Lighthouse keepers extraordinaire
When Barb and Dan Aube made a trip to Maine from their home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut to visit Dan's parents in September 2012, they bought a copy of Points East Magazine. In it was an ad that read: “Are you looking for a dream job? How would you like to be a lighthouse keeper?”
The couple had both retired in March, and they didn't have any solid plans for the near future, except to spend some time with family and relax.
The lighthouse in question was the Cuckolds Light Station, off the coast of Newagen on Southport Island.
“We started laughing and I said, ‘Dan, you're a Maine Maritime Academy graduate,’” Barb said. “What could be more perfect for them?”
They soon learned that the job would require much more than “keeping” a lighthouse. The lighthouse station was in the process of being restored, and the keepers' house was being transformed into an upscale bed and breakfast. It would be called The Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse.
In addition to overseeing the lighthouse responsibilities, the keepers would be responsible for transporting guests between mainland and the island on a Coast Guard whaleboat, providing impeccable hospitality, and preparing and serving breakfasts, high tea and gourmet dinners.
And a U.S. Coast Guard Limited Master’s License was required to operate the whaleboat.
As they began to seriously consider applying for the positions, a possible glitch occurred.
“We had just rescued a black lab puppy from New Orleans,” Barb said. “We decided that if the dog couldn't go it would be a deal-breaker.”
When Janet Reingold, founder and vice president of the nonprofit Cuckolds Council, sent a detailed description of the position, they learned that pets were welcome and encouraged.
They took a two-day course in Boston for their licenses, and took the required courses in CPR and First Aid training.
“We started doing all this in October 2012 without knowing whether we'd be selected for the job,” Barb said.
The Aubes became the official keepers of Cuckolds Light Station in May of 2013.
“We couldn't live on the island then because construction was ongoing, so we started getting involved with the launch,” Barb said.
The launch, a 1969 Navy Coast Guard whale boat that had been in a shipyard for three years, was being restored to use for transporting guests to and from the island.
“We didn't have any plans to become involved in this, but it was fascinating, and it helped spur us on,” Barb said.
They went to Hodgdon Island in May of 2014 to stay in a temporary residence until the construction was complete.
“We worked on a lot of behind-the-scenes things, including the launch and setting things up for the bed and breakfast, getting involved with reservations and meal planning and preparation,” Dan said.
In June they received the certificate of inspection to carry a captain and 11 passengers.
They moved onto the island the first week in July.
“It was a lot more remote than we realized,” Barb said. “It had been over 40 years since anyone had lived on that little island.”
Barb was a little apprehensive about preparing dinners.
“I had said all along that I liked to cook, but I'm not a professional chef. We were asked to come up with dinner menus with five different entree items.” She started researching menus and coming up with ideas. She got hints from local chefs, and a chef/friend in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.
“We stuck with five entrees for the summer. We had a peach and dijon-glazed pork tenderloin, a beef tenderloin and, of course, lobster. We did lobster bakes on the island. And they included strawberry shortcake. I made the biscuits.”
Guests came from 18 or 19 states over the summer.
Once people arrived on the island, Dan said they would show them to their rooms and give them a quick emergency drill, followed by a tour of the island and an afternoon tea.
“Barb would always put together a nice tray of sweet and savory items for the tea.”
The Aubes couldn't be happier with their experience. “It was more than we ever could have known,” Barb said.
Dan concurred. “You're approaching the lighthouse, you get to the gangway, and everyone is in awe. We tell them we'll get their luggage and to just keep on trucking, and take it all in. Then we would take them up to their rooms, which are absolutely magnificent. It's not your average lighthouse. It's not even your average hotel.”
Sunny, the dog, adapted well to the island. He was kept tethered at all times, as black labs tend to have a fondness for water, and it wouldn't have been a safe place for him to swim. “He loved to watch the birds, he loved being outside and he loved all the guests, and they loved him.”
There was one bad storm while they were there.
“In August we had sea conditions that were quite intense. The seas moved our launch off the float and it went aground a mile and half away, on the rocks on the shore on Southport. But we were safe and secure on the island.”
The Aubes said they would do it again, but they both have aging parents, and they want to spend time with them.
“We wish we were going back next summer,” Barb said. “But we felt like we couldn't make a six month commitment.”
Asked what they would say to anyone who is considering taking on the role as lighthouse keepers for 2015, the couple responded with enthusiasm.
“They should do it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, to have the ability to be out there on the water and enjoy the fantastic views. They'll meet some very interesting people, from all walks of life. Being part of that made us feel extra special.”
The Aubes will be helping out with the transition with whoever is selected, and will continue to help by serving on the Cuckolds Council.
Janet Reingold said there were 75 applicants who applied for the position last summer.
“There were a lot of people who applied with experience with the water and the region, and had the kind of background that would make them well-suited, but Dan and Barb were over the top,” Reingold said. “They had phenomenal people skills. They were doing homework for a job they didn't even know they had yet.”
Reingold said they have made it a much easier job for the people who follow. “But they've also made it harder because the bar is so high. They are perfectionists. I hope they will remain involved and energized with this forever.”