Sunday, November 29, 2009

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

As we followed the curving island beach, and walked to the end of the debris line, we arrived at our first challenge. Stan said,

"We've got to make a landing by clearing the rocks away. They could put a hole in the bottom of the raft."

Starting on the shoreline, I began clearing the sharply pointed rocks aside, while the other guys worked on blowing up two rafts. After clearing out a nice area on the beach and out to knee-deep water, I stood up, and looked out at the channel between us and our next goal. The tide was flowing in, with a stiff breeze pushing it. A strong current, the breeze and the incoming tide would have to be crossed to get to the other side, and closer to float hunting paradise. My partners had opened the box with the 4-man raft inside. The battery-powered pump was ready to go, and my mind talk continued:

"Man! Those little plastic paddles look flimsy."
"How in the heck are we going to cross that channel with those?"
"Is it possible?"

Our hope was to find a treasure trove of glassfloats hidden in the brush after being deposited there by the surging waves of great storms. Reaching our goal: an island about a mile away, was shaping up to be something other than a simple walk in the park.

At 7:30 that morning, we received a phone call from a Belonger friend of Stan's who had a boat. We were hiring him and his boat to take us to a hard-to-reach cay for another float adventure. We woke up before dawn, had breakfast, and packed our gear in anticipation of the call. The news was not good.

"The engine is apart."
"We're at the mechanics."
"Maybe it will be ready later this morning."
"What did you want to do

This was our last chance for a trip, and we could not waste the day wondering if the boat would be ready. We needed to talk about it, and would call him back.

I offered the plan of going back to where we left off after our first day's adventure. I did then, and still want to go back to that spot to keep hunting. The vision of the point of the island a good mile away, and it's potential for finding more floats was in my mind's eye. There was a lot of territory between our first day's finds and that point to explore. That idea didn't go very far. We still wanted to try to get to our original destination.

Rudolfo's charge on the flight to the islands, was to carry a 4-man raft with his luggage. As the reader may remember, we all had to pack-mule something important for either the trip or the house with us. The fact that we had two rafts, a one-man and a four-man raft, became the focal points for the feasibility of this adventure. The maps of our planned destination came out once again, and the exciting possibilities conjured up by the story of the last time Stan had been on the hard-to-reach island spurred us on.

The preceeding spring, he and his son had tried to beachcomb that island, but shortly after starting their treasure hunt, a sudden storm came over the horizon. They were forced to run across and around the island, then make their way to the channel, cross it and get back to the house. They did so, just before the tempest struck. Luckily, the tide was with them that day, and the channels were wadeable. Before crossing back to the other side of the island, Stan told us how he had looked down a beach that they had no time to search. He saw a line of fishing floats and debris, stretching on and on. That was his vision, and now his vision was in all of our heads.

"We've got the rafts."
"We can drive to this trail, then pack everything to the channel."
"We'll blow up the rafts, and row across."
"Once we get to the small cay, we paddle along its shores then across another channel to our destination."
"We can do it!"
"Ok! Let's load the truck and go

That battery-operated pump did a great job of blowing up the rafts. The decision was made for Stan to take the one-man raft across with three of our packs. The three of us would take the big raft with the extra gallon of water, and the rest of our gear. Stan got into the raft and started across.

Luck was with us. We had arrived at the 1st. crossing, and made the rafts ready at the end of the incoming tide. Before beginning to paddle, high slack tide had come, and the wind was now a gentle Carribean breeze. We crossed without incident.

Rather than paddle in the raft to the next channel, I decided to carry two packs, one from Stan's raft, the single pack from the three-man raft and the rakes, then hike the cay. It would be easier to paddle the raft with one less person and the gear. Maybe there would be a float or two on the cay? The hunt was on, and as I hiked and looked, my companions started rowing again. Twenty minutes later, we met at the next crossing, loaded up, paddled the short distance to our destination, and sat under a beautiful stand of Casuarinas to eat lunch.

What a beautiful site to be in! It was so comfortable sitting in the shade of the trees, eating and talking excitedly about our adventure up to that point, and what lay ahead. In front of us was a beach that was the epitome of pristine.

A beautiful sandy point stretched out for a quarter of a mile to meet the torquoise ocean. Just a couple of hundred yards off the end of the point, a tiny cay, covered in sunlit green growth, jutted out of the water. Bright cumulous clouds with their Carribean breeze tails floated in the blue sky. The sand was white, and there were four or five drift lines leading out to the point. A beautiful large green, white and yellow marker buoy lay in the sand in front of us.

Unable to sit there and not explore the drift lines, Rudolfo and I, with sandwiches in hand, began to walk and search the drift. Shells, absolutely beautiful shells lay in the drift. Both of us picked up a dozen or more specimens. Nancy was there with me in spirit as I gathered the souvenirs. Excitedly, we showed our finds to our pals, then we got down to float business again.

