CAPE PORPOISE, Maine — Mariners, town officials and residents expressed concern this week that the Goat Island Light foghorn no longer sounds automatically on foggy days, since the Coast Guard switched the operating system Tuesday.
Mariners needing foghorn assistance must request it electronically via radio when coming in to port. This will require keying the microphone five times within 10 seconds on marine radio channel 83 to signal the horn.
The recent announcement has caused a stir among many townspeople and local fishermen who believe the change is a dangerous way to operate, leaving vulnerable those without the electronic equipment necessary to ask for foghorn assistance.
Sarah Nunan is one of those people. Her husband is a lobsterman in Cape Porpoise.
“There is a foghorn for the safety of boats out in the ocean,” she said. “What if there is a kayak or a skiff that is right outside the harbor that gets shut in by the fog and does not have a VHF? They cannot activate the foghorn. This is not right, and it needs to be put back to blowing on during foggy weather.”
Cape Porpoise lobsterman Russell Daggett agreed.
“The kids just starting out lobstering, a lot of them do not have all the fancy electronics to find their way in the fog, and they need that horn to guide them in,” he said.
There also is some concern that the change was made solely because of a complaint made about the noise the foghorn makes, and that the notification process was lacking.
“We had not been notified about this change,” said Tom Bradbury, executive director of the Kennebunk Conservation Trust, which owns the Goat Island Light House. “The Coast Guard just showed up and changed it. When we asked why, they said they were responding to a complaint.”
Rob Lehmann, the U.S. Coast Guard officer in charge of the aids to navigation team in South Portland, said the Coast Guard issued a notice to mariners about the impending change via their weekly mariners’ update three to four months ago.
“We notified mariners and asked for feedback on this, and we did not hear back from anyone on it,” he said.
As for Trust not being notified, Lehmann accepted full responsibility for that.
“It was a total oversight on my part,” he said.
Lehmann said he didn’t know why the people changing the foghorn would’ve told Bradbury it was in response to a complaint.
“These changes were not specific to any complaints from neighbors,” he said. “The technology we were using to activate the sound signals was outdated, from the 1970s. We have been planning to convert over to radio-activated sound signals by a company called Wintek for quite some time now.”
One seasonal resident, who asked not be named, said that he has “probably been the most engaged” neighboring resident when it comes to the foghorn issue, which he says he believes stemmed from a malfunctioning sensor.
“Until about nine or 10 years ago, the foghorn was fine, when it was working properly. Then, a while back it began to malfunction, and parts were not available to fix the malfunctioning sensor, so a new one was installed,” he said. “The new sensor was poorly designed, and just a bit of visible moisture would set it off. It even went off on clear days. When we were not here in the wintertime, our [year ‘round] neighbors said it was going off all the time.
“I am not against the foghorn,” he said. “I am against a malfunctioning fog horn.”
Other residents say they aren’t troubled by the sound.
Pier Road resident Bob Card said he has gotten use to the sound of the foghorn.
“It doesn’t interfere with our lives,” he said. “It can be annoying sometimes in the middle of the night, but when it goes off, it goes off for a reason.”
Lobsterman and Cape Porpoise resident Keith Nunan said he feels there is a much deeper issue at stake here: the slow demise of the waterfront way of life.
“Personally, I think it’s wrong,” he said. “The lighthouse is there to provide safe passage for mariners. Apparently, some people who move in don’t give a care. I am beyond tired of people moving here and then trying to change everything. Our small town is barely recognizable from when we were young, and it’s only getting worse.”
Lifelong Kennebunkport resident Peter Shaw agreed.
“People move here because they love it,” he said, “and the next thing they want to do is change things that have been a part of the locals’ lives for years.”
As for the foghorn, Lehmann said there’s no plan for the Coast Guard to go back to the old system, and it can’t be used concurrently with the new one, as some have suggested.
“As of right now, we are not planning to go back to the old system, though I won’t say absolutely that this won’t happen,” he said. “If there is enough public interest, it could go back.”
Bradbury wants to see just that happen.
“The trust wants to keep things the way they were,” he said. “The foghorn has always played a very important role in the safe navigation of the harbor. We don’t see this change as a positive one. Having grown up by the harbor, and now living by the harbor, I have always found the sound of the foghorn comforting. I believe nearly everybody feels the same. It is the sound of a working harbor, a part of our heritage.
Ours has always been an important harbor, a place of safety between Kittery and Portland. Its entrance can be difficult at the best of times. We have an active fishing fleet and countless mariners that find refuge in the port,” he said. “We shouldn’t do anything to compromise their safety.”