Roman Rock Lighthouse, False Bay, built between 1861 and 1865. Note that the word somewhere is missing from that sentence, the reason being? One hundred and fifty years ago work began on building this Structure of Circular cast iron, one of the few in the world which is situated on a rock in the ocean, the majority being on promontories which jut out into the ocean rather like Cape Point lighthouse. And because of its location and vulnerability to the waters in which it was built, the erection of the structure took 4 years. Ferce winds and seas allowed only 96 working days during these four years. From Jan 7 to June 8 1861 for example it was only possible to work on 5 occasions.
The lighthouse owes its existence to a Joseph Nourse Commodore, Royal Navy, Simons Town who when writing to the Secretary General of the Admiralty in London, stressed the importance of the safety of His Majestys ships coming into the anchor at Simons Bay at night. But the proposed site for this lighthouse was not always to be Roman Rock, and from 1823 to 1853, three or four other possible sites were suggested. But in the end it was Roman Rock who won, despite the great costs of erecting it on this site. The lighthouse was designed by Alexander Gordon of the British Lighthouse Authority and the cost was to be between £ 3,000 and £ 3,500. In 1857 the ship ROYAL SAXON arrived with the mechanism. Cast iron segments were bolted together and the lowest rung secured to the rock. The stone was quarried from Seaforth beach, from the rock behind and under the present restaurant, assembled there on site and numbered, before being ferried out to the required site. This first mechanism had a focal plane of 16,5 m above high water with a range of 19,3 km. It was not a great success as only 1 reflector was visible at a time. There were 8 reflectors in all and they made a revolution every 4 minutes. In 1914 the mechanism was replaced and thereafter the tower was no longer manned. It was powered by dissolved acetylene gas. The gas cylinders were renewed every 3 - 4 months. The automatic flash occurred every 6 seconds. Part of the 1914 mechanism is on display at the Simon's Town Museum.
In 1992 the South African Navy asked for it to be electrified as by now the bright lights of Simons Town and Kalk Bay over-shadowed it. It now also has a back-up diesel engine and solar panels. The old dome was replaced by a glass fibre one when the dome was air-lifted to the lighthouse by a Sikorsky 861 helicopter.
This impressive structure which has defied the South-East gales and surging seas which have submerged it every summer for 142 years has kept watch over the waters of False Bay, and continues to guide home the Naval ships to their harbour.
An automatic weather station was erected on the Roman Rock Lighthouse during April 2002. This new facility provides for an ideal monitoring site of maritime air. The site is situated 1.5 km offshore and provides measurements (approximate height 17 m above sea level) of weather unaffected by land features such as local heating and buildings. The solar powered data logger reads near real time data before it is transmitted to IMT every 10 minutes via UHF radio link. The data is logged to a computer on IMT premises. The nesting of the birds on the Helipad at Roman Rock created an environmental issue which was resolved by arrangements with Portnet, Marine & Coastal Management and SANCOB. All above mentioned organizations were (and will continue to be) involved in the safe relocation of nesting birds on the helipad.
Due to its location, Roman Rock lighthouse is best viewed from the shore, unless you are one of the lucky few who have been commissioned to work on the site
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