A Florida Keys Living Halloween Haunting Story

There is no shortage of Florida Keys ghost stories. We have a local culture built upon the foundation of pirate lore, drunken fisherman tales, ghost ships and haunted light houses so who can expect anything less.
One of my favorite ghost stories is the haunting of Carysfort Reef Lighthouse. This lighthouse sits on the southern most tip of the ghostly Bermuda Triangle.

Check out the haunting story as told by KeysNet.com.
Off Key Largo-While thousands of reefs grow in the turquoise waters encompassing the Florida Keys, Carysfort Reef is the single most dangerous tract of coral in the chain.

Craysfort Reef Lighthouse
Salty seafarers once whispered of strange phenomenon and the southernmost reaches of the Bermuda Triangle, but the simpler explanation for the inordinately high percentage of shipwrecks was always coral, lots and lots of coral.

Who Remembers the Classic Horror Film "Fog"
At four miles in length, Carysfort Reef is not only one of the largest, but one of the most mature reefs in the chain. The light meringue left behind when the Atlantic washes over the reef is evidence something is waiting just beneath the surface. Once upon a time, verdant forests of elkhorn and staghorn corals were reaching up with limestone daggers.
The reef grows six miles off the coast of North Key Largo and is the site of the oldest recorded North American shipwreck. The H.M.S. Winchester, en route from Jamaica to England, was a 60-gun battleship captained by Edward Bibb when, along with all but a handful of the crew, he suffered from scurvy and was relieved of duty. John Soule was commanding the British warship on September 24, 1695 when she was blown off course during a storm and impaled by the coral.
The H.M.S. Carrysford left the most indelible mark on the reef when the corals snagged the hull of the 118-foot-long, 28-gun British frigate, on October 23, 1770. She never sank, but was refloated and sailed away from the incident. Maybe it was the rough translation of dialect or a simple case of bastardization, but the spelling left behind was “Carysfort,” hence the reef’s name today.
Lighting the way
The first attempt to mark the reef using a light source was the lightship Caesar, a 220-ton, two-lantern schooner built in New York by Henry Eckford. Congress allocated $20,000 for the project in 1824 and the ship left New York bound for the Florida Reef the following year. The lanterns attached to each of the double masts were designed to be visible for a distance of 12 miles. As well, clanking bells echoed across the ocean’s surface with every roll of the tide.
Sailing from New York, the Caesar encountered squally weather and was driven ashore by high winds and nasty seas somewhere near Key Biscayne.
The transport crew abandoned the ship, later salvaged by wreckers and brought to Key West for repairs. John Whalton, her new captain, was waiting at the dock. After the Caesar was restocked and crewed, Captain Whalton sailed her to Turtle Harbor, a safe anchorage near Carysfort. In the end, Captain Whalton and the Caesar would both make the annals of history, though for very different reasons.
Light ships were not foolproof enterprises. Even after the Caesar anchored at its post, ships regularly managed to come unexpectedly upon the corals. The Guerrero was one of the more unsavory of these. The Spanish slave ship had 561 African slaves in her hold when she attempted to outrun the British warship H.M.S. Nimble.
Captain John Whalton heard the exchange of cannon fire between the two vessels. “I saw the flash,” he noted, “and heard the report of seven or eight guns.” The Guerrero slammed into the reef on December 19, 1827 with sufficient force to snap her twin masts. Forty slaves drowned in the holds. The Nimble, too, ran aground that night, but would be refloated and sail away relatively unscathed.
The remarkable thing about the Caesar was how quickly the vessel succumbed to the environment. A paltry six years into service, she was sailed to Key West for inspection. It would not go well. The Collector of Customs who surveyed the ship said its timbers were “an entire mass of dry rot and fungus.” He wrote in his report, “I must say that there never was a grosser imposition practiced than by the contractor in this instance.”
Congress again allotted $20,000 for another lightship and the Florida was constructed by the same builder in New York, though this time with rot-resistant live oak timber. Whalton took command of the Florida and resumed his post at Turtle Harbor. Early on he realized that supply ships could prove intermittent and as such, maintained a garden of fruits and vegetables on a clearing of land on North Key Largo
Garden Cove killings
It was June 26, 1837 when Captain Whalton and four of his crew lowered a boat from the Florida, manned the oars, and paddled ashore to tend the garden. They rowed in and secured the boat, but when they stepped on to land, were greeted by the gunfire of Seminole Indian warriors. Whalton and one of his crew were killed and scalped. The act would help mark the beginning of the Second Seminole War. The area, near Mile Marker 106 today, is still known as Garden Cove.
Even with the lightships, Carysfort was still a terribly dangerous reef. From 1833 to 1841, of the 324 shipwrecks reported on the Florida Reef, 63 wrecks — 20 percent — were attributed to Carysfort Reef. One of the reasons for this bloated number may be that during those early years of sailing, Carysfort was used as a generic term for North Key Largo wrecks. It wasn’t, however, the only reason.
