[Yes, I love lighthouses (in case our readers have not noticed).] Cammy Clark writes about a great event: the second annual Swim to Alligator Light on September 20, 2014. It is an open-water, 8-mile swim to benefit the Florida Keys’ lighthouses, a race founded by artist and sculptor Larry Herlth (also known as Lighthouse Larry). Clark explains:
A year ago, Chris Blythe of Miami stood on the beach at The Moorings resort in Islamorada and stared at the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, honing in on what looked like a “toothpick on the horizon.” That “toothpick,” a 136-foot-tall, white octagonal pyramid built in 1873 to warn mariners of the shallow coral reef, was the turnaround point for the Inaugural Swim to Alligator Light.
Like several other competitors, Blythe wondered: “What on earth had I signed up for?” Not only did the lighthouse seem mighty far away for a swim, Blythe had been “scared to death” of sharks since watching Jaws as a boy. But stroke by stroke, Blythe and friend Jackie Brown completed the more than eight-mile round trip to the lighthouse as a two-person relay team called “Haulin’ Strokes.” Their time: 6 hours, 2 minutes.
They had such a good experience – despite a slew of moon jellyfish, Blythe’s seasickness and Brown’s near miss with another team’s support boat – that both are training to compete in the second annual Swim to Alligator Light on Sept. 20, only this time solo.
They will be among an expected 300-plus swimmers, up from 158 last year, who will attempt the feat solo or on two- or four-person relay teams. Among those planning to do the entire course: University of Florida alum Joey Pedraza, 27, who won a bronze medal at the Open Water Nationals in June.
[. . .] “Let’s face it, right now only about 30 people in history have ever swam to Alligator Lighthouse and back,” Herlth said. “More people have climbed Mt. Everest. When you think of it that way, holy crap. It’s an accomplishment.”
It all began because Herlth, nicknamed Lighthouse Larry, wanted to do something to raise awareness for the plight of six aging reef lighthouses built in the mid-1800s. He grew up in the Keys and watched the historic icons being left to deteriorate in the harsh sun, salt, sea and storms because GPS and other modern-day technology had made it difficult to justify millions in taxpayers dollars to keep them maintained. “It’s sad this is happening to our national treasures,” he said.
Herlth has built several scale replicas of the lighthouses, including one that greets motorists entering Marathon. But he’s afraid that if somebody doesn’t come to the rescue of the real lighthouses soon, “we’ll lose them.” [. . .] He didn’t know how to raise the millions needed to restore them. But he did know how to swim, albeit with a body not built for going fast through the water. “I’m 230 pounds,” he said. “My hull is made for the long haul, not for speed.”
At 52, he became the first person known to have made the round-trip swim to Alligator Lighthouse – named for the USS Alligator, which wrecked on the nearby reef in 1822. With calm seas, blue skies and the support of the Fighting Manatees master swim club, which included Olympic swimming champion Jon Olsen, Herlth finished in five hours, 11 minutes, declaring: “It’s the world record.”
On a practice run and his actual swim, Herlth discovered how beautiful the route was, through the view of goggles. The “gin-clear” water, as well as the shallow 30-foot maximum depth, provided great visibility to see patch reefs and plenty of marine life, including sea turtles, barracudas and colorful fish.
“It dawned on me, while I was swimming, that it would make a good event, and bring more attention to the lighthouses,” Herlth said. [. . .]
[Photo above by Tammy Link; you may purchase the postcard at Fine Art America: http://fineartamerica.com/products/alligator-reef-lighthouse-2-tammy-link-greeting-card.html]