National lighthouse number: 26620
Description: White tower and building. Focal plane 85 m
Light Color: white
Characteristic: GpD (3+1) B 22s (group of three flashes, plus one, every 22 seconds)
Range: 21 nautical milles
Active: since 1859.
The Columbretes Islands, located 34 miles from Castellón,are defiantly out of the sea. Thier lighthouse is located on Grossa Island’s hightest hill, 85 metres above sea level. It was considered the worst placefor lighthouse keepers to be sent in the entire peninsula because of how isolated it was. It was vacated during the Spanis Civil War and automated in 1961. Nowadays it is also used for scientific research.
Four volcanic rocks known as Colibrí, Terreras, Horadada and Bergantín form the most prominent part of a group of islands is islets known as the Columbrertes, which are located 34 miles from Castellón. The first of them, the largest, is also known as Grossa or l’illa and occupies an area of just 10 hectares. It is the visible part of a volcanic cone formed by two hills, joined by a rocky tongue strewn with lavas and slags, in which just a few nopales and low scrub grow. It forms a natural bay open to the east known as Puerto Tofiño, very dangerous with the Levante wind and has an average length from north to south of about 900 meters, with a maximum width of 200.
The highest hill is the one in the north, 65 meters above sea level. At its summit, a lighthouse was built, considered due to its isolation as the worst destination in the entire peninsula. The southern one reaches 45 meters in height and in it stands out a small cemetery with eleven graves, a funereal memory of the passage of tower keepers and relatives condemned to such painful exile, and a monument to the Sacred Heart.
Cited by Pliny, Mela and Strabo under the name of the Serpentarias, they were included by the Greeks in the group of the Ophiusas. These names and all subsequent ones – Columbretes, Colibrí – are significant of their ancestral inhabitants: the snakes. Isla Grossa, above all, was populated by the dangerous viper “vipera lataxi”, a serious problem that the inhabitants of the lighthouse had to face from the beginning.
To put an end to them, a squad of those sentenced to death was first sent, who were granted remission of the sentence in exchange for their participation in the extermination. After the death of several of them, the method was changed, transferring to the island a herd of pigs that eat the snakes but do not die from their poison. At last, around 1890, they disappeared permanently.
However, it was not yet free of dangers because the scorpions replaced them. An endemic species of the islands highly appreciated by naturalists was part of the distractions, scares and annoyances of the keepers, who made night hunts to exterminate them. From news that the interested parties have personally transmitted to me, there were times that more than 40 were killed.
Four entire families of officials came to inhabit it simultaneously. To ensure that the staff was covered, it was necessary to attend an annual draw to provide the 1st and 2nd keepers, the other two being directly appointed. The fear of being elected was so great that the head of the Cabo Blanco lighthouse shot himself on November 19, 1869, facing the possibility of being transferred as a result of a lack of service.
They spent practically all the time on the island without respite because, until 1916 the rest shifts did not begin and even so, it was one month off for every three of permanence. The supply was carried out every 15 days if the weather allowed it, which is very infrequent in winter. As in Alboran, the history of its penalties reached extreme points.
In addition to the aforementioned cemetery, a room in the old farmhouses had been set up as a chapel dedicated to the Virgen de los Desamparados. For your curiosity, this is the inventory of the State materials existing in the chapel in 1915:
Under the direction of the engineer Mojados, the lighthouse began to be built in October 1856, carrying out the transport of the material in the steamship Destellos.
Once the works were finished, it was inaugurated on December 30, 1859, exhibiting a characteristic of fixed white light and a range in ordinary time of 21 miles. It was equipped with a prismatic lantern and a first-rate apparatus purchased from the French house Sautter at the cost of 66,316 pesetas. This device consisted of three zones and had 13 prisms the upper one, 17 the central one and 6 the lower one. It also had a Mechanical watchmaker’s lamp for olive oil, initially served by three keepers, equipped with a Dotty lighter with four wicks that, after the oil, would successively use paraffin and oil.
On September 20, 1915, the fixed light characteristic was changed to that of groups of three occultations every 20 ”, for which the primitive apparatus and a system of screens recovered from the Tarifa lighthouse mounted on a mercury float powered by a weight-powered clockwork machine. A Chance 85 was also fitted with Barbier tanks and a life-saving lamp from the same house, with a constant level, a top tank and a five-wick lighter.
As of February 8, 1938, it was evicted and occupied by the army, which took over and seized the transmitting station. At the end of the war it was returned “together with a device to produce light”, in the port of Ferrol by the cruiser Canarias.
Starting in 1956, three consecutive projects were carried out by the engineer Fernando Berenguer to automate it. They included the acquisition of an acetylene incandescent equipment with a 50-liter burner, a solar valve, a 375-mm focal length lens, planned to give three flashes, and a new 3-meter diameter air-maritime lantern. It is planned to build a new tower, but in the end the one that already existed is located. Once the supplies were awarded to the AGA house and the Rational house, the installation works were carried out, inaugurating with it on July 24, 1961. This reform would entail the elimination of personnel, carried out once it was verified that the team responded satisfactorily. For greater security and in order to avoid that the islet without signaling in a hypothetical breakdown, two automatic beacons were also built at both ends of the island.
In 1984 a project was carried out to electrify it with solar panels, replacing the Dalen system and preserving the 375 mm catadioptric optics it had. It is equipped with a basement with electric drive and electronic control and automatic 4-lamp changer, 2 solar generators capable of producing respectively 216.6 ah / d and 27 ah / d, set of 3,300 a / h and 330 a / h batteries, with the corresponding control devices, with an installation budget of 17,270,820 pesetas. Likewise, the damaged building is conditioned and repaired.
Maintenance is carried out by a technician residing in Castellón, formerly stationed at the lighthouse, who makes periodic visits by means of a hired boat. To get to the island there are three different possibilities depending on the state of the sea, formed by simple stairways oriented at different points, the most used being that of Puerto Tofiño.