Another might best be summed up in a letter dated July of 1851, written by Lt. David D. Porter, U.S.N., and commander of the U.S. mail-steamer Georgia. “On the reef near Cape Large,” he wrote, “the floating lightship, showing two lights, intended to be seen twelve miles, but they are scarcely discernible from the outer ledge of Carysfort Reef, which is from four to five miles distant. On to[sic] occasions I have passed it at night, when the lights were either very dim or not lighted.”
By this time, light ships were nearly a moot point at Carysfort. Congress allocated funds for the construction of a permanent light in 1848. Captain Howard Stansbury of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers first took command of the project and managed to set the 112-foot tower into place before retiring from the project. Major Thomas B. Linnard took command, but died shortly thereafter. It was Lieutenant George Meade who finished the job in 1852. Civil War enthusiasts may recognize Meade, who would be promoted up the chain of command to Major General. Meade helped defeat General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg.
The oldest beacon
Carysfort Light, a screw-pile structure, was the first of its kind in Florida and remains the oldest beacon left marking the reef. The iron giant was also home to the men tending the light’s constant need. With the history of the reef, it should come as no surprise that claims of haunting were reported. One “ghost” was said to be a “great sinner” in his natural life and subsequent light keepers were prone to keeping an open bible inside the structure to help thwart devilish intrusions.
Charles Brookfield, a Key Largo fisherman, spent a night at the light in 1927. He was startled awake by a human-like shriek reverberating through the structure. When the ghoulish sound repeated itself, Brookfield grabbed his flashlight and ran up the spiral staircase where Keeper Jenks was working. When asked if he’d heard anything strange, Jenks replied, “That’s old Captain Johnson. You know he died aboard this light, and he still comes around at night and groans.” Brookfield was not totally convinced and postulated that the screech was the result of metal expanding and contracting due to temperature fluctuations. It certainly explained why the “ghost” only appeared in the hot summer months.
In 1939, the Presidential Reorganization Act incorporated all lights and lighthouses into the U.S. Coast Guard. “Coastie” Frank Taylor was 21 when he was assigned to the light in 1957. In an interview with Marjorie Doughty, Taylor reflected about the first time he saw Carysfort. He said, “it was almost like I was being taken to Alcatraz.”
While life aboard the light could be tedious, it was not all work and no play. Taylor recalled learning to snorkel. “Allen Riddle of Atlantic city taught me. He was really down to earth. He knew everything about snorkeling. We got to be pretty tight and he showed me how to go down at night with a shark hook. That was great because there was really nothing to do. We did a little scraping and painting, had a small black and white television with bad reception and there were a few books. So, I learned to catch fish with a spear gun and we would look at the fisherman and call them ‘worm drowners.’”
Carysfort Light was automated in 1960. The last major wreck was the Alec Owen Maitland. Despite the fact that the massive light was in operation, the captain of the 155-foot, 244-ton vessel still managed to lodge it atop the shallow reef on October 24, 1989. He then made the worst possible decision, putting the ship in reverse and trying to power off the corals. A substantial swath of reef was crushed and destroyed in the process. When the crater-sized holes left behind threatened to undermine the stability of the reef, Harold Hudson, affectionately referred to in these parts as the Reef Doctor, repaired and restructured the reef using concrete slabs.
Festooned with corals
Even though it has taken a beating over the years, decades, centuries, Carysfort makes for an amazing snorkel. The reef’s close proximity to the Gulf Stream means that visibility is generally excellent, and its northern location is part of the reason Carysfort remains one of the healthier reefs in the chain. Perhaps because it is not regularly visited by the Key Largo charter trade, the reef is still festooned with a broad expanse of hard and soft corals as well as a resurging sponge population.
Explore the shallows surrounding the base of the light for a mesmerizing view of the minutia of worms and crustaceans that decorate the coral reef. In addition to the ample supply of bi-colored damselfish and blue-headed wrasses, butterfly fish and angels, the reef is home to large schools of the usual collection of snappers, grunts, and parrotfish. Spotted eagle rays and turtles are also common visitors.
The reef grows in 5 to 25 feet of water. However, care should be taken when snorkeling near the shallowest coral beds. All it takes is one swell of the ocean to push a body over the sharp limestone substrate. Do not attempt to snorkel across these shallow beds, especially at low tide. While the vast forests of elkorn and staghorn coral that made this reef infamous don’t flourish the way they used to, brilliant stands remain.

