ANOTHER "FEATURE ARTICLE" FROM THE PAGES OF
ANTIQUE BOTTLE AND GLASS COLLECTOR MAGAZINE
THE MAGAZINE OF THE ANTIQUE BOTTLE COLLECTING HOBBY
DIVERS PORT OF PLENTY
Text & Photos by Dale Sanders
Through history St. Thomas has been a crossroads of
maritime shipping. First contact came when Columbus anchored off
of St. Croix on his second voyage in 1493. During this visit
Columbus named the entire group of islands in honor of St. Ursula
and her 11,000 martyred virgins. Hence the Virgin
Islands were claimed by Spain and warred over during the next 200
years with the Dutch, English and French. All towards the pursuit
of growing sugarcane to distill and bottle rum
commodity in Europe during that era.
The French finally won out only to be outdone by the Danes in 1671. In 1764 St. Thomas was declared a free port by Danish King Frederick V. This single event opened the door to trading vessels of every nation venturing into the Caribbean. From this date till the 1850s (when slavery was abolished curtailing sugar and rum production and the concurrent advent of the steamship) St. Thomas was a bustling seaport, and the bottles which come from its surrounding waters are testament to these rich times.
Doug and Tejo with twin Web
torpedos aboard their boat with
Bolongo Bay in the background
Diving for bottles in the waters around St.
Thomas is markedly different from other Caribbean islands. The
diving that occurs in this area is done at locations other than
the harbor, a distinct contrast to many other island
destinations. Here in St. Thomas, diving is not allowed in the
harbor adjacent to Charlotte Amalie. Consequently, diving for
bottles is done in areas where one of several events took place
in olden days of yore:
a. Refuge was jettisoned outside the port, of which bottles were included.
b. Many ships actually anchored just outside of major harbors, and constantly disposed of their waste by simply discarding them overboard.
c. Numerous ships havebeen known to capsize thereby unexpectedly dumping their contents overboard. This usually occurred due to hitting obstacles, swamping during hurricanes, or as a result of fluke rogue waves (see headlines from newspaper) also known universally as tsunamis.
wreck offers divers an underwater
view of marine history
|One of the large cruise ships docked in the harbor||A view of Charlotte Amalie from the top of the tram..|
We had the pleasure of visiting St. Thomas
during the Month of Feb. and were hosted by Bolongo Bay Resort
and St. Thomas Diving Club (which is located on property).
Bolongo Bay offers an ideal location for visiting bottle divers.
It is located just a few miles to the east of the harbor entrance
and just north of a submerged area known as Packete Rock. Its
unique location and excellent accommodations, beautiful beach and
accommodating PADI dive operator, make this the property of
choice for visiting divers in search of bottles.
During our visit we had the fortune to dive with Sigrid Tejo and Doug Sprotte both veteran dive instructors as well as avid bottle collectors. On one of our many dives we traversed featureless bottom in 60 feet where Tejo came upon twin Webb torpedoes. As the sand was quite deep in this area it was noted that many of the bottles that were found came from stingray holes. These being areas where stingrays have dug into the sand either to hide themselves or to search for invertebrate marine life that they feed on. Although the water on most dives here was fairly clear 50-80, on one dive late in the day we learned the importance of good navigational skills and experienced dive masters. In fact, the only way to do this dive is with a florescent dive line on a reel (similar to those used in cave diving or wreck penetration). Reason being is that you will need to return to the boats anchor for a safe ascent (as boat traffic in this area is heavy). Other dives during our trip at this location yielded: three part mold ales, a German embossed blob top beer, one half of a ships serving platter with a unicorn and lion crest, a Dutch seltzer water, J. Webbs torpedo, and a rare odd form shear top ink.
