Kayaking to Alligator Light Reef (lighthouse) .. of Fishes, Wreckers, Pirates and Keys History!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

The amazing view from the top of Alligator Light!

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Lighthouses hold a special place in our collective psyche. Though they are simply beacons and markers, their sight brings to mind romanticized images from the past. Situated along the frontiers of the world of people, they mark out the borders of the wild and unpredictable world at large.  In the days of yore before satellite imaging, sonar mapping and very accurate charts, lighthouses were essential to safe passage for all vessels. Close to home, here in South Florida, the chain of islands and reefs bordering on the Gulf Stream, our “Florida Keys” proved treacherous for western powers shipping New World loot and treasures and there are still many wrecks lining the sea bottom all the way up to the Carolinas (the Graveyard of the Atlantic!)

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Kayaking to Alligator Light and surrounding reef.

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Wrecking was a huge local industry in the 18th century, sometimes also spawning Keys pirates who would try and trick vessels to run aground on one of the reefs to generate more “business”. By the early 19th century, a series of lighthouses began to be built along the edges of  the reefs of the the Florida Keys, extending from Key West to Cape Florida on Key Biscayne & beyond up along the Florida coastline. Alligator Reef Lighthouse or just “Alligator Light” is one of the six built, and the closest to land. It is relatively easy to get to being just about 4 miles off shore situated on top of Alligator Reef.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

The USS Alligator circa 1822. Fair-use courtesy of Florida State Archives and http://www.keyshistory.org

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The reef and light were named after the USS Alligator which shipwrecked there in November of 1822, although it would be another fifty years until the light was built in 1873! It is a beautiful and sturdy Victorian era tower, standing 136 feet tall, and has survived several major hurricanes and was an operational lighthouse/beacon until the summer of 2014!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Alligator Lighthouse in the 21st century.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Alligator Lighthouse circa 1873. Florida State Archives and http://www.reeflights.org

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Alligator Reef  is a very popular place for boaters, snorkelers, and dive boat operators. Expect a crowd to build up, especially on weekends!! You will find a mostly family-friendly “sandbar” type atmosphere complete with music and folks enjoying themselves.

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2015 Flex Maslan Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse 1982 keys photography paddle coral panorama snorkel

Days gone by – the simple beauty of Ektachrome slide film!
Alligator Light from the summer of 1982.

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Kayaking out to Alligator Light is relatively easy, just realize that it is 4 miles offshore and ALL in open water, with NO place to get out!! Prepare ahead of time by studying the marine forecast and weather patterns. You want to be confident of at least two things .. light winds with calm seas, AND very low forecast probability for lightning storms! This means launching as early as possible from Indian Key fill, right off US1 – there is plenty of free parking. Just make sure you don’t park in any private lots, even if they appear to be empty (like the Papa Joe’s Marina property – DO NOT park there) !!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Launch of the Mojito on the bay side from Indian Key fill.
Stick close to shore – this is a part of the intracoastal waterway!

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A Sit-on-Top kayak is a great choice for this trip because reef below the lighthouse is a great place for extended shallow water snorkeling! It should take you about 45 minutes to an hour or so to paddle out. Do not tie off to the lighthouse structure! Instead, bring a small sand anchor and some line to daisy chain several kayaks together if needed.

Be sure to anchor in the sand NOT on top of the reef itself!

I would actually discourage anyone from paddling out there solo, unless you know exactly what you’re doing and have left a float plan with someone who cares about your well being. The reason being the combination of open water and unpredictable weather – you don’t want to be there all by yourself if something were to happen. It’s more fun to be a part of a small group anyway. Meetup groups like the Miami Kayak Club and others organize group trips from time to time.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Paddling out to Alligator Light in the early AM.

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Remember that this is an 8 to 10 mile round trip – ALL in open water, with NO possibility of getting out anywhere. Plan accordingly and paddle within your limitations and the weather conditions!!

Be sure to bring plenty of water to stay hydrated!!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

MOJITO kayak does the ALLIGATOR!

