Cape Point lighthouse marks 102 years of service

The Cape Point lighthouse produces a flashing light that can be seen for 32 nautical miles.

The Cape Point lighthouse celebrates 102 years of service today, Thursday March 11.

Perched on the rugged slopes of the headland, the 9-metre square masonry tower with white lantern house was first lit on the night of March 11 1919. The rotating lens system produces a flashing light that can be seen for 32 nautical miles.

The lighthouse replaced the original one that was commissioned 59 years earlier, on May 1, 1860. The old 9-metre cast-iron tower was erected at the highest point on the peninsula, and the light was often hidden by the thick mists and fog that blanket the area.

The push for a lighthouse at a more suitable site was spurred on by the sinking of the Portuguese liner, Lusitania, on the night of April 18, 1911. The original lighthouse still serves as an attraction for visitors to the Cape Point Nature Reserve.

According to Transnet National Ports Authority spokeswoman Tamyn Atkinson, construction of the new lighthouse began in 1913 at a site further down the cliff, and a tram track was laid to help move building material down to the site.

Work was slow as a result of the howling south easter, and the lighthouse was completed in 1916 but was only commissioned after the end of World War I. It was lit at sunset by 3-year-old Thurl Cooper, the daughter of its designer and builder HC Cooper.

The new lighthouse featured an incandescent petroleum vapour burner, and the lens was rotated by means of a weight-driven mechanical clockwork machine. The lightkeepers were also required to keep watch at the old lighthouse during the day where the signal mast was installed. A long wooden staircase was attached to the steepest section of the pathway down to the new lighthouse, and the two lightkeepers in charge of the night watch were required to walk together at sunset and sunrise as a safety precaution.

The lighthouse was fitted with a diesel engine, an electrical generator and an electric lens motor drive when electricity was introduced in 1936. The electrification of the total site, including the lighthouse and associated equipment and the lightkeepers’ houses, was completed in 1993.

The Cape Point Lighthouse is one of 45 operational lighthouses along the coast of South Africa, from Port Nolloth on the west coast to Sodwana Bay on the east coast.