By: Whitney Stringfield
This past December my family and I were given the opportunity to spend Christmas in the Caribbean. My wife's college roommate from France had accepted a teaching position two years earlier on the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. She and her family wanted to visit the United States, and we welcomed the idea of an island vacation for Christmas, so we worked out a deal. We would simply swap houses and experience each other's way of life.
The first thing that I thought of when I realized that I would be spending Christmas on an island was, "Will I be able to metal detect there, and what might I find?" The weather in South Carolina allows me to hunt year round in one aspect of metal detecting or another. I have plenty of chances to metal detect along saltwater beaches, but for several reasons I have always hunted the freshwater beaches. Actually, I have tried saltwater beaches a few times but found them too frustrating. The high mineral content, the pounding waves, and the overwhelming size of the beach to cover were all factors that made searching less than enjoyable.
Even though I had been discouraged with saltwater beaches in South Carolina, I decided to take my metal detector along on our trip to Guadeloupe, in hopes that hunting conditions there might be more favorable. I use a Tesoro Stingray for water hunting, and it has found plenty of gold for me at freshwater lakes these past three years. I hunt only in the water, leaving the sand beaches to those landlovers who do not like to get their feet wet. I was hoping my Stingray would come through for me on this trip, too.
Upon arriving at Guadeloupe, I quickly reassembled my detector and headed straight for the closest beach. When I saw the beach, I could not believe my eyes. There was beautiful turquoise water with white, powdery sand as far as the eye could see. The water extended out about 150 yards, until it came to a coral reef where people were snorkeling. The water was waist deep at the deepest spots, crystal clear, and had a sand bottom free of silt. It was going to be like hunting in a child's wading pool. The coral reef prevented waves from forming, which kept the water very calm and clear at all times.
I was curious as to how my detector would react in this salt water. Would there be a high mineral content, causing a lot of false signals? I was pleasantly surprised by an absence of the chatter and falsing that I encountered in the salt water along the South Carolina coast. In fact, I was able to hunt in this salt water in the same mode that I use for hunting freshwater lakes. This was great! Low mineralization, crystal-clear water, a clean, sandy bottom, and no waves... what more could I ask for except no competition? And I had that also. There wasn't another person with a metal detector in sight.
I began hunting the water and was quickly rewarded with a French 10 francs coin, equivalent to $1.45 U.S. It was easy to see that it wouldn't take many of these to make my effort worthwhile. I continued searching for several hours and found many more French coins and very little trash, only a pulltab every now and then. While I had a lot of fun wading in the turquoise water and soaking up the Caribbean sun, I was a bit disappointed not to have found any jewelry, either "junk" or gold.
I decided that the next day I would explore the island and try my luck at another beach. This time I found one that was part of a resort- or rather, four separate beaches, each divided by long coral-and-rock jetties. I began hunting in the water at the beach that looked, in my mind, to be the busiest and hence, presumably most profitable. However, tons of pulltabs soon made it clear that this beach was only the trashiest. I found no jewelry, and not even a single coin.
One lady approached me and told me that she had lost a ring with five small diamonds earlier that day. She pointed to the general area where she had lost the ring in and I hunted there for about 30 minutes in hopes of finding it for her, but I had no success. So, there is at least one diamond ring still in the water somewhere at this beach.
I moved over to the resort's next beach and started finding a few coins, including a few French franc coins and a couple of 5 and 10 francs coins. I then moved to the third beach at the resort and again found only a few French coins. The good thing about these two beaches was that the large quantity of pulltabs had almost disappeared.
I was beginning to tire and had little energy left to hunt the last beach at this resort. My hopes of finding a nice piece of jewelry were now fading, but I had to walk past this last beach in order to reach my car, so I decided to make one pass through the water on my way back. Maybe I'd get lucky.
My first signal turned out to be a man's 18K gold wedding band- more than enough to pique my interest in this area and make me want to search it more thoroughly. Hunting for another half-hour, I found a lot of French coins of high denominations and an 18K gold pendant before I had to leave because they were beginning to give windsurfing lessons in the area where I wanted to hunt. Since I didn't want to get hit in the head by a 10-year-old on a surfboard, I called it a day.
I returned early the next day, getting a good head start on the surfers. I was hunting waist deep, and 15 minutes into the hunt I got a strong blast through my headset. A sound that loud usually signals a soft drink can, but I bent down anyway and scooped up the biggest and heaviest gold ring I had ever seen! It was an 18K gold signet ring weighing 23 grams- almost an ounce.
With my adrenaline pumping, I continued hunting for several more hours and was rewarded with another man's 18K gold wedding band, a lady's 18K gold signet ring, an 18K gold angel charm, a heavy silver chain necklace with an unusual silver dragon pendant, and about $15 in change. Then, once again, the windsurfers arrived, and I had to vacate the water.
I returned to this beach one more time during my stay on the island. Although I did not find any more jewelry that I could keep, I was able to help out a fellow vacationer. An elderly gentleman had just lost his wedding band, and his wife asked if I could help him find it with the aid of my metal detector. It was only a matter of minutes before he had the ring back on his hand. He knew the precise area where it had come off, so locating it was easy.
Finding gold on a Caribbean island during Christmas was very thrilling. The jewelry that I found was indeed treasure, as was the opportunity to help a fellow traveler in distress. But the true treasure was experiencing the Caribbean way of life with my family for two weeks. It was a vacation that we will not forget.
WHITNEY STRINGFIELD is a hydrologist who loves the outdoors. He has been metal detecting for 12 years and collecting relics, bottles, and fossils for 30 years.