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For this trip I chose the “Mojito”, an RTM Disco sit on top kayak. This is probably the nicest handling inexpensive plastic kayak for paddlers under 175 lbs. Granted, it’s a very wet ride, but this is actually a plus in the tropical heat. With the addition of thigh straps, it responds much like a proper sea kayak and is great to learn and practice kayaking and rescue skills. It’s also easy to roll and an excellent surf/play boat for South Florida waters!

Astute readers will note the use of a wing paddle. This is my favorite combination for paddling the Mojito! 🙂

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Flex Kayakfari on the MOJITO!

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The turquoise water is very clear and there’s lots of fish and coral to observe. In the summer the shallow waters of Alligator Reef are quite warm. You can snorkel for hours if you like, so be sure to bring your mask, fins & snorkel!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Above & Below: Alligator Light & Reef

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Please be careful NOT to step on coral heads and DO NOT touch the encrusted RUSTY steel frame of the old lighthouse!!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Colorful fish of all shapes and sizes abound on Alligator Reef!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Thousands of fish surround the base supports of Alligator Reef Lighthouse.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Kayak snorkeling at Alligator Reef!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

An Orangetail Mermaid?

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There is great snorkeling all along Alligator Reef!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Alligator Reef sponges.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Alligator Reef corals.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Alligator Light rusting frame detail.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Alligator Reef is very shallow – watch your step!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Under the Alligator lighthouse frame support struts.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

The encrusted and rusty steel frame of Alligator Light.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Alligator light seen from underwater!

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Please remember: DO NOT step on or touch any coral!!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Family friendly party atmosphere surrounds the lighthouse!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Our kayaks daisy chain anchored off Alligator Light Reef.

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Fortuitously, on the particular day of our trip, the “doors were open” so to speak and some folks were climbing up on top, so we took advantage and followed suit. I don’t believe this is normally the case, but I was not going to argue with opportunity, and the view from the top is truly spectacular! It felt almost impossible to take in enough of the beautiful blue-green aqua hues of the sky and clear waters below!!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Alligator Light tower steps .. slowly rusting since 1873.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Closeup of rusty tower steps.. they look like burnt crackers.

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I bet the lighthouse keeper led a very chill life and must have been in great shape to climb the tower steps all the time! Surely it must have been quite an experience to ride out a storm on it! This lighthouse and the keeper did in fact ride out and survive the infamous Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 which was the strongest hurricane ever to hit the US with winds up to 200 mph. Although the glass and the original fresnel lens were destroyed, the lighthouse itself fared well, a testament to it’s construction and design!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Looking straight down from the top of Alligator Lighthouse.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Outstanding panoramic view from the top of Alligator Light!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

360 spin around aerial view from the top of Alligator Lighthouse.
CLICK for interactive panorama!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

At the top of Alligator Light.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

I’m looking down at our kayaks 136 feet below!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Zoomed in on our colorful kayak flotilla!

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Being inside the lighthouse, it’s easy to imagine being there back in time, a hundred years ago or more. In order to help preserve the Keys’ lighthouse cultural tradition of  nearly 140 years, the Florida Keys Reef Lights Foundation along with local artist resident Larry Herlth “Lighthouse Larry” have been pressing for the town of Islamorada to set up a lighthouse museum park with a series of 20 foot tall replicas he plans to build of all six lighthouses!

Larry is also the originator of the annual Open Water Swim for Alligator Lighthouse event, which now draws hundreds of eager swimmers sometimes including Olympic class talent. Larry was incidentally the first person to brave and complete the nine mile open water swim!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Beautifully ornate 19th century design of Alligator Lighthouse.

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As of the summer of 2014, sadly the light is out and the Coast Guard will no longer be maintaining it. By July of 2015 the beacon was removed entirely and the lighthouse is now out of commission. Functionally it will be replaced, but not duplicated by a much shorter and simpler navigation beacon to be built nearby. Hopefully it will be acquired by an entity able to restore and maintain it for the public and a new chapter will open for Alligator Light. It would really be a shame to see it go!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Beacon apparatus imported from New Zealand!
Removed in the summer of 2015.

