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Applications Still Being Accepted for Lighthouse Keepers

Historic Richmond B&B seeks innkeeper

By Chris Treadway
West County Times

Posted: 12/06/2008 03:31:13 PM PST

Updated: 12/07/2008 06:42:48 AM PST


Click photo to enlarge


Elan Stewart takes in the view as he gives a tour of the lighthouse at the East Brother Light...


You could call running the East Brother Light Station bed-and-breakfast a specialized job. Or rather, a string of specialized jobs.

Elan and Katy Stewart can quickly tick off a few: boat captain, chef, maid, reservation clerk, mechanic, janitor, waiter, tour guide and curator.

The Stewarts have been innkeepers of the historic facility for three years, and East Brother Island, off the Richmond shoreline, is the only home their son, Drake, has known since his birth New Year's Day.

Like his parents, who have nautical backgrounds, Drake has acclimated to life on the island and loves being around and charming the B&B guests.

"He loves the boat, and he's totally fascinated with birds," Katy Stewart said. "He hates the car."

But with Drake approaching his 1st birthday, the couple has decided it's time to return to life on the mainland.

"It's a huge adjustment, definitely, to living with neighbors and traffic and everything," Katy Stewart said. "But it's time to try the real world for a while."

Separation from the real world, world-class views, picturesque buildings and free room and board are among the attractions of a job Richmond City Councilman Tom Butt calls "the opportunity of a lifetime" for the right candidates.

The workplace is an 1874 lighthouse on the small island just north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge that has breathtaking vistas of the Bay, San Francisco and Marin.

The installation and its Victorian-era buildings, at one time slated to be demolished after the light station was automated by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1969, are now on the National Register of Historic Places and cared for by the nonprofit East Brother Light Station Inc.

The volunteer organization, for which Butt serves as president, formed in 1979 to oversee the site's restoration and maintenance. Since its creation, the primary source of income for the work is the five-room B&B.

While the setting is an attraction for innkeeper candidates, it also comes with some unusual requirements.

"My advice is to look past the romance aspect and decide you want to run an inn by yourself," Katy Stewart said. "It's a little more complicated. You have to have a lot of energy; it's very physical."

Cooking and cleaning experience are secondary to the requirement that applicants be a couple who have a current U.S. Coast Guard commercial boat operator's license to operate the launch that almost daily brings guests and supplies to the island from Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor.

"If it weren't for that, we'd have 300 applications," Butt said.

The Stewarts quickly learned to get the most out of each 15- to 20-minute trip to shore, planning grocery and supply runs, hauling out garbage and lugging in 75-pound propane tanks.

"We have to do lots of planning for every little errand," Elan Stewart said.

Even with the job's unique requirements, "I think we're going to have a good field of applicants," Butt said.

"Actually, we started getting in some applications already," he said.

"This is a good time to recruit because business is down for a lot of people in nautical trades, especially the fishing industry."

The position doesn't have a set salary because it is entirely dependent on bookings at the B&B. Occupancy, which was near capacity before the dot-com bubble burst about eight years ago, is now around 70 percent.

Compensation also competes with the expensive task of maintaining a 134-year-old landmark.

"One of the things I've learned over the years is that while it may not be the best-paying job in the world and it's a lot of hard work, every young couple has been able to save a lot of money" because expenses such as room, board utilities are included, Butt said.

"It's a unique experience, and it looks good on your resume," he added.

While they will miss the island and its quirks, the Stewarts say they are ready to turn over the duties and return to a life where trips to the supermarket or an outing to the park with their son and two dogs are simple matters.

"We absolutely do not regret doing this," Katy Stewart said. "But I think it's good that we want to go before the charm wears off."

Reach Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784 or ctreadway@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Information and an application for the East Brother Light Station innkeeper position are available online at www.tombutt.com/pdf/keeper%20application%20package.pdf.