We take ADAM ROCKS UNLIMITED on a coastal adventure to learn about how lighthouses and their connection with the past, the future and the people who use them
When I was a child, I stood on the balcony outside my brother’s bedroom window and pretended to be a sea captain. Actually, he was the captain, and I was his first mate, because that’s the sort of thing that happens when you’re a younger sibling. But whatever, the point is that I grew up dreaming about life on the high seas – and fascinated by the safe refuge offered by a lighthouse and its crew.
This brings me to my trip to the Dorset coastline in the ADAM ROCKS UNLIMITED. Here, I can experience a real-life lighthouse for myself, get under the skin of how they work, and understand at first-hand how they connect the land and sea with nothing more than a bright light and a loud foghorn.
More than that, I am eager to find out how lighthouses work in an age of automation. Since the UK’s last lighthouse keeper left office in 1998, every lantern in the country has been controlled remotely from a hub in Essex. That’s a pretty impressive technological feat, and I want to discover how it’s achieved.
My journey begins with a dawn awakening, ears filled by the sound of crashing waves right outside the bedroom window. I’m staying in one of two former lighthouse keeper’s cottages at Anvil Point, right by the sea in the beautiful surroundings of Durlston Country Park near Swanage.
After a leisurely breakfast, it’s time for a drive through the Purbeck Hills to the old harbour at Weymouth. The ADAM ROCKS UNLIMITED really comes into its own as I make my way along the coast. With the retractable canvas roof, which comes as standard, wound back, the perky 115PS 1.0-litre ecoFLEX turbo engine spirited me through the Dorset countryside in no small amount of style. The engine is the star of the ADAM range and combines smooth power delivery with amazing frugality, offering up to 56.5mpg on the combined cycle.
Even though Weymouth’s heyday as a fishing port is long gone, there are plenty of boats moored alongside the harbour wall, and I want to ask their skippers about the realities of life at sea.
Skipper Dave Pitman has been fishing all of his working life, starting out more than 40 years ago as a crewman for his father. In those days, it was all commercial fishing, but an accident and changing trading conditions made the charter market more appealing for Dave when the new millennium arrived. “Fishing is a hard life,” he muses, leaning against the cabin of his 35-foot boat, Atlanta. “But I can’t imagine ever giving it up. Charters are a good way of keeping my hand in, while avoiding the slog of running a commercial vessel.”
That said, there’s nothing remotely amateurish about Dave’s set-up. His cabin is filled with cutting-edge navigational technology, helping him find his way even when conditions turn bleak. As a former lifeboatman, Dave sees the importance of keeping safe on the water. “You have to remember that the sea is always boss,” he cautions, “no matter how clever your on-board technology. I’ve seen some awful conditions just a short distance offshore, so I’ve never lost my respect for the sea.”
Once again, the ADAM ROCKS UNLIMITED is a joy to pilot as I trace a route down the coast, alongside Chesil Beach, to Portland Bill Lighthouse. While I travel, I get to know the on-board tech that the ADAM ROCKS UNLIMITED has to offer and, like Dave’s fishing boat, connectivity is very much the watchword. Central to this is Vauxhall’s IntelliLink infotainment system, which supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This facilitates a seamless link with your smartphone, meaning you can display and control a range of apps via the touchscreen or using voice commands.
The user interface is a 7-inch, high-definition, colour touchscreen, which is highly intuitive to use. As a result, you can keep your eyes firmly fixed on the road, while having access to the world of communication provided by your mobile phone. On Apple iOS devices, you can even have text messages read aloud as you travel from A to B. You can also project your smartphone navigation app (such as Apple Maps) onto the 7-inch colour touchscreen.
To the lighthouse
As it happens, I don’t need any help in finding my next stop. Portland Bill stands like a striped sentry, guarding the island from the crashing waves and providing a constant reminder to the people onshore that there are folk on the water, risking life and limb as they battle with the elements.
If you’re out at sea, it’s an important means of communication. The flashes that emanate from the lighthouse’s lantern provide information about navigation, weather conditions and the position of other vessels. Meanwhile, the distinctive markings, horn blast and light signal – known as a lighthouse’s “character” – enable it to be identified, helping sailors to get their bearings.
Thanks to their use of special Fresnel lenses, which amplify light so it can be transmitted over a greater distance, lighthouses also serve as giant torches that illuminate tricky passages of sea. At Portland Bill, for instance, the lighthouse casts its light over the disrupted currents of the Portland Race. In rough conditions, this section of sea can be hazardous in the extreme.
The last lighthouse keeper left Portland in 1996, and since then the signal has been operated remotely from the Trinity House Operations and Planning Centre in Harwich. As it happens, the system relies on similar technology to the ADAM ROCKS UNLIMITED’s on-board communications, albeit on a grander scale. That means it’s a mix of telephone signals and clever computers, installed with the latest software. It enables the techies in Essex to monitor what’s happening at each of the 64 lighthouses on the UK coastline, controlling their signals and sending repair crews via helicopter when problems arise.
Such technology has transformed the way lighthouses function, not least because it obviates the need for on-site staff. But nothing changes the significance of the structures themselves. Lighthouses like the one at Portland Bill don’t just serve as a means of connecting the sea with the land. And they’re not of interest merely because of the clever technology used to control them from afar. They are also a way of connecting people with history, helping them understand the place they come from and, a little like in my childhood fantasies, reminding seafarers of the security of home.