The USS Alligator battled pirates just outside the reefs of the Florida Keys
The USS Alligator is marked by a lighthouse that stands 136' tall. The depth of the water is 12'. There are lots of mooring buoys to tie your boat to. It’s located 600' to the oceanside of the lighthouse. This is a Sanctuary Preservation Area that means you can’t take any lobster of fish inside the yellow Sanctuary buoys. The GPS coordinates are 24'51.070N and 080'37.210W.
She was an 86' Man of War ship. She was the last of the copper and bronze fitted 12-cannon Schooners. She was built in Boston at the Charleston Navy Yard in 1820. Her mission was to escort convoys of ships in the Caribbean Sea and through the Florida Straits. She was under attack by a bunch of Pirates of the Caribbean when she ran aground on November 19, 1822. (The reef at that time was called Caryford Reef). Her captain and crew determined that she had too much damage and couldn’t be re-floated. With the help of the local Bahamian wreckers the ship was stripped of anything of value and set on fire. When the fire reached the munitions hold, the ship blew up. The few members of the crew that were burning the ship were not injured by the blast and were taken off by the salvage vessel. It was a common practice in those days to burn a ship to the waterline if it couldn’t be salvaged to keep it from falling into the hands of the pirates.
The lighthouse was built in 1873 a few feet away from the shipwreck. Pilings were driven into the reef to support the platform that was build to house the light keeper. It was manned until 1963 when it became automated. There was a light keeper in the lighthouse when the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane
tore thru the Florida Keys. The winds were so strong that is jammed the iron shutters of the lighthouse shut. It also washed boulders from a bridge on the islands four miles away up onto the platform of the lighthouse.
Very little of the hull is visible today. It’s buried in the sand. There are two large piles of ballast stones that have become totally encrusted with corals. A few metal artifacts are sometimes found by a lucky diver.
This ship is a historical treasure. It’s the only ship we have in the Florida Keys that shows construction methods used to build ships after the War of 1812.
I highly recommend you take a ride out to Alligator Reef and dive on one of the Florida Keys hidden historical treasures. It’s the foundation for a very healthy reef system.
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