Shouldering our packs, we hiked through the stand of trees, through the brush and stopped on the crest of a low hill. Looking across a mile-wide expanse of brush, boardered on the right by a large lagoon, Stan took the maps out again. Pointing to where we were, and where we had to hike to, one could not help but take a deep breath then gulp at the thought of crossing the pathless brush to the edge of the lagoon. The hope was that hurricanes had backwashed glassfloat-laden storm surges into the lagoon, then into the brush. Once off the crest, and down into the brush we were quickly enveloped, and could only see a few yards in front of us.

We kept to whatever openings we could follow, yet tried our best to stay on a line toward our goal. Whenever we came to a higher outcropping of rock, we could look ahead, and that helped us keep our bearings. The good spirits kept flowing, and after awhile, we broke free of the brush and found ourselves on the edge of the lagoon.

Walking the shoreline, there was a conspicuous absence of debris. Rudolpho and Jim walked ahead of Stan and me. We made the occasional foray back to our left and into the brush in hopes of finding a debris line. We soon lost sight of our pals. Stan found a debris line, and a couple of floats-plastic and metal. He called me, and we both started looking harder in the brush. After a while, I stumbled onto another part of the line, and found a wonderful metal float with the embossing: Manufactured Phillips Trawl Products Ltd. Grimsby, England. As a student of European commercial fishing history, the port of Grimsby, England is significant to me. Even though the float was not glass, I could not leave it behind, so decided to carry it with me for the time being.

We called the guys on the "talkies," and told them about finding some parts of a debris line and floats, and they too began to go away from the shoreline and into the brush. Stan and I continued forward, but found nothing glass except a few bottles.

Finally, we all met at a tidal creek with a Mangrove swamp on its opposite shore, which blocked our way to the target point at the beginning of the shoreline that Stan saw on his last trip. We had no choice but to cut inland toward a stand of Casuarinas on the coastline. Hopefully we would not be stopped by more Mangroves, and have to go back the way we had come.

After a surprisingly easy hike, we came out on the backside of the trees, and walking through them, reached the beach. Now what? Rudolfo decided he wanted to walk the beachline up to the rocky point which marked the end of the beach, and toward the rafts. Jim wanted to go in the opposite direction toward a cove. Stan followed Jim. I was not too sure which way I wanted to go, and headed into the Casuarinas with the thought that perhaps I could find tidelines pushed inland. Once, I turned around to go back toward the cove with Stan and Jim, but decided that walking on the other side of the trees, than back under them to inspect all of the debris might pay off.

Twenty minutes later, Jim excitedly called to say that the cove was covered with all kinds of debris. Stan was close to him. Rudolfo was quite a way up the beach, and I had covered close to a quarter of a mile by that time, so decided to continue on my path. Later, after a few messages from the guys talking about all of the debris, there came the call that Stan had found a glass V over B float. Having found nothing but plastic, and a couple more metal floats, as well as being fooled by two sangria bottles, I began to wonder about my choice. Calling Stan to congratulate him, the sad news came that the float was in three pieces. It looked perfect, but when picked up, only the top of the float came away from the sand. What caused that float to be broken like that?

Time passed. Except for the wonderful diversion provided by a pair of Cuban Crows following and talking about me, plastic floats and bottles, the long grove of trees ended. Standing on the beach, I saw Rudolfo up ahead, bent over and searching between the rocks on the point. Stan and Jim called to say that they were headed back to us. We had to get back before the sun set. Twenty minutes passed as I slowly hunted the brush and beach toward the point, when Stan appeared a few yards away. In his hand was the glassfloat. What a beautiful float it was. Its V over B mark was on the seal, and appeared to be a more modern embossing than is normally found on either the side marked, or the other seal marked examples that I'd seen. The letters were larger, and from a different engraver and/or tool. The glass was bright green, and the ball was in three perfectly-fitting pieces.

Stan showed me the way it looked when he found it, then we hiked to Rudolfo to see what he had been looking for. In the sand by his pack were two huge biscuit shells found on his hike up the beach. Searching the crevices in the rocks, Rudolfo had found a good handful of beachglass, some of it cobalt blue. A few minutes passed, and Jim joined us. The glassfloat was buried in the sand by the point just as Stan had first found it, and we decided rather than cross through the brush to the other side of the point where the rafts awaited us, that we would hike the debris-covered rocky point. Lots of netline, plastic floats of all sizes and some metal balls lay in the crevices, but no glass Euros or Great Ones were found. Of course, the chances of any glass surviving the rocks was practically impossible. We looked though, and even chanced to look over the inland crest of rock where the thick brush started. None.

