Of Pi­rates, Dou­bloons, And A Golden Gra­tu­ity

Soundings - - Sailboats - BY CAPT. LOU BOUDREAU

Ship’s log: May 12, 1989 Ketch High Bar­ba­ree At an­chor in West End, Tor­tola Weather: clear, light wind Sent the launch to pick up our char­ter party

The buc­ca­neers and pi­rates of long ago stashed their loot in the odd­est places. Ev­ery year, there’s a new story from some far­away shore of trea­sure found. The his­tory of the British Vir­gin Is­lands is steeped in leg­ends of buried trea­sure. Names here hark back to the days of pieces of eight on the Span­ish Main. Dead­man’s Bay, Dead­ch­est, Jost van Dyke and Blue­beard’s Cas­tle are all rem­i­nis­cent of an era when a cut­lass in a strong man’s hand was the law.

The long stretch of water known as Sir Fran­cis Drake Chan­nel is like an in­land sea, of­fer­ing an­chor­ages where a schooner or brig could find safe haven. Large, nat­u­ral har­bors such as the Bight at Nor­man Is­land (the real “Trea­sure Is­land”), Road Har­bor and West End at Tor­tola, and Great Har­bour at Peter Is­land must have been just as at­trac­tive to the old-time sailors as they are to yachts­men to­day. A 200-ton schooner with a good skip­per and crew could eas­ily sail to and from the an­chor in these har­bors.

With all of the loot that these du­bi­ous char­ac­ters were haul­ing in, they were al­ways on the look­out for a safe place to hide it. The sands of time have run, and scores of years have passed, but many of the se­crets of that by­gone era re­main. From time to time, tourists vis­it­ing the Vir­gin Is­lands turn up the odd gold dou­bloon or chain. Law­mak­ers long ago rec­og­nized this source of lu­cre and de­clared any trea­sure found to be the prop­erty of the gov­ern­ment.

In May 1989, the San­der­son fam­ily ar­rived in West End, Tor­tola, for a week­long char­ter on the High Bar­ba­ree, our 78-foot Philip Rhodes ketch. There were five in the fam­ily, three of them young daugh­ters. The fam­ily were a few hours early, so as we car­ried their lug­gage aboard, I sug­gested that they have a walk around the bay.

There had been great plans over the years to deepen the head of West End har­bor, and at that time, fi­nally, it was be­ing done. A huge dredge sucked up tons of sand and ground-up co­ral from the bot­tom of the bay and spit it out onto the shore. There were huge piles of sand, full of seashells of many dif­fer­ent types.

Mrs. San­der­son ex­pressed an in­ter­est in shell col­lect­ing.

“Just walk along the beach to the sand piles over there, and you’ll prob­a­bly find plenty,” I sug­gested. And so, they did. The week turned out well, and the San­der­sons seemed to en­joy them­selves even more than guests usu­ally did. We took them snor­kel­ing by Seal Dog Rocks and ex­plored the white sand beaches of Ane­gada. I took them fish­ing in the launch, and we caught yel­low­tail snap­per for the ta­ble. The

weather held and we had a num­ber of glo­ri­ous sail­ing days. Our big, steel ketch rev­eled in the trade- wind breezes. All too soon for the San­der­sons, the cruise came to an end and we sailed into Beef Is­land on their fi­nal night.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, they left to catch a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they would con­nect to a flight bound for the United States. My crew was happy with the gra­tu­ity they left, a full 15 per­cent. As the cap­tain, I didn’t usu­ally ac­cept gra­tu­ities, and I didn’t ex­pect any­thing on this oc­ca­sion. How­ever, af­ter my guests had gone ashore and I went into my cabin, I found a brown en­ve­lope wait­ing for me. It was stick­ing out from un­der my pil­low, and as I picked it up, I al­most dropped it be­cause it was so heavy. In­side was a small pack­age wrapped in tin foil, with this note:

“Dear Capt. Lou,

Our thanks once again to you and your crew for a won­der­ful cruise. Just how won­der­ful you could never have imag­ined. Re­mem­ber the first day in West End, when you told us to go and look for shells in the sand pile? Well, we picked up some rather pretty shells, but that wasn’t all we found. Robin spot­ted what looked like a huge flat abalone shell, but it had a shiny part to it. When I lifted it out of the sand it weighed a ton and I could hardly hold it. When we took a closer look, we couldn’t be­lieve our eyes, be­cause there was a clump of gold coins, Lou, all fused to­gether by time and co­ral. They must have been in a bag and fallen into the bay many years ago — I won­der how many? Any­way, they must have been dredged up for us to find. We didn’t say any­thing to you be­fore, as we weren’t sure how you would re­act.

So, thank you for show­ing us where to find that small piece of trea­sure. Maybe you should go back and take a look for your­self. In the mean­time, we want you to have these two coins in our ap­pre­ci­a­tion.”

The note was signed by the San­der­sons, and as I slowly opened the tin foil, I found my­self look­ing at two large gold coins, my share of the West End trea­sure.

High Bar­ba­ree, Capt. Lou Boudreau’s 78-foot Philip Rhodes ketch, makes her way up­wind in the BVI.

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