The primary motif on the 50-krone note: a lighthouse, inspired by Utvær Lighthouse

If you approach the Norwegian coast at night at about 61 degrees north, the flash of Utvær Lighthouse will probably be your first sight of land. A flash of white light every 30 seconds is Utvær's identification signal or phase characteristic. The lighthouse is located on one of the Utvær Islands, Norway's westernmost outpost, eight kilometres out to sea from the island Ytre Sula outside Sognefjord.

Based on a text by Jo van der Eynden

The Utvær Lighthouse was built in 1900 as one of the larger coastal lighthouses to provide both fishing and merchant fleets with reliable land sighting on the westernmost portion of the coastal islands. A 31-metre-high cast-iron tower was constructed to give the beacon the longest range possible. A first order Fresnel lens, ie the most powerful available at the time, was installed in the lantern room at the top of the tower. To enable it to rotate, the entire lens assembly, constructed of glass prisms, brass and cast iron and weighing several tonnes, floated in a bath of liquid mercury. The rotation speed, together with the design of the lens, determined the lighthouse's phase characteristic. At the same time as the lighthouse was constructed, a separate dwelling comprising three apartments was also built for the lighthouse keepers.

The tower itself is made of pre-fabricated components from the S.H. Lundh & Co iron foundry in Kristiania (now Oslo). Even though the components were heavy, once the foundations had been laid, the tower rose quickly. This design was ideal for the numerous remote and stormy locations where lighthouses were needed and was the reason cast-iron lighthouses became practically a Norwegian speciality. While it is true that the first iron tower was built in England in 1842, as early as 1853, the Bærums Verk foundry was commissioned to cast a 33-metre high lighthouse for Eigerøya. In the course of a century, Norwegian foundries delivered and erected 40 iron towers.

During the Second World War, German troops occupied the majority of the larger coastal lighthouses. The lighthouses were to be lit only when needed by German ships and convoys. In spring 1945, the Utvær Lighthouse was fired upon by Allied aircraft. The lantern room and the lighthouse lens were destroyed, and the lighthouse keeper's quarters and adjacent outbuildings burned to the ground. It was not until 1948 that reconstruction was started, and a new lantern room with a third-order Fresnel lens and flashing beacon were put in place.

In 1954, a radio beacon was installed on Utvær. The beacon transmitted sound waves that could be detected and located by ships in the surrounding waters, in the same way that individual lighthouses could be recognised by their specific phase characteristics. On the north side of the tower, a secondary lighthouse was erected. This sector light was intended to secure the fairway outside the foul waters on the north side of Utvær.

In 1997, Norway was one of the first countries in the world to implement a national preservation plan for lighthouses. In 1999, Utvær Lighthouse received listed status as a national cultural monument. In spring 2004, the lighthouse was automated and became unmanned. The lighthouse station is still owned by the government and run by the Norwegian Coastal Administration, but Solund Municipality is permitted to use the lighthouse buildings. The municipality cooperates with the non-profit organisation Vener av Utvær fyr (Friends of Utvær Lighthouse), which works to preserve the buildings and other cultural monuments on Utvær.

Published 5 October 2018 14:08