I continued to carry the Grimsby float. At least three times before the point, there were thoughts about relieving myself of its weight, but unless it was replaced by a glass float, I continued to keep it with me. We reached the end of the point, and realized that we would have to cross a stretch of thick brush to continue on. Rudolfo took the lead, and surprisingly found the openings in the brush that quickly and relatively easily, brought us to a continuation of the rocks. Across a cove we would have to hike around, was the beach leading to our rafts. Th sun was now setting.

We made it to the rafts, and headed back. The tide was dead low, and the water between the beach, the small cay, and the channel was often too shallow to paddle over, so we got out and pulled the 3-man raft for most of the way. Stan in the 1-man raft, continued to paddle his way back. Crossing the channel was easy, and soon, we had the air out of the rafts, folded and put them back into their boxes. Picking up our gear, we hiked toward the path that would lead us to the truck.

Once again, Jim and Rudolfo forged ahead of Stan and I. It was enjoyable talking about the hike, and speculating on the possibilities of the cove, and the next island over. Then we saw a shark, big enough to do some serious damage, only a few yards off the shoreline. It was now dusk, and the shark was in the shallows hunting. We both realized how fortunate we were to have gotten back to the sands, and out of the water. Other sharks were probably hunting in our wake. It would have been dangerous to be in the water at that time. The adventure still wasn't over.

The sun had set, and it was getting close to dark. We had not found the path that would lead us out to the truck, and it was hard to see. Finally, we decided to head inland. The thought that we had missed the path was expressed. The mosquitos would be out in full force very soon. It got darker.

Thankfully, the light-colored sands' visibility enabled us to make our way through the brush, and we reached the dirt road. Following the thought that we had passed the path, we headed back down the road, and ten minutes later, there was the silhouette of the truck. Of like mind, we all speedily finished the hike, and upon reaching the truck, packs were shed, placed into the back of the truck with the rest of the gear, bug repellant quickly applied, and cold beer was soon gushing down our throats. The beer bottles were quickly drained, and an ice cold coke apiece handed out. Laughter and exaltation were shared between us. Soon, we started the truck's engine, and headed home to a shower and a good meal followed by the last of the and rum and coke.

After a late breakfast the next day, Jim and I were walking a village road on the way to the homes of the lady Belongers to purchase their handmade beachgrass baskets. Jim asked me,

"Are you disappointed that we didn't find many floats?"
"I'm glad that I did find one, but I'm sorry that you couldn't have found a whole one too."
"It was fun looking, wasn't it!"
"I think that we would have found them if there had been any big hurricanes this season."
"I haven't had much luck on these trips, but I sure do enjoy coming here."
"Maybe next time."

The afternoon was spent visiting acquaintances and Stan's island friends, culminating in a wonderful visit with our fishing guide and his wife to see his treasures. His gracious wife sent us home with a wonderful meal of conch stew and rice with vegetables. Her gift, together with the final treat of fresh lobster provided by Stan and Rudolfo, was a great last supper. We went to sleep with the house in clean-going-home shape, our bags packed and a storm blowing. Rudolfo and I lay under the screened in porch on our mattresses, talking as we had done all week before going to sleep. The talk that night was punctuated by the crashing of the ocean's waves upon the shoreline, and the blowing of the winds. We wondered what had blown up from the south, and whether it would blow itself away from us by morning?

Just before first light, I opened my eyes to the new day, and quiet. The crashing of the waves was gentle compared to a few hours earlier. No wind, no rain, and soon everyone was up. The last breakfast was quickly made. All the leftovers from the last couple of days, and the last three eggs were used. Bags were zipped up, and promptly at 9:00 A.M., our transportation arrived to take us to the ferry dock. After customs at Miami International Airport, Stan, Jim and I met up and said our goodbyes. Rudolfo, called us just before he left on his plane to New York. He was on his way to see his family and new grandson. At 2:00 the next morning, I arrived in Philadelphia International Airport to a wonderful series of hugs and kisses from Nancy.

The end.


  1. WOW! That was a LONG read but totally worth every word! Thanks for taking the time to share your story with the world.
    This blog has grown rapidly thanks to your dedication to the content, and quickly became my favourite blog.
    Best Regards,

  2. Anonymous4:42 AM

    Great post Tom. Yes we found very few floats this time but you certainly captured the thrill of hunting a beach that no one has walked for months, or years, or in some places we went even decades. We always have the feeling that we are 5 feet from a great treasure and anything is possible if we keep our eyes sharp. Actually hunting and occasionally finding euro floats in 2009! What lucky travelers we are.
    Best regards

  3. Anonymous4:26 PM

    Merry Christmas and thanks for all your work and
    shared knowledge and experiances through the years !!
    Thanks again Todd :)

  4. Found this blog from googling Phillips Trawl Products and an interest in that metal float. Apparently they are found all over the world. I live in southern Chile and during the past week I found one on the western shore of Tierra del Fuego near the tiny village of Cameron.

    Thanks for your great stories.