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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (01/2002) Relic Hunter (12/2001) Relic Hunter (02/2002)   Vol. 36 January 2002 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the January 2002 edition of W&ET Magazine


By: Ed Fedory

The rocky coast of Maine abounds with tales of hidden pirate treasure and ill-gotten booty. It's a place where the snapping of sail canvas is commonplace, and tales of ghostly ships still adrift on moonlit nights, taking to phantom winds, are the norm rather than the exception. With the scent of salt water in your nostrils, and the sounds of the sea surrounding you, it is a feeling of timelessness, more than anything else, that is carried on the breeze.

I well remember the treasure books by Edward Rowe Snow that I read as a young boy, especially the tale of treasure he recovered on a lonely island off the coast of Maine- an island such as the one I was bound for that week in mid-July.

There exists, three miles out of Boothbay Harbor, a small rocky outcropping named Fisherman's Island. You can't find it on most maps, and from what little research I could gather about it before I set out, its only claim to fame is that it has one of the oldest fishing stations, still standing on its shoreline, to be found in Downeast Maine. It was my fate to be a "castaway" on the island for a week, and during that period of time I was determined to seek out any secrets and treasures it might contain. I would become a modern day Ben Gunn. Arghhh! Marooned, I be, by Cap'n Flint hisself, condemned to live by me wits and sea provisions, ever and anon... and bloody me with a marlinspike, else 'ere there's no truth to it, says I!

Well... perhaps there's just a tinge of writer's imagination in that statement. The island was isolated and private... but there were two captains to pilot the island's four boats, and the chef was a culinary magician. The 6,000-square-foot stone mansion was out of the pages of Home and Garden, and I didn't feel the slightest bit of deprivation when I found that my suite had two complete bathrooms. The stone and tile shower, with five showerheads, was half the size of my garage, but it's easy to endure such hardships if you're a real relic hunter!

The geography of the island was far from ideal when it came to metal detecting. The coastline was primarily composed of large boulders, with the exception of two rocky beach areas. The surface of the island itself was covered with thick tangles of berry bushes, except for paths that were cut from one end of the island to the other, and a small section of land surrounding the old fishing station. However, since it had been occupied as far back as the mid-1600s, I felt that I might stand a good chance of finding something old and significant.

My initial focus for relic hunting was the old fishing station, and it was there that I was destined to learn something about the dietary habits of old fishermen: they loved eating canned sardines! A nice signal would run through my headset, and images of old pirate coins would flash before my mind- gold doubloons!... pieces of eight!- which somehow magically transformed themselves into another rusty sardine can or lid. It was actually fun digging up pieces of an old wood burning stove, just for the sake of variation in recovered targets. The horseshoes were the big thrill!

My next strategy was to search the small rocky beach areas at low tide. Apart from a number of fishing lures and jigs, a handful of lead sinkers, and assorted plumbing and boat fixtures, the search was fruitless. The walking paths yielded only a few modern coins. The nautical relics and pirate loot I had hoped to find remained unfound, and after having exploited the various portions of the island where I could detect, without success, I knew that I had to change my way of looking at both my situation and the island itself. With the better part of the week still ahead of me, I knew I had to find another quest, or another type of treasure; otherwise, I would be sitting on the shoreline, looking wistfully at the mainland, and wondering how my lawn was growing back home. That evening, as I threw another log into the fireplace, I decided to become a beachcomber instead of a relic hunter. It was no small decision.

The following morning, I loaded my backpack with some liquid refreshments and began my trek along the rocky coastline. In true mountain-goat fashion, I worked my way across the top of the boulders and outcroppings in a slow and cautious manner, from one precarious perch to the next. I spied a couple of lobster buoys wedged between some rocks, dislodged them, and placed them in my backpack. Before long, I had to cut a length of nylon rope and begin stringing the buoys I found.

By the time late afternoon rolled around, I was headed back to the mansion with as many washed up lobster buoys as I could manage. Each was painted with different color combinations so that the lobstermen could easily pick their own out from the thousands that floated around the island, but I was disappointed to find that since my last stay in Downeast Maine, 30 years earlier, the buoys were no longer crafted from wood. You really have to use your imagination to consider Styrofoam buoys a treasure.

When I dropped the pile of buoys beside the pool, I received some strange looks and heard a very familiar voice comment, "Oh, that's just Eddie. He's always finding something to drag home!"

My brother-in-law found them fascinating, as they were being sold for $15 apiece at a local discount store. I don't know how many he was able to fit in his suitcases at the end of the week, but from the looks of them, they must have contained quite a few!

I decided to seek out some less bulky treasures the following day.

I found that coastal recoveries had certainly changed during the course of those 30-odd years since I was a starving college student. Not only were the buoys no longer made of wood, but neither were the traps themselves. The only items that seemingly hadn't changed much were the woven bait bags within the washed-up traps, and the beach glass which had been smoothed and sculpted by the endless action of the waves and rocks.

The beach glass was particularly beautiful, especially the rarer cobalt blue and aquamarine pieces. These were only to be found on the rocky beach areas of the island, and each day, as I set out to explore more of the island's coastline, I would fill my backpack with these glass fragments and any additional bait bags and small line buoys that I could find.

During one of these excursions something interesting happened. As I came around one rocky boulder in my quest for beach glass, I noticed a couple of kayakers who were taking a break from paddling. The woman asked if I was collecting beach glass, and I replied that I had to find some kind of treasure since I was a castaway on the island for the week.

"Oh," she replied, "my husband is a treasure hunter. He has a couple of metal detectors."

I stopped my search for awhile, and we began talking about metal detecting. I casually asked if he subscribed to any of the metal detecting magazines. The husband quickly spoke up, "Yes, I read Western & Eastern Treasures." I found that it was beginning to become difficult to suppress a smile, and asked if they ever read the "Relic Hunter" column, to which they replied that they read the column each month, and that it was written by Ed Fedory. To their amazement, I introduced myself! Later, when I waved goodbye as they paddled through the surf, I realized that it had been a truly unique experience.

As the end of the week drew near, there only remained one last place to explore the far eastern end of the island. Actually, a case could be made to say that this is an island by itself, as it is only connected by a small strip of rocky beach which, at high tide, is only 10' wide.

After breakfast the following morning, I mentioned my destination to Dave, the caretaker. He cautioned that I might want to be careful as that portion of the island contained a large seagull rookery, or nesting area. I didn't think too much of it at the time, but as I found myself standing on a huge boulder, 20' above the surging waves, swinging a long driftwood pole over my head to keep the squadrons of diving seagulls away from my head, I had the idea that I should have given a little more thought to Dave's words of warning!

On my final morning, while packing my bags, wrapping sand dollars and sea urchin shells in protective layers of paper, throwing my horseshoes in the bottom of the suitcase, and filling the side compartments with handfuls of smoothed beach glass, I thought about my week as a castaway on an island off the coast of Maine. It had been a remarkable and memorable time, and while the relics were few and far between, and many of the island's secrets would remain hidden, still there were treasures to be found and daily quests to be made.

The need to seek and explore- the passion for new discoveries- burns eternally within the human spirit. Bloody me with a marlinspike if there be no truth in these words. Arggh!

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