Seashells by the Seashore

In all the crusing guides, Betty and I have highlighted the pages where it tells about good shelling or beach-combing.  The best part is in the Turks and Caicos access to all beaches up to the dune line is allowed, even if the island is private.

a serious sheller Our first big find was at Dellis Cay.  Stephen Pavlidis’ guide book said “The cay is subject to a unique pattern of tide and current, giving this island the nod when it comes to some of the best shelling and beach combing.”  The cay was named after John Dellis, who developed a small but thriving sponging industry here in the late 1800’s.  At the north end of the island it was quite rocky and there wasn’t a good place to anchor the dingy, so I let Betty off to check it out.   Before I knew it she was down on her hands and knees, doing some serious collecting.  Within 45 minutes she had a ziplock bag full in an area 50 yards long.  Back in the dingy, we headed to the south end.

2delliscayIn 2005, a Turkish developer acquired 209 acres on Dellis Cay and construction began in 2008 and lasted for just over a year.  The Residences at Mandarin Oriental was part of an elaborate Ponzi scheme.  Wealthy clients were offered exclusive homes, yet no infrastructure was ever completed.  By 2011, the two principal developers were sued for over $50 million.  They were accused of using the clients money as a “personal piggybank” paying off their previous loans, buying an $8 million Miami Beach home, paying government bribes and globe trotting on private planes.

We could anchor right next to shore in front of the half built homes on the south end.  It is sad to see them slowly deteriorating and felt sort of creepy, like maybe there was a boogy-man watching us from the shadows.   But… the shelling beat out the creep factor and we both got busy selecting the best of the best.  I kept asking Betty, were we out for quantity or quality?  Her answer was always quantity, as you can never have too many shells!

DSCN1437Once back to the boat, we rinse all the shells in salt water to get the sand out of them.  A bucket and all of the galley sieves come out to the swim platform to help with this project.  Then, we soak them in fresh water, throw the broken ones out, same with live critters in them, and sort the rest to different size plastic containers.  Betty has a second purpose for every piece of plastic that comes onboard the boat, whether it held coffee, yogurt, nuts, parmesan cheese or Chinese food in its first lifetime, it holds different varieties of shells in their second.

DSCN1544Great Sand Cay was our ultimate destination in the Turks and Caicos.   Commonly called Big Sand Cay, it was once a habitat for the West Indian monk seal and the manatee, the former hunted to extinction and the latter well on its way.  Legend has it that Spanish treasure is buried on the cay and that a British Captain named Delaney recovered $130,000 in pirate treasure from a cave in 1850.

Big Sand Cay is a desert paradise, just over 1.25 miles in length.  Iguanas and curly-tailed lizards roam the prickly pear cactus landscape.  Green and hawksbill turtles nest on the beautiful western beach south of the light and nurse sharks mate in the shallow lagoon.  The eastern shore  is riddled with coral.  The dangerous reefs southwest of Sand Cay took their toll on so many passing ships that a light was finally established on the cay in 1848.  Currently, like most other lights throughout the Caribbean, it doesn’t work.  Nonetheless, ships still continue to pile up on Endymion Reef, about five miles away.

Big Sand Cay is usually just a stop for boats transiting to or from the Caribbean.  Waiting here puts them 20 miles farther to windward and closer to Hispaniola than any other route.  But for us, this was our “primo” destination.  “The windward shore of this uninhabited jewel has the BEST beachcombing in the islands”, says Bruce Van Sant.  Stephen Pavlidis wrote “There is all manner of flotsam and jetsam that has washed ashore on the cay from the open Atlantic Ocean”.  That word BEST had us intrigued!

The anchorage was deep with a sand bottom for good holding, so we dropped the anchor in 19′ of water, about 200 yards off the western beach.  There was a bit of surge, but nothing like we had had in previous locations.  Once the dingy was down, the difficult part started.  Reviews in Active Captain, stated that the water was 10′ deep right up to shore and that the surge tended to swamp dingies of previous cruisers, so beaching LILI-PAD was out.  I dropped Betty off to do a recon mission to the other side to see what was there.  She came back and said I might find what I was looking for, so we changed places and she headed back to LILI, while I ventured out.

Since I was a little girl, I always enjoyed searching the beach on Lake Erie for beach glass and “lucky stones”.  I was never one to just sit on a beach!  In the past three years, I have developed a fascination for sea beans or drift seeds.  They are not true beans, but seeds that drop from trees in tropical rain forests, floating down the various river systems, such as the Amazon, to the ocean. Once in the ocean, they drift around the world on the various currents, until they get washed ashore due to hurricane activity, wind and temperature changes.   They are hard and buoyant which helps them to survive their long distance voyages.  Since they are light, they normally wash up to the storm tide line, known as the wrack line – it is where all the junk (plastic, flip flops, fishing nets, etc.) ends up.

Previously, I found my one and only sea bean on Harbour Island, a Sea Heart.  The residents of the Azores call it the Columbus Bean, as they believe when Christopher Columbus saw them floating in the ocean, it lead him to search for land to the west where the seeds grew.  Every April while we are in The Bahamas, I have searched for more, with no luck.  Big Sand Cay was rumored to have my elusive sea beans!

DSCN1615Big Sand Cay turned out to be a bonanza, for both Betty and I!  She found some unusual shells and I found SEA BEANS.  My bounty includes – 11 Sea Hearts, 2 Sea Purse, 1 Hamburger Bean, 5 Laurelwood, 1 Starnut Palm, 1 Crabwood, 1 Golf Ball Seed (commonly called a Sea Coconut) and 1 mystery seed.

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