Happy Halloween!


Asian Catfish and the Key West Grouper Halloween Trick

Greetings from the Florida Keys,

This Halloween, be on the look out for Asian Catfish trick or treating as “Key West Grouper” on a menu near you.

Asian Catfish Commonly Mislabeled As Grouper
Photo by FL-Seafood.com

Greedy fish brokers, looking to make easy money are disguising this $2.00-$3.00 lb. Asian catfish as $10.00-12.00 lb. Florida Grouper and then selling it to unsuspecting restaurants and food service companies across the country.

Florida Grouper
Photo by Fl-Seaood.com

Just recently Tom Katz president of Universal Fish of Boston in Billerica, MA faced this tough question from T.G.I Friday’s:

“Why was the grouper they received from Katz rubbery and pink, rather than the typical firm, white fish?

Florida Grouper or Asian Catfish?

Before I go on any further, according to manta.com Katz’s company estimated annual revenue is $5 to 10 million.

According to a recent article in the Boston Globe, Katz worked on the scheme for months by cultivating a relationship with the popular restaurant chain. He was close to closing in on a grouper deal worth more than $3 million which would make Friday’s one of his top customers. Bad fish would kill it.

When one Friday’s executive e-mailed the unthinkable - perhaps the fish was not grouper at all. Katz offered a string of excuses: Cold water could have turned it pink; maybe it was the fish feed; perhaps the grouper bled internally.

Persuaded by the affable salesman’s pitch, the chain featured Katz’s fish at more than 500 of it’s' restaurants, serving it with roasted vegetables and a citrus splash.

But the Friday’s executive was right. It wasn’t grouper. Customers were actually eating an inexpensive, lower-quality Vietnamese catfish reared in thickly packed Mekong River delta fish farms. And, according to federal court records, Katz apparently knew it.

My advice, know your seafood and buy from a reputable source. Learn more about spotting fake grouper at http://www.fl-seafood.com/consumers/grouper_substitution.htm.

Have a good Friday!


Captain Morgan Rescued from College Dorm Party

Did Captain Morgan really want to be rescued?  


Captain Morgan found

by MCSO - Florida Keys on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 5:21am
The Captain Morgan’s figure reported stolen from Walgreen’s Pharmacy in Key West last week was recovered in the early morning hours Monday.

A tipster called to report it might be in the dorms at Florida Keys Community College. Sgt. Tom Walker and Deputy Joe Cortner responded to the dorms at 1 a.m. and found the Captain in a dorm room; the Captain was reportedly covered in Fantasy Fest beads.

No one would admit to having taken him, but students told the deputies he’d been making the rounds from room to room, “wherever the party was taking place”. Captain Morgan was returned to Walgreen’s in Key West, none the worse for wear.

Heres to life, love & loot!


Captain Morgan is Missing-Please Help!

