Iron frame on seafloor. Researcher with remains of Beacon A. Disc-like flange on seafloor. Top of beacon above water.
Iron frame used to secure letters to iron beacon mast. (Click image for larger view.)
Researcher recording the partial remains of the letter A. (Click image for credit and larger view.)
Disc-like flange located on several beacon piles, possibly a turning mechanism. (Click image for credit and larger view.)
Eastern Sambo’s single vane beacon remains. (Click image for credit and larger view.)

Beacon A: Eastern Sambo

Coordinates: 24° 29.533' N / 081° 39.916' W
Depth: 5’

Eastern Sambo was the westernmost beacon in the series and labeled with letter “A.” Please note that this location is a Research-Only Area and a sanctuary permit is required for entry.

The site is located 8.7 nautical miles east-southeast from Key West in five feet of water with a rubble coral bottom. This location experiences moderate turbidity as it is exposed to tides and currents from the open ocean and the easterly flowing current that moves past the islands.

The remains of two types of beacons were found at Eastern Sambo, one single vane and one tri-vane. It is likely that the tri-vane variety replaced the single vane, which may date to Lieutenant James B. Totten’s original installation. Interestingly, the single-vane beacon’s mast lies almost 22 yards west of its screw pile base, suggesting that it was violently broken and tossed by storm waves. The screw pile base from the single vane mast currently projects vertically from the rubble seafloor to a height of only one quarter of a meter above the ocean’s surface.

The triple vane beacon’s mast is broken off immediately above its disc-shaped screw pile base. Three support stakes that were once connected to the beacon’s mast with turnbuckles project from the seafloor around the disc base. The wave action that toppled this beacon’s mast came from the southeast, as its fractured end points directly towards its disc base. Fragments of the multiple “A” markers installed at the reef were found scattered around the beacon’s masts.

Site Map

Click for a printable Eastern Sambo site map.


Due to its exposed location and shallow depth, the site was found to be sparsely populated by sessile benthic organisms. At the time of the survey, lesser starlet coral, mustard hill coral, and gorgonians were documented within a 20-meter radius of the structural remains of the beacon features. Six species of fish and seven species of invertebrates were also recorded at the time of the survey.

pdfEastern Sambo Totten Beacon Biological Survey 08/24/14 (711 kb)

 Click on image for credit and larger view.


Three-Dimensional Models

Explore the beacon remains on the seafloor without getting wet! The images below show part of 3D models created using multi-image photogrammetry. Click an image to load the model, and then click, hold, and adjust your mouse to view the model from different angles.

Eastern Sambo Reef Totten Beacon - Letter Vane by Corey Malcolm/Mel Fisher Maritime Museum

The top of the Eastern Sambo Reef Totten Beacon carried an iron-framework vane to carry the letter “A” that once mounted inside. This model depicts the fallen beacon top as it is found underwater today.

Eastern Sambo Reef Totten Beacon - Screw Detail by Corey Malcolm/Mel Fisher Maritime Museum

The lower end of the Eastern Sambo Reef Totten Beacon letter vane staff has a screw-end, apparently so it could join tightly with another segment of the beacon staff. This model shows a detail view of the screw-end.


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