Buried Treasure: A Pirate’s Hurricane Booty
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Military Unrest. Even as a journalist, it’s difficult to watch the news these days. So, it seems like a good time to share this light-hearted story about surviving Hurricane Luis in 1995 on a tiny Caribbean island. I send out continued thoughts and prayers to all in the path of these storms and strongholds.
Anguilla, 1995 – A small group of us gathered on the beach. It was midmorning and we were taking a break from the sun. But there was little shade to find on Anguilla, as the small Caribbean island had taken a direct hit from Hurricane Luis, a category four. There was major damage. The power was still out. There were no palms or leaves left on the trees.
I had been working for a bed and breakfast that summer when I find myself in one of the worst hurricanes to hit this Leeward Island in more than a century. The storm’s reminders were all around us as we removed trash and debris from a popular local restaurant. Before Hurricane Luis, Scilly Cay had been one of the island’s most gorgeous – and pricey – dining establishments, with lunch for two easily tallying over $100.
But boy, it was worth it. The place was on a tiny island some 150 yards off the mainland shore, in the middle of the harbor. Scilly Cay was encased in a conch shell wall that wound its way in and out of tables filled with sun-burned tourists who usually had one too many rum punches.
To get to Scilly Cay, you’d wave from the dock at Island Harbor and they’d zip over and scoop you up in a water taxi. You’d be whisked away for incredible barbecued lobster and rum concoctions that enhanced some of the best snorkeling on the island.
But all that was gone now, except for a few concrete slabs. “Da sea done took it back, Mon, “ the locals proclaimed. We were trying to salvage what was left. Back in 1995 one of the restaurants prize possessions was a huge oak or that have been custom built for Scilly Cay. After Luis, half of it was found on the shore of the main island. The other half found its final resting place on the sea floor. The fact that half of that bar had made it to the mainland spoke volumes about the torrential winds that accompanied Hurricane Luis, often hovering around 150 mph. Somehow that half of the bar had made its way across the harbor without sinking to the bottom like its other half.
As we returned from the day’s cleanup efforts on Scilly Cay, I hung back on the beach and looked back out at the small patch of sand where there once stood a great restaurant. Then I looked over at the bar half that had made its way across that harbor, and shook my head in disbelief. If only it were full, full of cold beer and frosty beverages!
People always report about the need for the basics after hurricanes: water, food, shelter. But after a week, folks start to miss their cold beer. You could start to feel the tensions rise across the island
All of the liquor stores had been emptied out before Hurricane Luis – how do you think you get through a category four storm? And while the Queen’s Navy (Anguilla is a British Territory) had arrived with the basic necessities, the beer had not arrived – yet.
As I sat in the late afternoon heat, a growing thirst gave birth to an idea. My theory was simple: if the force of the hurricane was able to bring half of that huge oak bar across the bay, then maybe its liquid libations were buried in the harbor waters.
I ran to get my snorkel gear. Now keep in mind, a hurricane the force of Luis had made a murky mess of normally blue-green lagoons. In most places, post hurricane ocean floors held cloudy secrets, dangerous things. Not many people were going into the sea.
But I was willing to take the risk. For if I was right, there was enough booze in that bay for one roaring party. And we needed it.
I convinced a couple of local guys to join me in this underwater excavation. We started at the edge of Scilly Cay, in the shallow waters, where things were a bit clearer. Nothing. A few more feet offshore we dove down wearing gloves we hoped would protect us from whatever unnatural predators might lie below. It was hard to see the bottom, which made it scary. Not shark scary, but rebar-wire-sticking-up-out-of-cement and broken glass scary.
As I adjusted my snorkel mask, I saw one of the guys struggling to bring something up from the depths: it was a lawn chair. That was our ray of hope! My theory proved correct: The contents of gorgeous Scilly Cay had been dumped into the harbor.
Our efforts started to draw some attention, as a small crowd gathered on shore. Then finally, smack in the middle of that harbor, we hit pay dirt. I recognized the label even through the murky water. I wondered if it was broken as I rose empty handed to the sea’s surface.
“I’ve found something,” I cried out, as my lungs filled with air. I dove down again. Unbelievable! It was intact, cap and all. I ascended once again, this time allowing my buried treasure to break the water’s surface ahead of me: one Red Stripe beer. Let the party began!
Most of our discoveries had been contaminated by saltwater. But, we did eventually uncover enough good bottles from the sea floor to have a little party that night. We didn’t care that the beer was warm. We didn’t care that there was no ice or electricity to blend up a delicious daiquiri. We drank like pirates who had just found their buried treasure; our Hurricane Luis booty of booze.