Greeting from the Florida Keys,

Our puppies were acting a little strange this morning, I think they must have suspected that my favorite statue was stolen!

Key West police have issued a “be on the lookout” for a missing five-foot statue of Captain Morgan, the symbol of the rum company of the same name. Normally, police issue BOLOs only when searching for a criminal suspect, and when they believe that suspect is in the immediate area.
The promotional sculpture was stolen from outside Walgreens on North Roosevelt Boulevard. Store manager Dwayne Laubenstein told police the statue, valued at about $500, was discovered missing from its post outside the store last week.

The Captain was last seen wearing a tricorner hat with his left leg resting on a rum barrel.
The Fantasy Fest parade Oct. 29 down Duval Street is sponsored by Captain Morgan Rum.
This is not the first theft of an iconic figure in the Florida Keys. A sculpture of a leering Mickey Ratz was lifted off the rooftop of a dockside bar at Holiday Isle Resort and Marina in Islamorada a few years ago.    

Be on the look out!


How to Crack Open a Stone Crab Claw

The Florida Stone Crab Season is officially open!
Learn how to crack open a Stone Crab Claw.

Have a Great Weekend!


Sriracha Hot Sauce Dip with Fries

In September of 2010, my wife spent 2 weeks working overseas in Vietnam. There she discovered the Asian secret of cooking Sriracha Hot Chilli Sauce. 

Sriracha (pronounced SEE-rah-chah) “nicked name Rooster Sauce” is the generic name for Thai-style hot sauce named after the seaside city of Si Racha, Thailand, where it was first produced for the local seafood restaurants. Typically made from sun-ripened chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt, it is a common condiment in many Asian restaurants.

If you are planning party and want to dazzle your guests, serve them french fries. Yes, I said french fries. But make sure you serve the fries with this dynamite recipe for Creamy Sriracha dipping sauce.  I can't wait to try this dip with stone crab claws this weekend.

2 Cups Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip

1 Cup Sour Cream

1 Cup Sriracha Hot Sauce

1 tbsp Soy Sauce

Mix all ingredients in a mixing bowl until thoroughly combined.

Currently I am working on a few new recipes using Sriracha Hot Chilli Sauce. If you have a Sriracha recipe please share it with me as a guest blogger.  



October Full Moon Picture

Morning from the Florida Keys!

Ever watch the moon rise and set?  While enjoying a morning cup of coffee, I watched the moonset in the western sky over the Gulf of Mexico this morning. Wanted to share this picture with all of you.

Enjoy your day!


Drugs Washing up and Key West Fisherman dies after Catching a Square Grouper

I am sure you all have been hearing about the drugs washing up on the shores of South Florida. Its a recession and Miami's Police Chief got fired. Do the math.

This is a case for Crocket and Tubbs.  What do you think really happened on this fishing trip?  The locals have their theories.

Angler dies after snorting square grouper


A 54-year-old Merritt Island man in town to fish with his brother died in a Miami hospital Thursday after ingesting a "square" grouper, according to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.

Thomas Swindal and his brother, Kenneth, were trolling in 200 feet of water off Fiesta Key at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday when they found a floating package believed to contain a kilogram of cocaine, sheriff's spokeswoman Deputy Becky Herrin said.

Square grouper is a popular Florida Keys' nickname for packaged drugs found floating.

The brothers put the package in a bait well and kept fishing, but Kenneth Swindal told deputies he later saw his brother open it and snort whatever was inside, Herrin said.

About an hour and a half later, Thomas Swindal reportedly began to act strangely, running around the boat, throwing things into the water, including their means of communication, a cellphone and VHF radio. He reportedly picked up knives, a pair of pliers and a gaff, and removed the engine cover, which fell overboard and sank, the release states. He then gaffed the engine and damaged it, leaving the boat adrift, Herrin said.

His brother then threw all the sharp objects overboard, along with the package, which authorities did not recover, Herrin said.

Kenneth Swindal climbed on top of the boat and began signaling for help. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) responded to a nearby vessel's call for help and took both men ashore.

Paramedics took Thomas Swindal to Fishermen's Hospital, FWC spokesman Officer Bobby Dube said. He later was airlifted to South Miami Hospital, Herrin said.

