The rough waters of the Caribbean Sea lashed at the bow of the boat. In the midst of that storm, the sailors did everything possible to keep their ship afloat, while the captain directed, helm in hand, his gaze towards the impenetrable darkness of the horizon.
And just when the storm was drowning the captain’s hopes, the light that would save them shone in the distance … It was the Cardona Island Lighthouse.
This story could be an imaginary one. Maybe not. However, what does seem imminent is that the historic sentinel of Cayo Cardona in Ponce is about to be extinguished, forever.
According to Dr. José A. Mari Mut, who published the book Los Lighthouses of Puerto Rico, the lighthouses built in the country “are the product of a master plan prepared by the government in response to the needs of maritime trade, which for the century 19 were the only way to import and export products, and the main route to transport merchandise from one place to another on the island ”.
In fact, between 1882 and 1922 Puerto Rico witnessed the construction of 18 lighthouses, some of which remain in operation.
One of them is the so-called Faro de Isla Cardona, also known as Faro del Puerto de Ponce or Faro de Cayo Cardona, which was designed by the Andalusian engineer Manuel Maese Peña with an attached 32-foot-tall cylindrical tower. It was installed under Spanish rule in 1889 and was automated in 1962.
In 1942, during World War II, its use was discontinued, but it was turned on again on November 10, 1943.
Its home island, six acres in size, was listed on October 22, 1981 in the United States National Register of Historic Places and is located west of the sea entrance to the Port of Ponce.
History, tourism and economy
Mari Mut says in her book that Puerto Rico’s first plan for maritime lighting did not include a lighthouse for the port of Ponce, although merchants in the city had been requesting a light lookout for the port for years.
Faced with the snub, Ponce’s merchants united, raised the capital and installed a beacon lens on their own on the roof of the building occupied by the port captaincy.
The central government rejected the initiative, seized the primitive lighthouse and ordered an auxiliary lighthouse keeper to operate it until a structure was built that would meet the requirements established for lighthouses being built on the island.
Finally, the government fulfilled its promise and the Ponce lighthouse was built on Cardona Island, inaugurating on August 15, 1889.
“This lighthouse is vital for the ships that enter Ponce. Mark the reef area at the entrance to the bay. The entrance is narrow and the lighthouse indicates to the boats how close they are to the reefs and the island. It is extremely important for navigation, ”explained Rafael“ Rafy ”Vega Figueroa, a businessman from Ponce who has been in the tourism industry for more than 30 years.
Rafy began making trips on his boat to Caja de Muertos and in 2012 he tried to retire.
“After two years trying to retire, I made an investment in a boat and we incorporated Waterland Adventure to make the trips to Isla Cardona. We have been doing this service for seven years now, ”he explained.
“That little island was practically not being used for tourism. We started to develop it, clean it, and we spent about six months removing debris and things that people left there, ”Vega explained.
Sor Isolina Ferré Island or Cayo Cardona is administered by the Department of Natural Resources (DRNA), so Rafy has a concession from the agency to bring tourists to the place, especially the lighthouse.
“The lighthouse is the point of attraction for the people we bring to the island. When we started, it was practically abandoned, full of graffiti and we took on the task of painting it on the outside and inside. We put it in attractive conditions for people who visit the island, “he continued.
“The top part is like a large terrace, about 40 feet by 20. On that balcony there is a flagpole and every day we make the trips, in the morning we put the flag of Puerto Rico and in the afternoon we we bring it. That’s the point where everyone is going to take photos, “he added.
Lacerated by earthquakes
Unfortunately, this historic and tourist structure suffered significant damage in the earthquakes and their aftershocks last year.
“The condition of the lighthouse is quite critical. It suffered cracks in the part of the tower that go from the floor to the top, where the light is. What is maintaining the structure is the spiral staircase that is inside. That gives strength to the tower so that it does not collapse ”, explained Freddy Vega.
In mid-2020, the federal Coast Guard, the entity in charge of the lighthouses, ordered to inspect the one on Isla Cardona to make a decision: restore or demolish it.
“The officer in charge of the project, demolition or restoration, agreed to contact me when they had a decision. It seems they haven’t taken it yet. The engineer who came to inspect said that the lighthouse is repairable and can be salvaged, but perhaps the Coast Guard did not have the money to repair it. “
“For them it is easier to demolish the tower and build a metal structure with a light. The appeal of a metal headlamp is not the same. If they decide to destroy the lighthouse, it would be destroying part of the history of Puerto Rico, and of Ponce in particular, ”Vega said.
And faced with this uncertain panorama, the Ponce businessman is already making arrangements with groups that are interested in rescuing this icon of Ponce’s coastal coastline.
“You have to create awareness to save the lighthouse and not destroy it,” he said.
“Before the elections, I informed the municipal and state tourism offices what was happening. Now a meeting with the new mayor is being arranged. I really would like that the people of Ponce who have an inherence in construction or design, such as the School of Architecture of the Catholic University, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture and the Office of Art and Culture of the Municipality, we all unite to save the lighthouse ”, Rafy added.
“In the end the purpose is to save the lighthouse,” he said.
People, organizations or companies interested in joining this effort can contact Vega Figueroa at 787-608-3082. Meanwhile, in La Perla del Sur we will closely follow the outcome of this story.