On July 20, 1741, Captain Vitus Bering named Cape St. Elias, which peaks at a height of 1,665 feet, for the saint whose day it was according to the Russian Orthodox Church calendar. The cape is actually the southwestern end of Kayak Island, which retains the name given it in 1826 by Lieutenant Sarichef of the Russian Navy for the island’s resemblance to an Eskimo skin canoe. The defining feature of the island is Pinnacle Rock that stands a half-mile off the western end of the cape like a giant exclamation point. Due to hidden rocks and reefs, the waters around the cape were regarded as one of the most dangerous points along the entire Alaskan coast.
The first attempt at establishing a light to mark Cape St. Elias was in 1912, when the lighthouse tender Armeria left Seattle, bound for Alaska where it was scheduled to deploy fourteen acetylene light buoys. Each of these lights was equipped with storage tanks that could keep a beacon burning day and night for at least six months. While anchored off Cape Hinchinbrook in preparation for delivering supplies to the lighthouse established there in 1910, the Aremeria was driven onto an uncharted rock by heavy swells. With a hole in the hull and water entering the engine room, the captain had no choice but to beach his craft.
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