THE WORST DAY AT GOAT ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE

Goat Island Lighthouse keeper Marty Cain and his wife Mary in 1977.

Goat Island Lighthouse keeper Marty Cain and his wife Mary in 1977.

Last week’s blog spotlighted “a day in the life” of Scott Dombrowski, the the lighthouse keeper on Goat Island, just offshore from Cape Porpoise, Maine. Many readers wrote to me or commented on the blog how much they admired Scott and his wife. Others mentioned “how idyllic a life” it must be out there on Goat Island. 

It’s not always blue skies with sunshine sparkling on the Atlantic! 

On the same day I interviewed Scott for TOURIST & TOWN (the best biweekly newspaper in southern Maine!), I met Marty Cain, lighthouse keeper in the mid-1970s. His experience during the infamous Blizzard of 1978 puts a keeper’s life in perspective, and I wanted to share his story. 

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THE WORST DAY AT GOAT ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE

“It’s beautiful out here in the summer, spring is a bitch, but it’s absolute hell in winter,” says Marty Cain, Goat Island lighthouse keeper from 1975 to 1978. Cain and his family were living full-time on Goat Island when the blizzard of ’78 hit coastal Maine during the first week of February. 

The historic storm arrived on the heels of a January blizzard that had dropped 21 inches of snow. A new moon on February 6 meant excessively high winter tides would be rising on the shoreline. Winds were being clocked at 100 MPH. And the Cain family — Marty, his wife Mary, their two-and-a-half-year-old son Marty II and a six-month-old baby boy —lived full-time on the low-lying island that was being deluged and rapidly going underwater. They had no electricity or heat, and no way to escape to the mainland, less than a mile away. 

“I woke up about 5:30 hearing a strange noise,” Cain says. “I walked down the covered walkway that connects our quarters to the lighthouse, and heard water rushing underneath. When I went back to the kitchen and closed the door, we all heard a horrible noise. The 125-foot walkway was ripped right off the house. It folded like an accordion. It’s a sound I’ll never forget. If I’d still been in the walkway, I would have been washed out to sea.”

This 125-foot-long covered walkway connects the keeper’s quarters to the lighthouse. When Marty Cain and his family lived here in the mid-1970s, his young son Marty II rode his Big Wheels up and down the lengthy corridor. This walkway was washed out to sea during the height of the ‘78 storm..

This 125-foot-long covered walkway connects the keeper’s quarters to the lighthouse. When Marty Cain and his family lived here in the mid-1970s, his young son Marty II rode his Big Wheels up and down the lengthy corridor. This walkway was washed out to sea during the height of the ‘78 storm..

Cain was not a novice keeper. He’d been a caretaker at Doubling Point Light and Squirrel Point Light near Bath. “But I knew high tide was coming at 11 that morning, and I knew we were in big trouble,” he says. “Problem was, we couldn’t communicate with anyone except a few lobstermen in Cape Porpoise. And the seas were so rough, they couldn’t get to us.”

A day and a half harrowing days later, after huddling under blankets for warmth in their dark kitchen, the Cain family was airlifted to safety by a  Coast Guard helicopter. Shortly thereafter, with “encouragement” from his wife Mary, Cain retired from lighthouse keeping. 

Today, he “still misses that life” but is contentedly settled in Arundel, Maine, sharing maritime memories with his grandchildren. One of his favorites, he admits, is telling them about his toughest day at the Goat Island lighthouse.

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