Lighting the Way in Delaware Bay

Miah oldBy Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Runt

Miah Maull Shoal Light has been guiding vessels for the past 102 years. The lighthouse, which is on the north side of the Delaware Bay near Cumberland County, New Jersey, bears the same name of the shoal it guides vessels safely past.

Every year, more than 70 million tons of cargo move through this tri-state region using the signal provided by Miah Maull Shoal Light to safely navigate the often treacherous waters of the Delaware Bay toward the Delaware River and the ports of Philadelphia; Wilmington, Delaware; and Salem, Camden, and Gloucester City, New Jersey.

“The project to modernize Miah Maull Shoal Light was directly in line with the Coast Guard’s goals,” said Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Runt, a member of the Aids to Navigation Team at Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay in Philadelphia. “In 2007, the Coast Guard published its Maritime Short Range Aids to Navigation Strategic Plan, which detailed the conversion to solar power and the use of LED technology wherever possible. This change allows for greatly improved reliability, reduced environmental impacts and less frequent maintenance visits to further reduce costs.”

Additionally, the plan called for the reduction of submerged power cables by 75 percent.

“It was the massive responsibility of the crew of Aids to Navigation Team Cape May in New Jersey to convert the lighthouse to solar power and prepare the structure to receive modern optics, while removing the fourth order Fresnel lens without damaging the priceless historic artifact,” said Runt.

Electrical power for the structure had been provided by a submerged electrical cable that ran from Fortescue, New Jersey, out to Elbow of Cross Ledge Light, a lighthouse in the Delaware Bay near Cumberland County, New Jersey, and then south to Miah Maull Shoal Light.

“During the past winter, the nearly 15-mile cable was severed, and both lights went dark,” said Runt. “The crew of ANT Cape May scrambled to troubleshoot both lights and restore temporary solar power to both lighthouses in order to provide critical signals to all mariners transiting the bay. It was this loss of commercial power that spurred the already planned conversion of the lights and the removal of both structures from the electrical grid.”

Miah Maull Shoal Light

Miah Maull Shoal Lighthouse (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Runt)

Runt said one of ANT Cape May’s crew members, Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Temple, was critical to the success of the conversion project.

“In an ironic twist, his work is actually reversing the work of his father-in-law, Robert White, a retired chief warrant officer,” said Runt. “In the summer of 1981, [White] was a machinery technician aboard a Coast Guard cable boat that conducted a mission to replace the sub-cable that supplied power up until this past winter.”

ANT Cape May completed multiple missions to both lighthouses to prepare them for the installation of new equipment prior to the removal of the lens from Miah Maull Shoal Light. Crewmembers from ANT Cape May and Sector Delaware Bay arrived May 21 to stabilize, crate and remove the lens for the first time since it was originally installed.

Once the glass was stabilized against the existing brass skeleton frame, the lens was removed from the base and carried outside of the lantern room. It was packaged into a custom crate and lowered nearly 60 feet to a boat below. In order to accomplish this task, the lens, which weighed approximately 250 pounds, had to be raised over two handrails and through a third before the boat could receive it.

The Fourth Order Fresnel Lens will be kept securely on display in the entranceway quarterdeck of Sector Delaware Bay—its home for the foreseeable future.

The new, modern Vega VSL-73 sectored LED lantern will provide an intense, luminous signal capable of covering approximately 11 miles to warn mariners of Miah Maull Shoal. It will also display a red sector to cover the shoal area from Brandywine Shoal to Cross Ledge.

“The new optic will assist vessel traffic to safely navigate the Delaware Bay for many years to come while embracing our nation’s goals of energy independence,” said Runt.

Miah Maull Shoal Light was named after Nehemiah Maull in 1780. While traveling to England, the ship he was on struck a nameless shoal in the middle of the Delaware Bay, and he drowned. Maull was a Delaware Bay pilot by trade, and the shoal was later named in honor of his memory.

Congress authorized construction of the lighthouse in 1906 to assist mariners transiting the Bay. The work was completed in 1913, and the first keeper, William Maltman, was assigned to the lighthouse. Miah Maull Shoal Lighthouse was later automated in 1973, and it became the responsibility of ANT Cape May to maintain the optic and signal in accordance with the Light List.

Miah Maull sign

Miah Maull Shoal Lighthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991 (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Runt)

Miah fresnel

Fourth Order Fresnel Lens prior to removal from Miah Maull Shoal Light (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Runt)

ANT Cape May underway

Fresnel lens crated and loaded aboard Aids to Navigation Team Cape May’s Trailerable Aids to Navigation Boat (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Runt)

 

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