By SUSAN SCHELL
The "queen of the California lighthouses" was re-crowned Saturday during a drizzly early morning ceremony.
The regal sentinel perched atop St. George Reef amidst the crashing waves outside Crescent City has waited patiently for two years for the return of its lantern room dome.
The crowd gathered at the Coast Guard Station in Crescent City was treated to a spectacular sight as a sky crane helicopter swooped in like an enormous dragonfly, picked up the gazebo-like dome and carried it out to sea.
"It was awesome," said volunteer Lila Moore. "Everyone was just breathless. They had (the dome) anchored on three trucks with cables; they didn't want anything to happen to it. They attached the dome to the helicopter, then the trucks moved away."
Moore was amazed at how steadily the helicopter lifted the dome into the air. "It never even moved," she said. "There was no wind. There were screams and yells of applause from the crowd, and we watched (the dome) until it was out of sight."
Chuck Moore watched the lantern dome arrive at the lighthouse; he was standing on the platform on "the rock" as the helicopter approached St. George Reef. Moore had hoped to get a picture of the dome being attached, but volunteers and crew were herded into the lighthouse for safety reasons when the chopper arrived.
"I was on the helicopter landing trying to get some shots," Moore said. "But they didn't want us out there when it (the dome) got close. It had to be lowered onto the tower and the holes had to match up just right. The helicopter stayed up there; he wouldn't leave until the dome was secure. I ran up the stairs and could hear a lot of cheering and yelling. There was a big round of cheers and applause."
"I am floating," said the preservation society's founder, Guy Towers.
"The pressure is finally off. This is a culmination of six years of effort, frustrations with weather and finances. I had tears in my eyes. We're on top of the world right now."
Onlookers were amazed at how smoothly the operation went, as the project had previously been fraught with delays because of bad weather.
The crew had planned to get the dome placed the day before. Volunteers worked diligently on the lighthouse tower all day Friday, removing the wooden boards that covered the top of the lighthouse during the dome's absence, sweeping and preparing the site.
As billows of fog rolled across the ocean, volunteers radioed back and forth between the reef and the shore, waiting for the sky crane pilot to signal a thumbs-up. But bad weather prevailed, and at the end of the day the project was scrapped, disappointing several reporters who had shuttled out to photograph the event (see related story).
Towers later said the delay was a blessing in disguise. Workers spent the night at the lighthouse and Towers said it gave them "a chance to recharge their batteries."
"They worked so hard all day," he said. "They were tired from running up and down those stairs all day. I think they were much more refreshed and ready to go on Saturday."
That morning, Bob Bolen, the man that financed the operation, hitched a ride on the sky crane to the lighthouse. When the lantern room was placed on the tower, Bolen announced, "The queen has been crowned!"
The preservation society plans to continue its efforts to restore the lighthouse, which has suffered over the years from neglect and the harsh ocean conditions. The beacon was abandoned by the Coast Guard because modern technology and navigational methods made it obsolete.
The long-term plan, according to Towers, is to make the lighthouse a tourist attraction. The society may start shuttling tourists to the site by helicopter while restoration is still in progress.
The Coast Guard has donated a small lens for the lantern that can be turned on and off from shore by remote control.
"You will be able to see it from shore, but it won't be an official aid to navigation," Towers said. "It's just for show."
For a romantic twist, Towers said individuals may eventually be able to "dedicate" the light in the tower to a friend or loved one for a night.
Radio stations and advertisements will announce the person's name, and one night, someone may be able to look out across the water and know that the lighthouse tower is glowing especially for them.