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.
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
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
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
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.