On some days, this beach scavenger strikes gold, other days debris
There’s a fine line between trash and treasure. And treasure hunter Clyde Longworth will tell you that line is usually where the tide comes in.
Some days you strike gold — real gold. Other days, you’re only cleaning debris off the beach.
Basically, it’s a crapshoot, Longworth said.
“I’ve filled my pockets with loose change or rare coins and everything in between,” he said.
Longworth, 61, bought his first metal detector 12 years ago at his daughter’s request. Her interest waned quickly, but he became a “lifer” after the first day, he said. Since then, Longworth has acquired quite the cache.
And, if you don’t want your jewels to end up in his display box, it’s best to leave them at home before heading to the beach, he said.
“Your body wants to maintain a core temperature of 98.6 degrees, so when you get into 80-degree water, you lose three to five ring sizes,” Longworth said. “It’s basic science. On top of that, you’re all greased up with lotion, making it easier for jewelry to slip off.
“Or someone wraps a ring in their towel for safekeeping and someone else shakes it off to use. That ring rolls off and sinks quick. The only way to ensure you won’t lose something at the beach is if you don’t bring it in the first place.”
If there are identifiers on the piece, such as inscriptions or dates, Longworth makes every effort to find the owner, he said. Sometimes, that means taking out a classified ad in The Galveston County Daily News. Other times, it means looking through the paper at what’s listed as lost.
His most historically significant recovery was lost at sea not once, but twice. A coin, minted in Mexico between 1710-1712 was recovered and set in a 14-karat gold bezel. He traced it back to the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Florida where it was sold. Sometime later, the coin broke free from a necklace worn by a visitor to Galveston Island, he said.
He recovered the coin under the tide line, in knee-deep water. That’s where he finds much of his valuables, he said.
“Metal detecting is not for the faint of heart,” Longworth said. “This is hard work out in the sun and often in the water. You need to learn how to read what your machine is telling you. It’s like learning a foreign language.”
And there are rules.
“You do cover the holes you dig, especially under the tide line and you don’t hunt on private property, or the Galveston Island State Park, where you can be fined and have your equipment confiscated,” he said.
Longworth suggests newcomers look for used equipment online, and if they plan to search under the tide line, they should make sure the detector they buy is waterproof. A scoop shovel also will prove helpful, he said.
When’s the best time to hunt the beach? Low tide after a busy summer weekend or holiday, Longworth said. Unfortunately, that’s also when the most hazards are left behind. Be on the lookout for fish hooks and jagged metal pieces, he warns.
When asked whether he believed in famed pirate Jean Laffite’s buried treasure, he quips: “Pirates are criminals. Criminals don’t bury their treasure, they spend it.”
For the most part, you get out of your hobby what you’re willing to put in, he said. You might walk away with a diamond ring or you might walk away with 42 cents and a sunburn.
But if you walk into him on the beach, don’t be insulted if he doesn’t want to converse with you. It’s not that he isn’t friendly enough, it’s just that he’s working and “treasure hunting is very serious business,” he said.
The Galveston Island Treasure Club meets at 6 p.m. every third Tuesday of the month at The Meridian Retirement Community, 2228 Seawall Blvd. in Galveston.