal /Tom Murphy and Timothy C Barmann
The lighthouse paddleboard tour has been incorporated with a challenge to paddle 100 miles in 4 weeks. Since accumulating mileage was a concurrent goal, we have not always chosen the closest launch point to the lighthouses, and hitting multiple lights in one day has been a goal. But even without the mileage goal, paddleboarding at least a little way to get to them makes checking them off more rewarding, like we earned them.
Though we have already been by at least 9 of them in our previous paddle travels. A fresh start felt necessary to document all of them for a future project. We should be able to knock out the mainland ones this season, fall paddleboarding is the best, but a couple of the outliers might be a little more challenging. Paddling to Block Island to photograph those two lights might be a little excessive, but that probably won’t stop us.
To date, I have collected 7 lighthouses for my lighthouse challenge…Plum Beach, Warwick Light, Bristol Ferry Light, Hog Island Shoal Light, Prudence Island Light, Conanicut Light, and Poplar Point Light. That’s too many to cover here…Conanicut and Poplar Point have to wait.
To visit Plum Beach I launched from Compass Rose Beach at Quonset. Round trip the paddle was 9.2 miles and what started out as a nice calm morning quickly escalated into a board flipping, roiling, windy adventure. Plum Beach Light is a sparkplug lighthouse in North Kingstown just on the north side of the Jamestown Bridge. It was originally built in 1899 to warn ships of the Plum Beach Shoal. The granite base was added in 1922 and when the first Jamestown Bridge was erected in 1941 it was deactivated. Eventually the Friends of Plum Beach received ownership of it and in 2003 it was given a new face and it was re-activated soon after. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is licensed as a private Coast Guard Aid to Navigation. It has also garnered fame by getting its own special edition license plate. The funds from the license plate go to preserving this local landmark.
Warwick Light is located at the southern tip of Warwick Neck, not far from the old Rocky Point Amusement Park. Leaving from Sandy Point in Warwick it was only about 1.5 miles across the mouth of Greenwich Bay. Warwick Light is a stick style lighthouse originally erected in 1827. The current Lighthouse was built in 1932 and it was the last RI lighthouse to become automated in 1985. As of 1988 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Choosing a day with heavy winds from the west were not the best choice for this adventure, but I had a mission and it was worth the battle across the mouth of Greenwich Bay for it.
Launching from a public right of way right off of Popasquash Rd in Bristol, we made the loop of Bristol Ferry Light, Hog Island Shoal Light, and Prudence Light. This was a 12.4 mile paddle and we were exposed to some of the strong currents characteristic of this area where there are lots of tight passages and shoals to channel the water.
The original Bristol Ferry Lighthouse, located at the north land point of the Mt. Hope Bridge, was built in 1855. There was an attached keeper’s house. The lighthouse flooded with each storm and after a recommendation, but before construction, to raise the floors and improve drainage, there was a flood that rendered it uninhabitable. In 1927 the bridge was constructed and the lighthouse was de activated because it became redundant. It eventually became a private residence, which it remains today and in 1988 it was added to the National Register for Historic Places.
From there we paddled southwest to the edge of Hog Island shoal to see the Hog Island Shoal Light. When the Bristol Ferry Light was constructed that only solved part of the problem. There was still a shallow reef off of Hog Island that posed a very real hazard for ships passing through. Originally a lightship was put in place there to mark the edge of the shoal. But the light was so dim that it was only visible in good weather. The first keeper of the lightship actually committed suicide by jumping overboard. When the ship developed serious leaks, the cost to repair it was greater than the cost to build an actual lighthouse. In 1901 the lighthouse began operation. In 2006 the lighthouse was sold at auction. It is also on the National Register for Historic Places.
Then we headed southwest for another 3 or so miles to Sandy Point on Prudence Island. Prudence Island Light is the oldest lighthouse tower in the state. But it didn’t get its start on Prudence Island. It was built in 1823 off of Goat Island which is further south in the bay. When it was dismantled each concrete block was numbered so it could be recreated in its new location. It is one of few lighthouses left in the country to retain a “birdcage” lantern. It began operation on Prudence Island in 1852. The keepers’ residence was washed away with a tidal wave from the hurricane of 1938 and was never rebuilt. In 1988 it was added to the National Register for Historic Places. In 2001 the caretaker contract was awarded to the Prudence Island Conservancy and it remains an active aid to navigation.
This has been quite the adventure so far. Standup paddleboarding in RI provides endless possibilities. I never considered myself much into lighthouses, but since beginning this I have a new appreciation for their history and preservation and how they aid boats navigating our waters. And earning our tick marks on our map by paddleboarding to all of them makes it that much more special.