Navigation History

"When I was growing up at the mouth of the Kennebec, I could lie in my bed on still foggy mornings and count five fog signals ... the great diaphone at Seguin, of course, and then the bells at Pond Island Light, and the Fort Popham Light, at Perkins Island and, if there was a touch of north wind, Squirrel Point Light. It is a singularly sweet memory." plain old fred

Notes on Navigating Fiddler's Reach (or Fiddling in the Fog)

 by Fred Kahrl

  • Any commercial vessel transiting the Kennebec River ("river") would avail themselves of a river pilot if the ship's captain was not himself a qualified "river" pilot. This is required by both the Coast Guard and the vessel's underwriters. Any such pilot would be so familiar with the "river" that the bell at Fiddler's Reach AND the bell at Doubling Point Light would be of great help in guiding vessels through the fog (daytime) or snowstorm, making the turns through the Reach. i.e. - they could use the vectors of the sounds.

  • Small boats (under 100 feet) have the advantage of going slow, steering from an open cockpit or opening wheelhouse windows, and "feeling" their way through the fog or snow. The Reach looks small on the chart, but actually has lots of room to maneuver for most small to medium size vessels.

  • And, keep in mind that when the "river' was the primary artery of commerce ... up to WW I ... Maine boatowners were generally very knowledgeable about handling their vessels and knowing their waters.

  • Most large vessels chose to transit the "river" against the tide ... allowing them to progress slowly but still have good steerage. Today, few large vessels (think Bath Iron Works) ever transit the river in the fog ... radar, etc. notwithstanding. BIW ships on sea trials ... i.e. - under scheduling pressure ... have been known  to anchor at Bluff Head and in Atkins Bay to wait (usually overnight) for the fog to clear.

  •  So, what's the big deal about fog bells.  Well, they were most valuable for passenger vessels which ran on schedule, rather than having the luxury of waiting for a favorable tide or improved visibility. So, the captain's of these big sidewheelers (and early steam/propellor packets) needed every navigation aid that could be reasonably provided since they often transited the "river"  with the tide behind them, in fog and snow, and even at night in fog and snow. The addition of the Fiddler's Reach bell not only gave a useful sound warning of the shore where it sat, but also of the reef that jutted out from the shore underwater right at that point.

  •  Although the bells all had slightly different tones,  it was the spacing of the rings that actually identified the bells one from another. Of course, today the near universal use of radar, recently augmented with GPS, has greatly reduced the need for fog signals. Those still in operation primarily aid small boats that can actually stop and listen every so often to figure out where they are.

Fred Kahrl is a former Coast Guard lighthouse keeper at Seguin Island Light who now lives in Woolwich, Maine

Keeper H.L. Kilton

The following article was in the Maine Coast Fisherman, August, 1948, page 28.

by W.H. Ballard

H.L. Kilton, Keeper at the Doubling Point Range Lights Station, is probably endowed with about as many lighthouses and bells to care for as any one man in the service. The fact that this veteran of twenty-three years’ lighthouse tending is single handedly covering what could well be the most extensive station on the coast is a tribute to his ability.

Mr. Kilton lives, with his wife, at the Range Lights dwelling, the Doubling Point dwellings having been sold off some years ago. From there he attends to the two octagonal towers known as the range lights, at the lower end of Fiddler’s Reach in the Kennebec. Up the reach some 1075 feet and reached by two bridges on a path along the ledges is the Fiddler’s Reach fog signal, and at the upper end of the reach, a half mile from the dwelling is the Doubling Point lighthouse and bell.

Mr. Kilton has been on the station for three years, being a civilian keeper, and thoroughly enjoys it. The whole place was in apple-pie order with a neatly-cut lawn slopping off to an eye-catching view down the Kennebec. He doesn’t seem to be worried about slogging over to Fiddler’s Reach fog signal to wind his bell every four hours in fog and snow. As for the trip to Doubling Point when things go wrong in the winter - he snowshoes.

The two Range Lights were built in 1898, one being 235 yards inland from the other. The lower light is 18 feet above the river and the upper beacon is 33 feet. Both are fixed, white, 23-watt electric lights, which are picked up by boats bound upriver as they leave Ram Island. The Fiddler’s Reach fog signal is a second district bell on the usual pointed tower. It was installed in 1914 after the Ranson B. Fuller grounded at the spot. The clock-work striker is operated from a 1200-pound weight and the keeper can start the bell tolling from the dwelling by means of an electric tripper.

Over at the Doubling Point light, the clockwork mechanism stands idle while the bell is rung by an electric striker which can likewise be started from the Range Lights dwelling. As the bell is too far from the house to be heard by the keeper, a phone is set up by the hammer, and the bell can be heard over the wires at the dwelling. The light at the point is an automatic flashing white gas burner, which can store a year’s supply of fuel. As it is in sight of the draw tenders on the Carlton Bridge at Bath, they notify keeper Kilton when trouble develops.

Although situated on Arrowsic Island and within reach of power lines, the station generates its own electricity with an 11 volt Kohler power system charging into a bank of batteries.

You folks who like to fish should hear what Mr. Kilton says about the striped bass that are being taken in Fiddler’s Reach and one of the good spots is on the ledge below the signal, where the tide runs strong.