Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco


There are various overwrought ‘describing’ words that have become devalued and tired through overuse. Unique. Unsurpassed. Unparalleled. Iconic. However the famous and much-loved Elbow Cay Lighthouse could plausibly lay claim to any one of those adjectives. Let’s make that ‘all’. Earlier this year, following a meticulous survey, repairs and refurbishments were made to this stately 89 foot high, 101 step light that came into operation in 1863 during the height of the American Civil War. 

You can read more about the lighthouse, its importance and its machinery in various earlier posts (use the search box), and there is other material including details of the recent repair program HERE. This post is simply to advertise the forthcoming 2nd Lighthouse Festival that takes place in Tuesday June 23rd. The flyer below tells you all you need to know about the day.


For this event, the students of Hope Town Primary School, in conjunction with the invaluable ELBOW REEF LIGHTHOUSE SOCIETY , have produced a wonderful book celebrating the lighthouse, with proceeds of sale benefitting the school’s volunteer programs and the Society’s ongoing projects. I am sure will be a best seller – make it happen!


As last year, the events will include an auction. Among the wide variety of items to be auctioned will be a 15″ x 15″ print on canvas of my photo of a Western Spindalis, taken on the drive of the Delphi Club and included in “THE BIRDS OF ABACO” (a copy of which was auctioned last year). 

Western Spindalis, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Maybe a few more pics of such an interesting building are called for…. And a reminder of some key words to scatter liberally into your conversation at the event. Or anywhere, really: “Fresnel Lenses”, “Mercury Bed”, “Clockwork Mechanism”, “Trinity House, London”.Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay Abaco

Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco (Lamp, Fresnel Lens) hoplit22 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit20 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit19 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit18 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit17 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco (Fresnel Lens) hoplit6 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit4 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit2 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit3

And finally a wonderful photo of Hope Town centred on the Lighthouse complex. Enjoy June 23rd.Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

Credits: Lighthouse exteriors and Spindalis RH; all interiors Mrs RH; props to Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society (and ?David Rees for the aerial view…); Annie Potts for her inspiring book “Last Lights” about the intriguing lighthouses of the Bahamas


Our visit to Elbow Cay was one part of our day’s Island Hopping / Reef Snorkelling expedition with Kay Politano. In Hope Town, while most of the party wandered round the streets (and shops…) Mrs Rolling Harbour took the boat across the harbour to the Hope Town Lighthouse. This must be the best known landmark of Abaco – ‘iconic’, perhaps, in the modern sense of the word. The weather on the day was pretty poor, with thick cloud and intermittent rain and drizzle. Which is a pity, because the photos would have looked even better with sunshine and blue sky…


  All Photos: Mrs Rolling Harbour


(click on Coordinates below for position and Hope Town info)

Location: Elbow Cay, port of Hope Town
Coordinates 26.539421°N 76.958840°WCoordinates
Year first constructed: 1862
Year first lit: 1864
Construction: Masonry
Tower shape: Conical
Markings/Pattern: Red and white bands
Focal Height: 37 m (121 ft)
Original lens: First order Fresnel
Range: 23 nmi
Characteristic: Fl(5) 15s
Admiralty number: J4572
NGA number: 11800
ARLHS number: BAH-010

The Hope Town Lighthouse is one of only three Manual Lighthouses left in the World. It has a spring mechanism that has to be hand cranked every few hours to maintain the sequence of five white flashes every 15 seconds. The lamp burns kerosene with a wick and mantle. The light is then focused as it passes through the optics of a first order (largest size) Fresnel lens which floats on a bed of mercury. 

A Fresnel lens (pron. ‘Fray-nel’) is a type of lens originally developed by a French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel specifically for lighthouses.Compared to conventional bulky lenses, the Fresnel lens is much thinner, larger, and flatter, and captures more oblique light from a light source, thus allowing lighthouses to be visible over much greater distances. Fresnel’s lighthouse lenses ordinarily fell into six orders based on their focal length, first order being the largest (wiki-assist) 

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society




You will need: One truck with plenty of fuel (for the return journey); courage, patience and determination; picnic; bird book – borrow the HALLETT (KS copy) from Club library; camera / binoculars; willingness to cope with and explore derelict buildings; good shoes if you want to walk from the lighthouse; life insurance if you want to climb the uninvitingly hazardous lighthouse stairs

Map credit as elsewhere

Like marriage, this expedition is not by any to be undertaken lightly or ill- advisedly… Driving to the lighthouse at Hole-in-the-Wall involves a 15-mile (each way) return journey on a track south from the Highway. It starts promisingly but gradually turns nasty as the track degenerates. Rental cars are banned; Sandy will have strong views about using the Club car… Realistically, it can only be done in a truck. We took a truck… I don’t want to be unduly off-putting but we were still considering turning back at mile 14. Especially at mile 14. The view is as shown below for most of the way, the trees thinning out as one nears the coast.An optimistically good stretch of track

During the journey, you pass through the heart of the National Park, breeding ground for the Abaco Parrots. Uniquely for this species, they nest on the ground in limestone holes, making them vulnerable to predators. Logging roads cross the track at regular intervals, and are a good place to pull in and look for the birds of the pine forest –from large red-tailed hawks through gray catbirds, loggerhead kingbirds and hairy woodpeckers down to small warblers. If you take a picnic with you, you’ll have an excellent opportunity to bird watch.Loggerhead Kingbird in the National Park

This is what you will find when (if?) you reach the end of the road…

Park here. Mind the rocks. Far from advisable to continue further…

Hole-in-the-wall Lighthouse and outbuildings

The Entrance

No sign of renovation in Spring 2010

Land’s End – the southern tip of Great Abaco, and a good place for whale-watching

The internal staircase – access is easy, the door isn’t even kept shut let alone locked

THE UNEXPECTED REWARD for our endurance was to find, beside the path back to the car, a small group of Bahama Woodstars. This is the endemic species of hummingbird, and they are rare where there are the Cuban Emerald imports (at Delphi, for example). The ones we saw were all female – the males are iridescent green with a purple front. They were amazingly unafraid of us, flying back and forth around us,  and quite happy to perch almost within arms’ reach and watch us watching them. They were completely enchanting, and cheered us up for the forthcoming journey back – fortunately it gets easier – and a picnic by a logging road once the track-terror had subsided.

STOP PRESS: Courtesy of batfa242 / Panoramio who braved the dodgy-looking spiral staircase in the lighthouse, here is a fantastic shot of ‘Land’s End’ taken across the lamp and through the glass. Many thanks for permission to use this – it makes me regret not having had the spirit of adventure to make the climb… Double-click for a very detailed view, including the in-built fresnel lens… (and see HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE post)

POST SCRIPT: I am very grateful to Marinas.com for permission to download this wonderful aerial image of Hole-in-the-Wall lighthouse and its outbuildings, looking towards the southern tip of Abaco. They have generously enabled a completely cost and watermark-free download. I have added the © detail. Thanks, guys.