An autopsy will be done to determine the cause of death.

"We felt it was drug-related," Dube said. "He was acting crazy and going berserk when officers arrived. He was tearing up stuff."

No charges were expected to be filed against Kenneth Swindal, Herrin said.

"It's certainly against the law to keep such packages," Herrin said, "but [Kenneth Swindal] threw it back in the water in an effort to keep his brother alive.

How was throwing the bail back overboard going to keep his brother alive. Think about it? If you want a really good laugh check out the local "Who did it" theories at  http://keysnews.com/node/33541. Make sure to add your comments.

Only in the Keys!


Chili-Espresso Rubbed Ahi Tuna

I have been a fan of fresh Yellowfin Tuna (ahi tuna) for as long as I can remember.  Since Tuna is one my favorite fish to eat, I target it on most if not all my fishing trips.

There is nothing like enjoying fresh tuna with an ice cold beer or glass of wine after long day of fishing in the Florida Keys. 

Recently I prepared fresh Yellowfin Tuna using the recipe below.  If you enjoy your tuna seared in spices or fully cooked, you will absolutly love this recipe.

Chili-Espresso Rubbed Ahi Tuna with Grilled Pineapple Salsa Tuna

4 8-oz, about 1.5 inch thick tuna filets
1 TBSP chili powder
1 TBSP Espresso powder
1 TBSP Dark brown sugar
1.5 TSP garlic powder
1.5 TSP onion powder
1.5 TSP Cayenne pepper
Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper to taste

Pineapple Salsa:
6 slices fresh pineapple, cut in rounds about 1/2 -3/4” thick
1/3 cup fresh tomatillo, diced
1 jalapeƱo pepper, diced
1 datil pepper, diced
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of One Lime
Sea salt

For tuna, mix all dry ingredients together well. Lightly oil fillets and coat each piece well with spice mix. Let sit for 30 minutes.  Heat grill to high heat and brush grates lightly with vegetable oil.. Sear tuna 1-2 minutes per side until nicely browned and middle is rare/medium rare. Grill pineapple slices until nicely carmelized on both sides.  Coarsely chop pineapple, mix together with tomatillo, jalapeno, datil, red onion, cilantro and lime juice, and sea salt to taste.Serve tuna fillets topped with grilled pineapple salsa.



Epic Hemmingway Style Swordfish Recipe

Every year fisherman from all over the world travel to the Florida Keys with their sights set on battling a prized Swordfish on rod and reel. While serving in Iraq, United States Navy Pilot, John White envisioned himself fishing in the Florida Keys. When he returned from Iraq after 9 years he and his wife went fishing in the Florida Keys.

"Pam with the Giant"

On their way out to the fishing grounds his wife Pam apparently told the charter boat captain that they would indeed catch a swordfish guaranteed, because they were lucky.   The trip was major success and even made national news. In true Papa Hemmingway fashion they returned to the dock with a 455 lb. Swordfish!

Celebrate this epic catch, just like Hemmingway would have with this amazing recipe for swordfish steaks.

2 pound of Swordfish
2 Tablespoons (Tbs.)Lemon Juice
1/2 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1/4 cup Margarine or Butter, softened
3 Tbs. Mayonnaise
3 Tbs. Chopped Green Onion (scallions)
2 Teaspoons - Fresh Garlic Chives, chopped
1/4 tsp. Salt
Tabasco Sauce to Taste (approx. 1/8 tsp.)

Place swordfish steaks in single layer on baking dish. Brush with lemon juice. Combine remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl, mix well, and set aside.  Broil steaks 6 - 8 inches from heat from 8-10 minuts until fish flakes easily with fork.  Remove from heat. Spread with cheese mixture. Broil an additional 2 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.  For presentation garnish with lemon slices and chives.

Check out our fresh swordfish loins here<<<



October is National Seafood Month!

To celebrate the start of National Seafood month we have added Yellowfin Tuna and Swordfish Loins to our product assortment.  These products are of premium quality and taste amazing.

Visit our store here<<<