WASHINGTON - Point No Point, as it is called, is not the type of lighthouse that's depicted on postcards, towering nobly over surging waves, surrounded by rocky cliffs and billowing clouds. As a piece of real estate, this one is definitely a fixer-upper.
A century's worth of sea gull droppings coats the roof. There are no utilities, just an outhouse hanging off a deck about a story above sea level.
Complicating matters for any would-be owner is that Point No Point Lighthouse is not accessible by road or even located on land. It rises stubbily out of the Chesapeake Bay more than 2 nautical miles from the Southern Maryland shore.
After the federal government decided to sell the 102-year-old lighthouse, several prospective buyers expressed interest, but few knew exactly what they were getting into.
They included historians, such as Ron Riedinger of Martinsburg, W.Va., interested in preserving the relic. Riedinger knows that the lighthouse floated down the bay not once but twice while it was being built during the early 1900s.
Designer Dan Moore and his partner, Shawn Cox, want to use building materials that are green-friendly, but they would also like to add a generator to keep beer cold.
Environmentalists Kay and Tom Burrell say they are looking for a weekend place where they can harness wind, tide, and solar power. Entrepreneurs Robert Smith and Rich Wilson want to convert the lighthouse into a bed-and-breakfast.
On a recent chilly morning, nine of the prospects gathered at a dock in St. Mary's County. For some, it was their second attempt at a viewing; an open house last month was canceled because of high seas. To see the lighthouse, they had to pay a refundable deposit of $10,000.
They strapped on life jackets, climbed aboard two Coast Guard boats, and headed into the bay.
"There it is," Kay Burrell said as Point No Point appeared in the distance. This, she had been thinking, could be a project for her and her husband now that the children are in college.
As the lighthouse neared, it became clear how much of a project it would be. The visitors were reminded not to lean against railings on the site.
Then they stepped from the bow of their vessel onto a swaying metal ladder.
On the lighthouse deck, some took a moment to soak in the view of the dark waters and sky. Others pushed open the unlocked door and ventured inside, greeted by a musty smell.
The visitors rushed up and down the spiral staircase: up to the second floor to see what could be used as two bedrooms and two dressing rooms, up to the third floor to see an open space, down to a basement, where they found elaborate brickwork, then all the way up to the solar-operated light, which comes on at dusk.
Bidders have offered as much as $135,000 in an online auction that opened in late September. The auction has been temporarily suspended because the lighthouse serves as a boundary marker for a restricted area as defined by the Navy, and additional deed restrictions might be required.
There are other strings attached. The successful bidder must be prepared for the US Coast Guard to drop in anytime to check the light and foghorn, and the winner must maintain the lighthouse, particularly the ladder, so that it can function.
Because Point No Point is a historic landmark, improvements must meet certain standards - meaning that an owner had better think twice before installing satellite TV.
In 2000, Congress authorized the sale of historic lighthouses at auctions. Local governments and nonprofit groups are given a chance to buy the lighthouses first; none expressed interest in Point No Point. The US General Services Administration promises a three-day notice before it closes the auction for the place.