story and photos by Derek Doeffinger
Each spring nature unleashes a force that creates a spectacle unlike any other in the Finger Lakes Region. Now’s the time you can see wild waves pounding the pier of the Sodus Point Lighthouse and exploding into amazing water sculptures. When the conditions are right, unrelenting, wind-driven waves crash so hard against the pier that they create giant curtains of water that wrap around the entire lighthouse. That lighthouse is fifty-one feet tall.
It’s a sight not to be missed.
The combination of wind strength and direction are key to producing waves with sufficient height, power, and just the right angle to smash like a Goodyear blimp-sized water balloon into the pier.
The best wave-making winds blow out of Canada. When the wind-mapping weather website ventusky.com (click on “wind gusts” and use the “change date” button for a wind gust forecast) or your local weather channel reveals Toronto or its neighbors to the east to be huffing and puffing directly at Sodus Point, the winds are perfect for creating wave explosions. Given a fetch of open water over 100 miles long, the winds barrel unimpeded across the lake like a runaway train. When gusts exceed 30 miles per hour, the wave splashes start eliciting ooos and ahhs, and at over 40 miles per hour they make you glad you aren’t out there among them. Unless you’re a seagull. For some reason, seagulls seem to delight in a gale. In front of the lighthouse, a small band often dips and pivots, verves away and returns again and again to revel in the feather-tearing gusts.
Like a hand flipping along the spokes of a bike wheel, the waves sometimes zip along the length of the pier and its crenelated structure, creating a necklace-like display of wave splashes about ten feet high.
You may wonder if you want to brave 40+ miles-per-hour winds. But you don’t have to. You can simply park at the north end of the beach lot and watch from the comfort of your car. Everybody else does. Should you open your window or step onto the beach, you’ll feel a sandblast of grains from the beach. I’m still finding small pockets of sand on my dashboard from photographing through an open car window.
For almost two hundred years, a lighthouse has called out the bay entrance. The current pier lighthouse was built in 1938 and is more accurately known as the Sodus Outer Light. A half mile to the west, the older and more handsome lighthouse complex, now called the Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum, overlooks the bay and lake from a bluff. Its attractive block tower attached to the museum building stands on lovely grounds. Open from May to October, it’s worth walking around any time of the year (sodusbaylighthouse.org).
To get to the village of Sodus Point and the lighthouse, just get on Rt. 14 north at your earliest convenience (from exit 42 on the Thruway, or from Route 31, Route 5/20, or Route 104) and turn right onto Bay Street in the village and then follow signs to Sodus Point Beach Park/Coast Guard station.