Ocean Reef’s best-known intersection is where the two, busiest avenues, Ocean Reef Drive and Anchor Drive, cross – often described as the “four corners”. In any other community, it would be where “Main” and “State” meet. At one corner, essentially hidden by lush tropical plants, is a three-story multi-use building that does house a major national bank that is still hard to find even if you are in its parking lot at the corner. Two other corners sport golf greens and the last corner is simply a pretty green field often occupied by farmers.
The four, ordinary “stop” signs get all the attention as this is where the locals play “chicken,” an automobile versus golf cart game that one loses when the surrounding corners are admired for more than a millisecond. Unviewed, but lucky for golf cart safety, amongst the greenery on one corner, as if an afterthought to hide the golf green behind it, is the “four corners” only real, community monument, The Ocean Reef Anchor, deserving attention but which also stands unidentified.
Even this beautiful example of “Admiralty Anchors” forged centuries ago in England should suffice alone as a monument. That The Anchor served faithfully aboard the HMS WINCHESTER, a 60 cannon English sailing battleship protecting English interests in the Bahamas and Carolinas from growing Spanish influence in Florida and Louisiana. The Anchor probably failed 320 years ago to save the already grounded Winchester on Carysfort Reef in a storm. As a punishment, The Anchor spent three centuries completely buried near the present Carysfort Lighthouse while the wreck continued to disintegrate and move in subsequent winds and waves to its final resting point, lifeless, rotting and scattering her cannons as she moved some mile and a half to the southwest.
A warning light was needed on this most dangerous reef in the Keys based on the number of groundings. In subsequent construction of a light, Carysfort Reef was found to be a coral “egg shell” over loose sand. This unstable condition was discovered by Lt. George Meade who later became Lincoln’s General of the Army of the Potomac on an earlier assignment in charge of building the present Carysfort Lighthouse and discovering that large circular discs were needed to keep the eight “screwed in” legs of the original design from sinking into the lower sand. Congress donated an additional $20,000 to finish Meade’s light in 1852.
It is reasonable that The Anchor we momentarily view as we dash across the four corners did not really fail the Winchester but rather sank below the shell, ripping it up and almost disappeared some fourteen feet below sea level. Measurements of the anchor by Ray Leenhouts and his father determined the anchor weighed, as seen, 5,123 pounds – not including 150 pounds of rust lost and 300 pounds of the wood and iron of the missing “stock” that attached to the square top of the anchor at right angles to cause the anchor flukes to “dig in” and crack through the thin coral shell.
Had the Winchester been just one mile north of her grounding, The Anchor would have held, she would have been saved and discovered Ocean Reef, set up her cannons and we might have to have British visas to visit ourselves, there would be a roundabout featuring the Anchor and “Brexit” to worry about.
PICTURE: Ray Leenhouts measuring the Anchor to determine its present weight.