Windows to Calm and Storm Since 1852

Carysfort Windows

Summer doldrum or hurricane winds, the windows of Carysfort Reef Light have been a portal to the moods of the Atlantic Ocean since 1852. Lighthouse keepers quartered there must have fought boredom on days when all there was to do was watch fish swim in the shallows beneath them and keep the light lit. Despite the sparkling beauty of Florida’s waters, guiding mariners safely away from the treacherous shallows was a lonely mission.

Before the lighthouse was constructed, the reef was marked by lightships. The first named Caesar in 1825 ran aground on its route from New York City at Key Biscayne during a storm. The ship was salvaged by wreckers out of Key West and ultimately the owners had to buy back their own ship in order to finally place it at Carysfort Reef. Like its replacement lightship, the Florida, these vessels were subject to being blown off station by storms and running aground on the very reef they guarded. Carysfort Reef Light derives its name from the HMS Carysfort, a 20 gun Royal Navy ship which ran afoul of the reef in 1770.

I can still remember the first time I heard that George Meade was involved with the building of lighthouses. I only knew him as the Civil War general victorious at Gettysburg. The teaching of history can be very narrow with information tied to specific events. Historical figures have much more depth than a single date, time or place. So I never knew as a young lieutenant with the Army Corp of Topographical Engineers, George Meade was surveying for reef lights in Florida. And, as it would happen, Carysfort Light was his first such project!

While Carysfort Reef Light is the oldest of its kind still functioning in the U.S. we cannot take for granted the survival of this or any of Florida’s reef lights. The original Fresnel lens was replaced by an xenon flash tube and the beacon was automated in 1960. Time and technology have marched on  and today the Coast Guard is divesting itself of the aging beacons. These steadfast sentinels which have stood for over 150 years are now deemed too expensive to maintain.

So in early August this year, Jack Hardy a photographer friend who resides in the lovely city of Cuenca, Ecuador, visited my neck of the woods. It seemed natural to include one of the reef lights in our day of boating and snorkeling the upper keys…a good historical photo opportunity with perhaps a time limit. The water was like glass, a perfect Florida summer day as we headed to the red octagonal tower six nautical miles east of Key Largo. We weren’t alone as we encountered snorkelers already enjoying the day swimming around the base of the beacon.

The images below are various shots taken that day showing Jack one of Florida’s six reef lights and a little sample of my life taking pictures of these special historical structures from the 19′ Nautica Inflatable we call Janthina! And, you can’t beat sharing with friends!



Carysfort Approach

Could the water be more glorious!! But,  you can see how shallow as we approach the lighthouse.

Carysfort Lighthouse

A closer up view shows some detail of the screw pile, pyramidal, octagonal tower and its traditional red paint job! Birds (Cormorants here) always happy to find a resting place out at sea, are perched on the various support beams.


Carysfort Back and White

A black and white treatment reveals velvety smooth of those doldrum days so perfect for a boat ride and exploring the reef.

Jack Hardy - Photogapher

Jack Hardy aka Saipan Jack long time resident of Saipan now residing in Cuenca, Ecuador. Click his pic to go to his photo site.

Summer Sky - Moody

One of the fun things about converting images to black and white is changing the mood. Which day was it? A soft summer blue or something a bit more dramatic?

Summer Sky Over - Upper Keys


 Florida Lighthouse Specialty License PlateClick the Florida Lighthouse Plate image to link over to one way to help raise funds for the preservation of Florida’s historic lighthouses.


~ by Judy on October 12, 2014.

12 Responses to “Windows to Calm and Storm Since 1852”

  1. Didn’t know that about Meade, either. Thank you!

    • The first time I read lighthouse histories mentioning George Meade and looking up the designers and builders, I thought that name was so familiar, then…not THE George Meade!! But, it was! Perhaps the Civil War was something he could not have foreseen during earlier career days exploring Florida’s glittering shallow waters! Darker days to come.

  2. beautiful collection 🙂

  3. Fantastic photos Judy! I felt like I was right there swimming and floating with you. The color of the water is amazing! And, I always learn something reading your blog. Great post!

    • I know that water, liquid heaven!! It was nice and warm too, like velvet. The sun wasn’t so kind though as I’d not been out for a long day in sun and water in awhile.

  4. Hey, we seem to be swimming along similar lanes – again. Great photos. Interesting history.

    • Yes, iron skeletal lighthouses out at sea on a reef and your recent one of ancient brick guarding shore in the UK!! A kindness to mariners everywhere!

  5. Gorgeous images…. And I love the black and whites, here! Lighthouses have always fascinated me.

    • Not too many things link us to past histories and our fascination with the ocean’s many moods like lighthouses do!! May they stand and remind us for a long time to come!

  6. We used to have a wonderful lighthouse at the end of Galveston’s South Jetty, but one storm led to another and now it’s gone, replaced by a mechanized tower. Just this past Monday morning, a couple of guys on a sailboat that had been entered in the year’s biggest regatta were coming home. They made it to the jetties, but they were a little close. Winds were 30-40 kt and the seas were 6-8′, depending on who you believe. I don’t know if a lighthouse would have helped, but here’s the result. Too bad. It was a nice boat.

    There still are three iron plate lighthouses on the Texas coast. The one on Matagorda Island was there during the Civil War, and my gr-gr-grandpa would have seen it as his regiment was down that way. The Confederates buried the lens in the sand to keep those Yankees from making use of it!

    And there was one at Velasco, now gone. It marked the mouth of the Brazos river, an important port at the time.

    All of these, whatever their construction, have wonderful histories. I love seeing yours – so different from ours, but so intriguing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: