By STEVE HATHCOCK
Special to the PRESS
Wherever people gather to play, pay or pray, there will be treasure.
One of my favorite Island treasure hunting spots is the stretch of shore near the south jetties, and along the Gulf in front of the major hotels. Most weekends, and almost every day during the summer, these are the beaches that will attract the bulk of vacationers, sunbathers, surfers, fishermen and lovers; all enjoying the sweet smell of salt air.
What will you find you ask? The answer to that question is always the same, look at what people are wearing. Over the years I have seen bags full of jewelry, coins, car keys, sunglasses, toe rings and a multitude of other assorted flotsam found there by a professional detectorist and his wife who spend the latter part of each summer swinging a metal detector over the sandy beaches of South Padre Island.
When hunting the surf, I always like to pay attention to the current. Undertows are hard to detect, so one must always be aware of the conditions that cause them. Which way are the waves coming from and which direction is the wind blowing?
If caught in an undertow, (current which pulls the water near the bottom,) the single greatest thing you can do to save your life is “Don’t Panic.” Floating on top will allow you to escape by swimming over the current. Rip and seaward currents, (strong currents which pull the water outward from the shore) may be escaped by swimming parallel to the shore until you find a break in the current. Sometimes simply “surfing” on the waves can carry you safely in. If you are planning on being in an isolated spot, it is always a good idea to carry a life ring or float pad attached to a rope.
Generally speaking, you will find influxes of Cabbage Heads, Portuguese Man-O-Wars, Sea Wasps, Sea Nettles and Moon Jelly Fish when there are sustained winds from the southeast combined with changes in the Gulf Stream. The wind and tide will push everything from garbage, timbers, shrimp boats and jellyfish onto the shore. It is wise to be aware of these creatures, but if one is observant, you can usually avoid areas of high concentration. I have visited the beach a lot since I arrived here in the early 80s and have yet to step on a stingray, get stung by a jellyfish or get attacked by any sea creature. As with any part of the outdoors the beach can be a lonely and desolate place. Always be aware of your surroundings. Marine animals such as Man-O-Wars and stingrays have a tendency to blend with their surroundings. Baking soda, meat tenderizer and papaya are all common folk cures for jellyfish stings but I advise a trip to the emergency room for a stingray barb broken off in your foot.
Laying out a grid is the best way to hunt any site, but that is not always possible at a crowded beach. I will usually select a garbage can or other semi-permanent fixture as a starting point. By traversing a preplanned path, I will always be near a place where I can dump any pull tabs, broken glass and other flotsam that I find. From there, I study the lay of the land, choosing distances and the most easily traveled route. Remember, the detector’s coil must pass over an object before you can locate it, so choose a path that allows you to swing the detector in as wide an arc as possible. I pay particular attention to the area around playground equipment. It is here that the whole family plays. A mother pushing a swing can lose an earring. The boys playing touch football or volleyball are prime candidates for losing a class ring. The base of swing sets and gym equipment are excellent spots to hunt. I always spend a little time checking the ground around the steps and under the ramps of dune walkovers. It’s not uncommon for people to hide valuables near the pilings before going to the beach, only to be forgotten as the tired vacationers pack up the car after a long day in the sun. You would be surprised at some of the “loot” I’ve found wrapped up in a seemingly discarded cigarette package! So there you have it folks, have fun and be safe!
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