American Shoal Lighthouse stands just 10 miles from where I’m sitting on this island in the Florida Keys
American Shoal is marked with a lighthouse that stands 109' off the water. The depth of the water ranges from 4' to 94'. There are no mooring buoys at this dive site. This is NOT a Sanctuary Preservation Area so it’s OK to take fish and lobster as long as you have your Florida Saltwater Fishing License and the lobster stamp endorsement if you plan to catch lobster
. It’s located 6.5 miles due south of Sugarloaf Beach. The GPS Coordinates are 24'31.335N and 81'31.121W.
This reef is teeming with more than 200 species of marine life. It has spur and groove formations, coral heads, ledges, drop offs, turtle grass and sandy areas and lots of rubble up near the lighthouse. There’s always big barracuda hanging out near the light. We now have a new species at the light, it's the invasive lionfish. This reef was the first place I ventured offshore alone in my boat. The water was so clear that day, I could see all the way to the bottom at 90'.
I’ve caught all different kinds of fish at American Shoal. I would take a fish identification book to help me identify the fish I brought up. Some of the kill was grouper, hogfish, snapper and cobia. I caught lots of other fish but they weren’t really edible so I released them back into the ocean. One of the strangest things on the end of the line was a green moray eel. I thought I would remove the hook before letting him go. I scooped him up into a landing net. He proceeded to wrap himself around the mono leader. The next thing I knew he fell back into the ocean. His juices had dissolved the nylon mesh of the net. I was amazed that he went right through the net. I reached over and preceded to cut the line. I was glad to be rid of him.
In 1852 a white screw pile tower standing 36' tall was erected on American Shoal. This helped the ships avoid the reef in the daylight but did nothing for the ships passing at night. On June 20, 1878, Congress designated $75,000 for the building of the lighthouse. To save money they used the same design as the tower at Fowey Rocks off Miami.
The lighthouse was built by Phoenix Iron Company in Trenton, New Jersey at a cost of $47,000. It was shipped to Key West late in 1879. Nine pilings were pounded into the reef to a depth of 10 feet. Eight were on the outside forming the shape of an octagon and one was in the center to support the floor of the lantern room. The light keepers quarters were built 40' above the water. It was a two story eight sided living area. It had four bedrooms a kitchen-dining room and a bathroom. A circular enclosed stairway that leads to the lantern room was in the center of the light house.
The first light had a Fresnel lens with 24 vertical bulls-eye sections. It was manufactured by Henry Lepaute in Paris. It sat on thirty nine 1.5" ball bearings. It rotated once every two minutes and it flashed every five seconds. It was first lit on July 15, 1880 by William Bates. He had been at the Sombrero Key Lighthouse. The final cost of the lighthouse was $94,000.
In 1912 the light source was upgraded to an incandescent oil vapor system. This meant the wick didn’t have to be precisely trimmed. Red sectors were added to the lens to warn ships of the hazardous areas of the reef. In 1963 the light was automated. The light keepers were moved off the lighthouse.
One hundred years later American Shoal lighthouse was once again manned. From July thru November in 1980 during the Merial Boat Lift the Coast Guard stationed lookouts on this lighthouse as well as Sombrero Key and Alligator Reef
Lighthouse to watch for the Cubans
fleeing from Castro.
They discovered termites were feasting away on the wall of light keepers quarters. Repairs were ordered and the termites were terminated. I was out there when the repairs were made. I have lots of pictures packed away somewhere. When I locate them, I’ll add them to this web page.
American Shoal Light can be seen at a range of 16 miles on a clear day in the Florida Keys. The red sectors can be seen for 10 miles. This lighthouse is number 1015 in the USCG light list.
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