The Philippine Coast Guard maintains 12 operational Light Stations in Palawan. I visited the one in Bancao-Bancao and chatted with Mr. James M., its caretaker for the past 36 years. Two things were apparent. One was the bad condition of the light station. Two was the dedication of this man to his responsibility.
Mr. James who took over in 1974 has outlived both the Equipment Shed and Staff Barracks.
Mr. James is a feisty character. I suppose you have to be if your employer treated your job so disdainfully.
What I’m trying to say is rooted in my frustration and outrage. Ships of all kind–like the SuperFerry I rode into Puerto last weekend–depend on this Light Station for safe passage. GPS may be the primary navigational system today but the light of a Light Station provides instinctual feedback that no GPS can match.
I am upset at how corruption and malfeasance make life unnecessarily risky for everyone who lives and comes to visit Palawan.
Take the communication system…
The Purpose of a Lighthouse
How do ships find their way at night?
One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was a lighthouse–the famous Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt. It was built three centuries before Christ and is the tallest one ever built–450 feet (comparable to a 45-storey skyscraper). It used an open fire at the top as a source of light.
Pharos survived for 1,500 years until an earthquake in the 14th Century destroyed it. It was a three-part tower with a square base, a second-storey with eight sides and a narrow, taller round third-story.
At night they believe its fire could be seen for thirty miles (50 kilometers). By day it produced a column of smoke to serve as a landmark. People who study lighthouses are called “pharologists.” The name comes from that famous lighthouse.
What’s a lighthouse? It’s a tower with a bright light at the top that’s located at an important or dangerous place for navigation. The two main purposes of a lighthouse are to serve as a navigational aid and to warn boats of dangerous areas. It’s a traffic sign for the sea.
Where are lighthouses located? They can be found in a variety of places, on rocky cliffs or sandy shoals on land, on a wave-swept reef in the sea, and at entrances to harbors and bays. They serve to warn the sailor of dangerous reefs beneath the sea or perilous rocky coasts on land, and to guide ships into a safe harbor or back out to sea. So the message of the lighthouse might be – STAY AWAY, DANGER, BEWARE, or COME THIS WAY. Every lighthouse tells the mariner, “This is exactly where you are.”
Courtesy: U.S. Lighthouse Society
(A Light Station is comprised of the Light Tower and supporting structures.)
A Cool Communication System if it only worked
Light Stations are typically built in isolated areas. Since they provide a constant (24 by 7) service, the Coast Guard must be alerted if any station goes down (i.e., becomes non-operational).
Mr. James told me that the British government donated a meteor-burst communication system to the Coast Guard years ago.
Meteor-Burst Communication (MBC) bounces radio signals off the trails of meteors. It is an effective way to propagate radio signals for extended distances (2,000 kilometers).
MBC excels at data transfer, particularly when transferring data from remote unmanned sites to a base using a radio communications link.
MBC is a dependable and inexpensive long-distance communication technology.
This was an entire system. It monitored each station and in the event of an outage, it automatically transmitted its status to someone. Nowadays, Mr. James uses his cellphone.
I wasn’t exaggerating about the dilapidated condition of the facilities. The white container below was a stop-gap measure. It was used to store equipment after the equipment shed rusted away.
According to Mr. James, all of the tower’s electricity used to be powered by the solar panels. I found that hard to believe until he explained that the brilliant light (which consisted of three flashes of white light every 15 seconds) was generated using a single 15-watt bulb. How? Through the magic of Fresnel Lens. Apparently Fresnels are all around us in the shape of the turn signals of cars, traffic lights, projection TVs, etcetera.
You’re a good man Mr. James.
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