Watching the waves crashing around Cape Forchu provides a small glimpse of the awesome and terrifying power of the sea. It continually shapes the lives of those who live and work by it. A source of beauty, bounty and economic prosperity, the sea can also be a dangerous and unpredictable force that causes unimaginable destruction and loss.
Weathering the Weather at Cape Forchu
Stormy weather presented constant challenges for the Cape Forchu lightkeepers and their families as raging winds and pounding waves wreaked havoc on the lightstation. The breakwater often flooded, cutting off travel between the Cape and the mainland. The lightkeeper and his assistant worked frantically, in wind, rain and snow, to ensure that the light and the fog alarm worked properly.
Lightkeeper Herbert Cunningham recalled having to restart the waterlogged fog alarm compressors during a violent winter storm. This involved crawling on his hands and knees across a high wooden bridge connecting the lighthouse and the fog alarm station.
E.[east] gale, heavy rains, old lighthouse shaking so; hardly safe to stay in it.
Journal of Herbert Cunningham,
lightkeeper from 1922-1952
A storm surge is water that is pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds swirling around the storm.
This advancing surge of water combines with normal tides to create the hurricane storm tide, which can increase the water level 4.5 metres (15 feet) or more. Wind-driven waves, in addition to the storm tide, can cause severe flooding in coastal areas.
The Groundhog Day Gale of 1976 illustrates the destructive power of the storm surge. Winds over 161 kilometres (100 miles) per hour combined with a water surge of 1.5 meters (5 feet) higher than usual, caused millions of dollars in damage to wharves, boats, and property along Nova Scotia's southwestern shore.
Storms such as hurricanes produce large and powerful waves in this area, which have proven deadly for those who have ventured out onto the rocks.
Did you know?
On clear days, freak waves, called rogue waves, have been known to crash over the rocks, to the right of the lightstation, and spill into the parking lot below.
[Photo captions, from left to right, read]
· Lightkeeper's dwelling during a winter storm c.1935
· Perched at the highest point of the lightstation, the lightkeeper's dwelling was not untouched by storms as waves sometimes crashed through the second storey bedroom windows and came out the first storey front and kitchen doors.
· 1. Lightkeeper Herbert Cunningham c. 1940
· 2. Original Lighthouse and 1912 Lightkeeper's dwelling
· 3. Local vessels after Groundhog Day Storm 1976
No Guarantee for Safe Passage
The presence of Cape Forchu Lightstation did not always guarantee a safe or uneventful passage for mariners. As late as the 1950s, human error, storms, rough seas and freak accidents caused many vessels to shipwreck along this rocky coastline.
Ran aground on West Cape during heavy snowstorm. December 4, 1930. Entire crew of 8 lost.
2. City of New York
Originally named Samson. Suspected "mystery ship" that did not come to the aid of Titanic. Ran aground on Chebogue Ledge. March 19, 1952. No lives lost.
Steamship. Ran aground at Cheboque Point. February 3, 1902. All hands saved.
4. City of Monticello
Paddle steamer. Sunk 5 miles west of Yarmouth Cape between Port Mainland and Sandford during a heavy gale. October 10, 1900. 36 lives lost.
5. S.S. North Star
Passenger service steamship. Ran aground on Green Island. 1918. No lives lost.
[Inset photo at bottom center]
Wreck of City of New York