Looking for lobster on Martha's Vineyard and the Fresnel lens

A sailboat with Nobska Point Lighthouse in the background.

What is it that compels people to load a boat with supplies and set sail towards the horizon? Whether it's the desire to start a new life, explore exotic lands or dine at a restaurant that serves freshly caught lobster, it helps if there's a lighthouse to guide the way.

Thanks to an old photo of the Gay Head Lighthouse that Stephane noticed while we were traveling on the ferry from Woods Hole to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts yesterday evening, we learned that seafaring people have long been thankful for the Fresnel lens developed by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel. Described as amazing, brilliant, super-efficient, magical light machines, the multi-prism glass lenses were used by all of the lighthouses in the United States by the time of the Civil War.

Prior to the introduction of the Fresnel lens, lighthouses used as many as fifteen or twenty individual oil lamps. Not only did they consume a tremendous amount of oil, but they weren't that bright and couldn't be seen from far away. The prisms of the Fresnel lens magnified and redirected the light source into horizontal beams of light that reached greater distances over the water. At the time, French firms such as the Henry-Lepaute company of Paris were the only ones making Fresnel lenses. The Gay Head Lighthouse had an enormous first-order Fresnel lens that contained 1,008 prisms.


Here's an excerpt from an interview with Bill Grieder whose father Frank was keeper of the Gay Head Lighthouse from 1937 to 1948:

There was always some work for me. I used to polish brass. I learned to light the lighthouse, and I taught my mother to do it. There were times when my Dad was sick -- my Mum would go up to light the light or I would go up. Of course we had an assistant keeper, but if you couldn't call on him you did it yourself.

I went up to help whitewash or paint the tower, and mow the lawn of course. Lug the kerosene up in the tower. Polish the lens. It had to be cleaned and dusted all the time. We had a dust cover over that. In the wintertime we used to put glycerin on the outside of the [lantern] glass, so if you got rain it wouldn't ice up.





Our destination last night: The Black Dog Tavern in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts.
The reward: freshly caught lobster!

Comments

  1. Those are some gorgeous pictures, Mary Kay! And topped off with that mouthwatering lobster plate! The only thing that could have been better would be a lobter roll. Sounds like you're having a wonderful time!

    Patricia H

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    1. Thank you, Patricia! Even though I keep hearing about lobster rolls, I have yet to try one. It's officially on my "must-do" list now. There's a restaurant in Paris owned by an expat who makes them every once in awhile...if only I could remember the name of it.

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  2. beautiful sailing pictures, really makes me miss the Eastern Shore. Lake Michigan just doesn't compare, or at least not here along the city.

    And I enjoyed the story of the lens--that makes me miss working in Montauk in the shadow of the lighthouse. Ah, summer, so special.

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    1. Working in the shadow of a lighthouse must have been really special. There's something so mythical about them.

      I've never sailed on Lake Michigan, only admired it from the shore. I remember driving past lots of boats in Chicago and can't remember if they were power or sail boats. Isn't Lake Michigan supposed to be rather dangerous because the winds can suddenly change?

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  3. I relish the idea of enjoying an evening tipple in an establishment called The Black Dog Tavern Mary Kay, particularly as it is located in Vineyard haven!

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    1. Unbeknownst to me, the Black Dog Tavern is a pretty famous place. It turns out that there are stores selling their gear from coast to coast in the States. We just noticed that there's even one in Annapolis, where we have our house. The original Black Dog is on Martha's VIneyard and it's a great spot for an evening tipple!

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  4. Great blog today, MK. And amazing photos.

    Is Gay Head still a nude beach? Reminds me of a first date who took me there!! My face dropped when he stripped off his clothes and ran to the water. Not to mention that we worked together at a Catholic School. I had to face him the following Monday at our staff meeting! He was the school psychologist, no less.
    Yes, we had a second date....lol

    As for the Fresnel lens, the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse here in Palm Beach area has a first order lens from 1842 and it is amazing to see. (after climbing 200 steps to the top of the lighthouse)

    This visit to Massachusetts, your photos and posts have really managed to make me homesick. I will have to get up there after Paris for sure.

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    1. Unfortunately, we didn't go to Gay Head but I wish that we would have after reading your comment. :) That's a great Martha's Vineyard story - and I'm glad to know that you had a second date.

      After reading about Fresnel lenses, I would be ready and willing to climb 200 steps to see one, especially as it's a first order lens.

      I'm homesick for Boston and it isn't even my home. You come from a wonderful city!

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  5. Hi, Theaters use Fresnel lenses even today because of the brightness and focusability (my word.) I never knew about the lighthouses using them. Beautiful pictures btw. Love your blog.
    Wren

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    1. Hi Wren, Many thanks for your kind comment and for the info about Fresnel lenses being used in theaters. I didn't know that. Stephane told me that they're also used for car lights and on aircraft carriers.

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  6. Lovely photos as usual and I just love the lobster!

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    1. Now that we're in a state where crabs rule (Maryland), Stephane and I keep talking about how much we enjoyed eating that lobster. Crab is tasty too but much more difficult to eat.

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  7. That is one gorgeous lobster!!!! Wow!!! If that's not summer vacation on the east coast, I don't know what is! Seb and I enjoyed feasting on our last fish supper in the Bahamas last night. Seafood really does capture the season, doesn't it?

    Ooooh and Black Dog, you're so fab, MK! ; )

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    1. He (she?) was an amazingly gorgeous lobster, inside and out!

      I've really enjoyed reading about your vacation in the Bahamas, Mlle Ella! While I miss Paris, it sure does feel good to be next to the sea, doesn't it?!

      I hope to see you soon. It has been ages since our evening together in the Marais.

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  8. Great photos! It's so cool you're able to visit New England so often. I have yet to see Martha's Vineyard. One of these days.

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    1. Yeah, I feel really lucky that Boston is only a short 6-7 hour flight from Paris. Not being from the East Coast, I'm having a great time discovering it. We had hoped to go whale watching while we were at the Cape but it would have meant that we wouldn't have been able to have lunch with our daughter. After seeing your photos, it's something that I really want to do.

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  9. Lovely post and beautiful photos. And what a lobster! Closest I've ever had are ecrivisse that we catch in our lakes. Very tasty.

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    1. Ecrivisse? I had to google that word because Stephane and I didn't know the English equivalent. Crawdads! They are delicious. You're very fortunate to be able to get fresh ones from your lakes!

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