Grand Manan man gets dream job at Machias Seal Island lighthouse

Ken Ingersoll spent most of January working on the light station on Machias Seal Island, which is easiest to reach by Coast Guard helicopter (submitted by Ken Ingersoll - photo credit)

Ken Ingersoll spent most of January working on the light station on Machias Seal Island, which is easiest to reach by Coast Guard helicopter (submitted by Ken Ingersoll – photo credit)

If lighthouses are your thing, a job on Machias Seal Island is a dream.

Just 12 miles southwest of Grand Manan, the 12-acre island has been home to a lighthouse for nearly two centuries.

For example, for Grand Manan’s Ken Ingersoll, a four-week assignment tending the remote lighthouse was a thrill from the moment he arrived.

“One of the things I noticed when we landed on Machias [Seal Island] was how perfect everything was,” Ingersoll said in an interview with Information Tomorrow Saint John.

“Everything had its place … and as soon as I looked at it, I knew immediately that … this is the place for me, and I knew immediately that it was a place that I would be a part of, to keep it that way, to keep it spotless.”

Ingersoll has been a volunteer warden for 15 years, maintaining both the Swallowtail Lighthouse and the Long Eddy Point Lighthouse on Grand Manan.

Submitted by Ken Ingersoll

Submitted by Ken Ingersoll

While doing this, he met some Coast Guard personnel who encouraged him to apply for a temporary position on Machias Seal Island.

“They just said, ‘Hey man, you should apply to Machias. You would be great out there.’ So I thought about it and applied and jumped through the hoops and they called me and hired me.”

Ingersoll said the psychological demands of the job appear to be very important to the Coast Guard.

“I think it’s basically about wanting and being able to work and live in isolation without difficulty,” he said.

Ingersoll said that was not a problem for him.

“It’s pretty nice out there. It’s quiet, the view is spectacular. The storms are unbelievable but remember we have had a light station there since 1832.

Google Maps

Google Maps

Ingersoll experienced two with wind speeds in excess of 110 km/h during his stint in January.

With weather like this, the only thing to do is stay indoors and not expose yourself to unnecessary risk, he said.

“Going outside that night to check on anything would have been very damaging and probably knocked you off the boardwalk,” he said, adding that always in the back of your mind you know not to call 911 if something happens.

He said the worst thing that happened during his first month-long stint was he almost ran out of coffee. Luckily, a Coast Guard crew came out to replace the light in the lighthouse and he was able to get an emergency supply.

“Crisis averted,” he said.

Joe MacDonald/CBC

Joe MacDonald/CBC

Essentially, the keepers keep the automated systems working properly and they conduct weather observations for Environment Canada four times a day.

They also help assert Canada’s claims to the island, which the United States government disputes.

For now, Ingersoll will be doing three stints a year, each lasting a month.

He’s looking forward to his next trip in the spring, which he said will be a very different experience.

“Because you have the students from UNBSJ, they stay in the second house. And the puffins and the razor beaks and the terns come to nest, he said.

Shane Fowler/CBC

Shane Fowler/CBC

“So it would be a very different emotional island than when I was there in January.”

Ingersoll said it’s amazing to be one of the few people in modern times who experience that kind of life.

“It is an honor for me to be part of a 200-year-old light station. And there aren’t many of those left, you know.

“It’s really hard to find a job as a lightkeeper and get paid for it in 2023.”


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