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  • Writer's pictureKeeper

The Case of the Missing Dock

When the engineers designed Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse and the platform where it sits, they designed only one access point to the lake. That access point is a set of stairs cut into the platform down the east side. The east side faces the harbor and is presumably less vulnerable to the elements than access would have been on west side.

While the stairs may have functioned well for decades, the waves and ice of Lake Erie have caused the lowest ones at the water’s edge to deteriorate significantly rendering them nearly useless. To create better access to the water from the failing stairs, I wanted to have a dock built that could be affixed to the staircase and cantilever over the water. I also wanted it to be light enough to be pulled up and secured against lashing waves, swimmers, or other marine traffic. What sounded like an easy concept took me years of research, calls, conversations, and site visits to find a manufacturer who would custom build what I needed.

After finding a small dock manufacturer in Maine through the TV Show “Maine Cabin Masters,” I spent over a year working with them on the design and functionality of the dock. Over the winter, the dock was manufactured and in early June 2022, the dock was brought from Maine and installed.

It was so exciting to finally have access to the water, a dock that would lift up when needed and could be stored away for winter. I gleefully stood on it and walked to the end hovering over the water just to make sure it would hold my weight. It did.

Three days later, it was gone.

The carefully designed and crafted aluminum dock, custom sized to fit the lighthouse’s east staircase and brought all the way from Maine, had been taken out by the rough north waves of Lake Erie. I was devastated…and dock-less once again.

After notifying the manufacturer that the hinges had failed and the brand new dock was likely at the bottom of Lake Erie, I put out a call to local divers as I suspected the waves were too much for the two small hinges. I hoped the dock had just sunk close by the stairs but with a water depth of approximately 29’, a professional diver familiar with Lake Erie was essential.

Coincidently, at the lighthouse’s 97th Birthday Open House several days later, I happened to be chatting with a guest about my disappearing dock. I relayed my suspicion that it was likely now at the bottom of the lake, and I needed a professional diver to take a look. Ironically, he volunteered that he was a retired diver with the Lake County (OH) Sheriff’s Department and would happily consider taking a dive.

After the birthday party, I followed up with the diver and connected him with the boat captain who transports large equipment and supplies to the lighthouse to discuss a potential dive. Although the boat captain seemed interested in helping, they were not able to coordinate an outing and I began to resolve myself that the dock was, indeed, lost to the lake.

Another week or so went by and I got a surprise call from my trusty house painter, Phil. It seems the diver knew someone else with a boat. It was early Saturday morning, June 25, 2022. The lake was calm, the sun was shining, and it was a perfect day for diving. Dan, the owner of the boat, brought, Jeff, the diver, out to dive, while Phil waited on the break wall.

Within minutes of Jeff’s plunge into Lake Erie, he pulled out a missing downspout and connector that had been ripped from the lighthouse in a December 2021 storm. That was an unexpected and fabulous find as the connector to the downspout was original to the lighthouse and made of copper. Just a few minutes later, Jeff found the dock frame and was able to bring it to the surface. SUCCESS! Mission accomplished. The 3-day old dock had been recovered albeit missing its platform, but still in tack and not much worse for the wear after being submerged for three weeks.

I was incredibly impressed by the kindness of the local community, especially, Jeff, Dan, and Phil, to literally jump in and find the missing dock. At this writing (July 2022), I am waiting to hear from the dock manufacturer about replacing the platform piece, fashioning a stronger hinge system, and reinstalling the dock. Heaven may have a dock, but as of now, the lighthouse’s brand new, never used dock is under repair.

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