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Up until 2015, this modern setup was solar powered and ran off a bank of batteries.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Modern navigation beacon on Alligator Light circa 2012.
Since removed, summer of 2015.

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Back when I was a kid in the 80’s, it still had a real classic Fresnel Lens. I remember being very impressed by this very large classic glass lens and took a picture. I just recently found this slide of it from July 1982! 🙂

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2015 Flex Maslan Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse 1982 keys photography paddle coral fresnel lens

Alligator Reef Light classic fresnel lens, summer of 1982!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

There’s room at the top of Alligator Light! 😉

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I hope you’ve enjoyed these fine views from the top!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Gorgeous aquamarine views of surrounding Alligator Reef and clear waters.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Alligator Light was automated and solar powered right up until 2015!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial

Standing on nearly 140 years old steel decking on the top of Alligator Lighthouse.

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Remember that this is an 8 to 10 mile round trip – ALL in open water, with NO possibility of getting out anywhere. Plan accordingly and paddle within your limitations and the weather conditions!!

Be sure to bring plenty of water to stay hydrated!!

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Flex Maslan kayakfari Alligator Light aerial lighthouse kayak keys panorama tropical florida coral reef photography Leah balance brace

Miami paddler and adventurer Leah demonstrates the “Balance Brace” in the shallows off Indian Key.

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On your return back to land, you can stop by and check out historic Indian Key which is right there along the route!

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Flex Maslan kayakfari.com Alligator Light aerial lighthouse kayak keys panorama tropical florida coral reef photography indian key

A paddler makes landing on nearby Indian Key.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial satellite

Satellite view: It’s a direct straight shot there & back in a kayak!

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial satellite

Proximity of other Keys to Alligator Reef Light.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial satellite

Satellite view of section of Alligator Reef.

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Alligator Reef Light kayakfari kayak lighthouse coral flex maslan aerial satellite

Satellite view of Alligator Light.

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Enjoy!

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Flex Maslan kayak Jesus Christ statue Reef kayakfari key largo dry rocks paddle keys dive snorkel abyss Pennekamp

CLICK for story:
Paddling for Jesus in the Florida Keys dive country!

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To learn more about Florida Bay and the Keys, I can recommend this informative and beautifully done book. There is a wealth of information inside along with incredible images by internationally recognized and top local Everglades photographers. If you like Florida Bay and the Keys, you will LOVE this book!

Full Disclosure: A few of my images are in it too.

Everglades Foundation Florida Bay Forever book photography Flex Maslan kayakfari kayak canoe water keys Maslin kayakfari.com dan burkhardt acclaim press published jimmy buffett fishing

“Florida Bay Forever” – Everglades Foundation book edited by Dan Burkhardt (with some photography by Flex Maslan).
Cover photo by Rob O’Neal

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ART of the Bay – Florida Bay Landscapes

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rasta happy kayakfari kayak canoe paddle photography adventure

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© 2012-2016 Flex Maslan / kayakfari.com / awakenthegrass.com. All original photographs, artworks and music in this portfolio are copyrighted and owned by the artist, Flex Maslan, unless otherwise noted. Any reproduction, modification, publication, transmission, transfer, or exploitation of any of the content, for personal or commercial use, whether in whole or in part, without written permission from the artist is strictly prohibited.

All rights reserved!

DISCLAIMER:: The maps and images on this site are not intended for navigation, I am not a guide; use any and all information at your own risk! Your mileage may vary .. so use good judgement before venturing out!

With that said..
Blessings friends!

:)

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6 comments on “Kayaking to Alligator Light Reef (lighthouse) .. of Fishes, Wreckers, Pirates and Keys History!

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  3. Pingback: Keep your feet firmly in the kayak and stay limber! | kayakfari ( kayak .. far .. i )

  4. Pingback: Take a Ranger-led Pour of the Everglades! | kayakfari ( kayak .. far .. i )

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