Marine Radio
in Tasmania

Eddystone Point Lighthouse

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August 2011

The downgrade of the intensity of the light.

On the far north-east of Tasmania, almost on the 41 st latitude, is the Eddystone Point Lighthouse. It is a magnificent circular stone 36 metre high tower, built of locally quarried granite and is situated on the headland known as Eddystone Point 41 metres above sea level. The light commenced operation on 1 May 1889.

Eddystone Point LighthouseThe light was established because of nearby dangers in eastern Banks Strait and south along the coast known as the Bay of Fires. Georges Rocks, Victorias Rocks and Black Reef are amongst the more prominent dangers in the area. Apparently Captain Riddle, who was experienced in navigating the coast and played a role in the establishment of some lights, was wrecked on Black Reef.

Tobias Furneaux gave the name Eddystone Point to the location in 1773 presumably as it reminded him of the point of the same name in England. Located in what is now the Mount William National Park, access to the lighthouse and the keepers' cottages for many years was only by sea. Storms often caused difficulties by severely damaging the jetty. Access by land vehicle was not available until the late 1920s as sand drifts and rough terrain had to be negotiated.

Situated as it is at the eastern end of the notorious Banks Strait, the Eddystone Light is a major landfall light for vessels heading south crossing Bass Strait. It is very comforting to a small boat navigator and the crew to see an identifiable landfall light when still some distance away and at night that distance, through the observance of the loom or glow from a powerful light, can be greatly increased by haze, mist or low cloud. On sighting the actual light the navigator can easily calculate a circular line of position to give a fix in combination with a compass bearing. Of course, haze, mist or low cloud might also obscure the visible light leading a vessel into a dangerous situation so the navigator needs to fix the vessel's position by other methods.

Eddystone Point lighthouse and Banks StraitEarlier this year the Australian Maritime Safety Authority turned off the main light installing a new light on the tower slightly below the original with a lower power reducing the visible light range from 26 nautical miles to 20nm.

The first most people heard of this was on 7th March 2011 when ABC Television in Tasmania reported that "A lighthouse preservation society is angry there was no consultation before the light at Eddystone Point was altered."

Over a month later, on 12th April 2011, a Notice to Mariners issued by the Australian Hydrographic Service ( www.hydro.gov.au ) advised mariners that the Eddystone Point light had been altered to reduce the range from 26nm to 20nm.

Marine and Safety Tasmania (MAST) was not advised of the change by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) but MAST as a result of the ABC news item and contact from local mariners immediately republished the national Notice to Mariners giving their notice the usual wide distribution within Tasmania.

AMSA has not published why the downgrade of the light was made. It has been suggested that some reasons might include the saving of power (cost) in running the light at its original output and circumstantial evidence indicating the need to prevent the death or injury of short-tailed shearwaters that fly into the light at night. If either of these reasons form part of AMSA's decision then it appears that not enough consideration has been given to the safety of life at sea for mariners in small vessels. While no one likes to see birds injured, the power reduction of the light is unlikely to make much change to the shearwaters that can regularly be observed flying into lights of much lesser intensity, lights such as deck lights on fishing boats, street lights and even a low powered light in a phone box on Flinders Island. Natural causes such as a lack of food or exhaustion from difficult weather conditions will, by comparison, kill many hundreds of thousands of shearwaters as happened in south east Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and New Zealand in November 2009 and again at southern Queensland and northern New South Wales in October 2010.

It is easy to say that the importance of lighthouses and other geographical points used for navigation has diminished with the advent of the satellite Global Positioning System (GPS). The offshore sailing section of the yachting community is aware of various findings regarding inaccuracies of GPS navigational instruments such as the "Dilution of Precision" (DOP) readings that can cause positional errors as much as 100 metres. The yachting community is also aware that there are still paper charts that are not accurately positioned so give a difference in location compared with a GPS reading. Even if charts showing the Eddystone Lighthouse have a stated high degree of precision, it is very comforting to a small boat navigator and the crew to see an identifiable landfall light when still some distance away.

Eddystone Point light situated at the eastern end of Banks Strait, a stretch of water that can be quite benign or, as is well known, to be a most difficult and dangerous place because of the strong currents, considerable tidal variations, rock and shoal hazards and the difficult wind and sea conditions that so often prevail.

With four major annual yachting events taking yachts past Eddystone Point it is imperative that the best navigational aid is maintained for the safety of mariners. For yachts, power and sail, racing or cruising, that travel south, the sight of the light is particularly important. It is as mentioned, a major landfall light. For yachts departing Tasmania for eastern Bass Strait it is an important departure point.

Such is the importance of this light, Yachting Tasmania has been in consultation with a number of organisations representing various sectors of the boating community. With the exception of the commercial shipping sector encompassing ships having greater than 300 tonnes displacement, the commercial fishing and recreational boating fraternity have expressed concern about the downgrade. Yachting Tasmania wrote to AMSA late July 2011 seeking further information and in particular what option AMSA will choose for the light after 12 April 2012, the expiration date of the Notice to Mariners. It is also known that others who have since written to AMSA include the Ocean Racing Club of Victoria, the Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council and Mr Geoff Lyons MHR, Federal member for Bass, an electorate that covers north east Tasmania including the Furneaux Group and Eddystone Point. The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Yachting New South Wales and the Derwent Sailing Squadron because they each have events that take yachts past Eddystone have expressed their concerns.

The Spring 2011 issue of the newsletter Boatwise published by MAST asks readers to submit comments on the light that then can be forwarded to AMSA. Comments can be emailed to MAST at admin@mast.tas.gov.au.

At the date of writing this article neither Yachting Tasmania, the Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council nor Mr Geoff Lyons MHR has received any response from AMSA.

Alastair Douglas



 
Updated 25 July 2017. © Copyright. A Douglas 2017