Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fort Queenscliff: Part 1 ‘The Rip’

Back in November I offered a choice between posting about Mum’s place and Fort Queenscliff. There were more votes for the personal, and since then it has slipped my mind to post about the fort. Looking at the piccies I want to post I’ve chosen twenty odd, which seems a few too many for a single post.

So I’ve decided to talk about the fort in two separate posts. Here tonight is the first part about ‘The Rip’ which is the channel that Fort Queenscliff once guarded. This first piccie is taken from the fort looking across the narrow mouth of the bay to the Mornington Peninsula near Portsea.

The Rip with a container ship passing. As you can see the channel is quite narrow, only about 3 km (1.8 miles across) and in fact the navigable width for a ship of this size is only 250 metres or so.

Given that the bay has a surface area of 1900 square kilometres that means there is always a powerful tidal current running in or out, hence ‘The Rip’. The current going either way is usually around 6 knots.

To add to this difficulty the ships have to change course part way through. To assist with navigation of the passage not one, but two light houses stand in the grounds of Fort Queenscliff.

The Black Lighthouse, This is one of a handful of black lighthouses in the world. Most are painted bright colours (usually white) to help warn ships off rocks. Unusually this light house was not built to warn ships away from nearby rocks. More about that in a minute
(The wooden tower in the above piccie is not a light house. It is a signal tower from the early days of the fort.)

Interestingly most light houses in the British Empire at this period (the late 1800s) were built to a common plan. This produced a strange feature on the Black Lighthouse.
The original door was built about 20 feet above ground level. This was because the design was also used on rocks that were covered by high tides. The Government architect was so rigid that this lighthouse had the same door although it is hundreds of metres from the sea and at the top of a high cliff.

Apparently the lighthouse keepers had to climb a ladder to get to the door until nearly 50 years had passed and the door was finally shifted to ground level!

The second lighthouse in the fort is the White Lighthouse. Because the fort is still a military establishment I wasn’t allowed closer to the White Lighthouse.

This Lighthouse a few miles away at Point Lonsdale is almost identical.So why are there two light houses in the fort one black and one white?
Any guesses?

Well to demonstrate the answer the question I drove a couple of kilometres (1.5 miles) north to the Queenscliff Harbour. At the harbour is this new space age looking viewing tower.Up there are some beautiful views: of the MarinaAnd of The Rip.
In the foreground is the boat house that once housed the lifeboat that saved people from countless wrecks in The Rip.
Fort Queenscliff stands on the cliff on the right side of the piccie.

Now if I zoom in (please excuse the poor quality the piccie was taken through salt encrusted glass) you can just about see what the two light houses are used for.
The Black Lighthouse is closer and you can just see the top of the White Lighthouse over the trees.Now you can’t quite see (because we are off to one side) the cargo ship in the distance is being lined up with both white and black lighthouses. The Pilot knows that if the ship is travelling on an imaginary line that passes through both lighthouses it is aiming for the deep channel.

The incoming ships are then turned hard to their starboard (their right, to the left side of this piccie) when they get to about where the smaller boat is to follow the channel as it curves around in to the bay.

So these are friendly light houses that say “come here” rather than the usual standoffish loner light houses that are found around most coasts.


Lisa said...

That's so funny about the door in the black lighthouse. Just goes to show that government regulations have always been a bit ridiculous!

Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Al - I love the history to this and the information you've given us - so interesting. Had a quick look at the location too .. the Black and White lighthouses .. fascinating that they use those landmarks as guides - to keep in the deep water channel.

Great - loved it - thanks Hilary

Old Kitty said...

Ahhhhh!! Now it makes sense to have these lighthouses in opposite colours parallel to each other!! How interesting!!!! Lighthouses are just amazing constructions really - thank goodness these were invented!!

And thank goodness the door was shifted to ground level!! Thanks for the info!! I do like the name "The Rip"!

Take care

Anonymous said...

Another great post, Al. I loved that explanation about the two lighthouses. Even with the help of the friendly lighthouses it must still require great skill to take a large ship through the narrow part of the channel.

The Words Crafter said...

That ship looks like it's just scraping the ground, it looks so shallow!

I love the black lighthouse; I've never seen one that wasn't white. I couldn't have ever guessed the purpose of two working together that way.

And the door! Surely that was a power play.

Excellent pics and thank you for sharing them and the background!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

What a fantastic post. Learnt more about lighthouses than I did ever before (not that I knew much to start with). And it is hard to believe the brains that came up with the solution of two lighthouses to guide ships in were similar to the souls who insisted on the door being of "standard regulation".

Al said...

Hi Lisa,
It is funny and absurd. But I guess that is bureaucracy for you!

Hi Hilary,
It is amazing how much there can be about something so simple. Of course with modern GPS navigation it probably could be done another way, but I bet the harbour pilots still line up on the lighthouses!

Hi Jennifer,
Yes, different colours to help line them up. And of course in the dark they had different lights.
Of course with the ladder in place they still had to climb stairs to the top!
Somehow ‘The Rip’ is typically Aussie.

Hi Christine,
I suspect it is easier today than it once was. Although the ships are larger at least they are under power. In the early days it was a case of using wind and tide to get through the channel.

Hi Words,
It is amazing how shallow the Rip is on either side of the channel.
It is odd to see a black lighthouse. Of course they were after the contrast between the two to help with quick recognition.
You’re probably right on the power play, there has to be some additional motivation.

Hi Rayna,
Of course the concept and the design may well have been in the hands of different people. I am pleased you enjoyed my lighthouse post.

Hart Johnson said...

I love lighthouses. When I was a kid I thought I'd love to live in one, but the few I've been in actually make me claustrophobic... still, they are very cool. I ADORE the inefficiency of the British Military. "I don't CARE if the reason for this doesn't exist. Stick to the PLAN!" *snort*

Talli Roland said...

I love lighthouses, probably because I grew up around them. I've never seen a black one, though!