30 Apl, 2015    #43

Sand Key Lighthouse

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Looking up, the Sand Key lighthouse seemed to be tilting towards Havana, as vertigo pushed me into the warm island sand.  We had been snorkeling all morning and feeling the heat penetrate my cold body seemed to bridge a spiritual connection with the universe.  It was a moment of pure, relaxing warmth as we lay stretched out on a scintillating virgin surface.


Eventually, the relentless sun forced us into the welcomed shade of the lighthouse column where we wolfed down several sandwiches followed by ice cold sodas.  Even though we had snorkeled Sand Key waters many times before, this was the first time tidal sand completely covered the coral atoll.  Cautioned by parents that swimming on a full stomach was asking for trouble, we decided to take time and explore the vacant, but fully functional lighthouse.


The structure was first built in the early 19th century and housed a keeper’s residence on an elevated lower level surrounded by spider leg scaffolding.  Climbing the rusted stairs onto the deck, the visual angle of the water begin to reveal coral heads previously hidden by surface reflection.  Approaching the locked entrance, we were greeted by a plaque prohibiting trespassing, as this was the property of the US Coast Guard.  Witnessed by only a few gulls and diving cormorants, the door surprisingly flew open with a single, synchronized push!


Requiring several minutes for our vision to adjust, we eventually viewed the emptiness of the dank living quarters.  Noticing several large gas cylinders strapped against a wall, I followed connected copper tubing across the ceiling and up the lighthouse’s central column.  Looking up, I could see the flashing light timed with the double clicking of a mechanism.  Without much thought, I immediately started towards the light.  “Mike, I wouldn’t go up there, it doesn’t look safe”.  “It’s OK Bobby”, I replied. “The Coast Guard uses these steps, so they must be safe”.


The dilapidated staircase protruded from the curved walls like dead limbs from a tree trunk.   As I began to ascend the spiral labyrinth, I instinctively reached for the safety of a handrail, which didn’t exist!  Looking below, my classmates stared back with dimly lit expressions of concern.  If a step failed to support my 100 pounds (38 Kg), it would be all over.  Nevertheless, I was compelled to continue by the adventure of it all.


Reaching the top, I entered into a circular glass enclosure containing a large spherical lens which housed a blinding bright gas flame.  Two flashes of light, with a 15 second pause, would warn mariners of the submerged reef.  While moving around the large crystal, sun rays showed off their spectrums in dazzling bursts of refracted color.  Noticing a small door that opened onto an outside catwalk, I decided to follow my curiosity.


Once outside, the view was breathtaking, as I scanned across an infinite blue horizon towards Cuba, and then back at Key West.  Directly below, the transparent, blue turquoise reef was now redefined by characteristics previously unknown to us.   Just 100 meters to the south, a large patch of white sand contained the faint outline of an old sunken boat.  I couldn’t wait to tell the others.

To Be Continued





Mike Kohut, President, DDMS




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Copyright: 2015 by Michael L. Kohut
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