There are many other collectors who over time have accumulated an interesting assortment of bottles. One collector who offered to show us her collection during our visit was Jeanne Bowen who is the owner of Dive World located at Coral World at Coki Point. Jeanne recounted several stories of how she has stumbled on bottles just laying in the sand during her many guided dives she has done over the years. Perhaps her favorite item is that of a smallish Grey Poupon stoneware crock.
|Jeanne with some of her collection.||Two bottles found on diving trip.|
If you visit St. Thomas you should also plan to
spend some time in town at Charlotte Amalie which is
directly in front of historical St. Thomas Harbor. Bottle
collectors will want to visit several sights while visiting this
waterfront district, such as Fort Christian and its 17th
century museum and related Danish relics. The S.O.S. Maritime
Antique Shop is also a not to be missed stop, with its diverse
collection of bottles, amphoras, and countless historical
rarities. Then stop off at the Shipwreck Tavern to look over the
owners private collection while you have a modern day ale or
grog. Lastly, head over to where all the cruise ships dock at
Paradise Point to take the tramway to the top. Here you will not
only get a dramatic view of the harbor and the nearby areas
common to bottle diving, but you must stop in at the Pirates
Chest. Bring some cash
.as it will he hard to resist some of
the offerings from these interesting shops.
Another extremely interesting dive offered by St. Thomas Diving Club is that of Packete Rock. This coral encrusted mini pinnacle lies directly in front of Bolongo Bay, almost mid channel. Hence, this barely submerged obstacle to navigation has produced many a hull scrape or actual sinking. Although there are thought to be numerous wrecks in and around this underwater formation, it is known that the wreck of the Warick (an 1800s British sailing ship) went down on Packete Rock. This vessel commonly traversed this channel during its deliveries of mail and cargo to this island group before sinking.
Some of the bottles on display at the
S.O.S. Maritime Antique Shop.
Divers who are lucky enough to visit this sight
on a calm day will be treated to dramatic color changes created
by the shallower part of the mini sea mount. Upon entering the
water it will be obvious that cargo has been spilled from the
hull of one or more ships. Shards of roofing tiles and other
miscellaneous wreckage are scattered everywhere. Soon you are
bound to come across cannons, anchors, or ballast stones which
have become a permanent part of this reef. As this is a known
wreck site current USVI laws restrict the collection of
artifacts. None the less, this is a great shallow dive and a
wonderful primer to get you ready for hunting in the
pseudo-barren sand bottom areas known to produce great bottle
finds. Numerous other great dives are also nearby including more
modern day wrecks, and traditional reefs.
Back on shore, we had an opportunity to have dinner with Doug and Tejo at their condo overlooking Bolongo Bay. This invite allowed us to see just how robust their bottle and stoneware collection really is. Hundreds of black glass specimens lined their bookshelves. Interspersed amongst these blown and 3 part specimens, Doug & Tejo have on display numerous sodas, beers, inks, varietal torpedos, limitless plates, bowls, and cups, as well as clay Dutch wines and pipes. Other finds include a few onions, some case gins, and even an amphora! Beyond this, Doug also allowed me to view and photograph some of his historical newspaper clippings. Most notable are the front page features showing lithos of maritime tragedies.
|A view of Bolongo Bay.||A few pieces from Doug and Tejos collection.|
Our host for this trip to explore bottle diving opportunities in the U.S. Virgin Islands were Bolongo Bay resort and St. Thomas Diving Club. Bolongo Bay is situated directly on their own private pristine beach, and features 75 ocean front rooms as well as a great restaurant. They can be reached by calling (340) 775-1800. Paul and Richard Doumeng are local owners, who see that all guest have an optimum visit. Paul has also collected bottles over the years. The other great thing about staying here is St. Thomas Diving Club (which is located right on property). You are mere steps from the shop or pier where they dock their boats. The driving force behind this decades old five star PADI operation is Bill Letts. The best way to contact Bill is by email to simply ask questions or arrange a trip. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org whereby he will be happy to arrange a trip and itinerary of interest to individuals or even a small group. Good Hunting!!!!
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