Les Sarkany refers to himself as a ‘bluenoser’ detectorist from Halifax in Nova Scotia who has visited the UK on a couple of occasions. He takes his nickname from the celebrated fishing and racing schooner ‘Bluenose’ built in Nova Scotia, which has since become an important icon for the province as well as Canada as a whole. In 2011 I commissioned him to write an article about his experiences for the UK Searcher magazine. what follows is uncut, but remember that it was written seven years ago and things change. For example, Les no longer works as a security officer at Halifax Airport.
A detector junky is born
As my patrol vehicle entered the park, I noticed a man on the lawn swinging a pole with what looked like a Frisbee attached to the bottom. Curiosity got the better of me, so I parked the car and approached the gentleman who seemed a bit startled that a policeman was coming towards him.
The fellow turned out to be Gordon MacDonald (Geordie) who ran a small business in my patrol district. After dispensing with the mandatory questions, the subject of what exactly he was doing popped up. He launched into a monologue about metal detecting, while at the same time pulling out a selection of coins for me to examine. I was instantly hooked. During the ensuing days while on patrol and with a cup of coffee in hand, I dropped into his shop to be treated to his tales of finding colonial coppers and Spanish and Victorian silver. Gordie knew he had me hooked and offered to take me out.
I used his backup Garrett. I cannot recall which model it was but vividly remember our first outing and the sheer joy of digging up copper after copper. A ‘metal detecting junky’ was born and it wasn’t long afterwards that I coerced Gordie into selling me his spare machine, the only brand I have ever owned. Our outings continued for several years until ‘old man time’ caught up with him. He had to retire not only from his business, but also detecting.
My time swishing
By this time I had purchased my first land machine – a Garrett Freedom together with a weighted coil on a ten foot coil wire which I converted to a water one with the aid of a seven foot high pole. A scoop was constructed by cutting both ends from a juice can, securing meshover one end with a pipe clamp and drilling two holes on the side and inserting a rope which was knotted off. I had to drink a lot of tomato juice in those days to satisfy my demand for new material to produce the scoops that only lasted for three or four swishes (local term for water detecting). Recovering a target on the other hand required an acrobatic feat. I had to hold the pole upright with one hand while going underwater and scooping the find out with the other. To a casual passer- by it must have been a shocking sight seeing one arm holding what looked like a harpoon as I slowly emerged from a target recovery.
Of course there were hazards associated with swishing, such as high waves, currents, jellyfish and sea urchins in the saltwater. Fresh water offers swimmer’s itch and leeches. The worst drawback by far is the swarms of children circling you like sharks around a tin of Chum. At first I would try to ignore them until one worked up the courage to ask the proverbial question! “Hey mister what you doing?” To which I would always retort, “Looking for blood sucking leeches,” which never failed to get a scream from the fleeing brood.
As with detectorists worldwide, finding new locations to search becomes increasingly difficult. In Nova Scotia where virtually everywhere is open to detecting except for federal parks, historic sites and private property, there is seldom an issue.
To help secure new digging spots I have fashioned a ‘conversation piece’ – a necklace of about 160 gold and silver rings. It acts as an ice-breaker and often leads to fresh pastures. Offering your services for free opens more doors.
First trip to the UK
I now work as a security officer at Halifax airport and last year a co-worker Ron LeFleche, invited me to accompany him on a trip to North Weald in the UK where he has family. I couldn’t believe that I was heading to England, a place so old and ripe with history!
Just weeks before I had made contact, via various detecting forums, with several British detectorists, including Anne Laverty and Craig Carter. Craig picked me up on several occasions and took me to a few of his fields. On one such trip I crossed a hammered coin off my to find list. I was
Anne accompanied us too and I found her company most delightful. A few things came to light such as driving on the wrong side of the road, being served fish and chips with the skin still on the battered fillet with a side dish of mushy peas that looked like something that came out of the mouth of the possessed girl in The Exorcist!
Even though we all spoke English or a version thereof, communication was not without its pitfalls as this ‘bouy’ (Canadian equivalent to your ‘mate’) had no clue what bits and bobs were. To this Bluenoser a bog was where a person went to see bullrushes, frogs and dragonflies, a boot was getting thrown out of a pub after consuming too much grog and a lorry was a friendly girl who lived down the lane. The first week went by quickly and a great deal of time was spent meandering local fields.
With the start of the second week I called my final contact, Jim Kyrsewicz from Lincoln, who drove down and took me to my first ever rally. I felt like a guy going to a gunfight with a knife. I was swinging my 22-year-old Freedom 3 Plus and here they were using hi-tech machines sporting coils bigger than the bonnet of my car!
At another rally an amazing sight awaited me, as I had never seen a field of gold coloured rape blowing in the breeze. Stunning! The old machine sung on this day as I found a multitude of large coppers and a silver livery button.
The heavens opened up and everyone ran for cover. This bouy simply covered his machine with a garbage bag and enjoyed the free shower! Jim had done okay, finding a few bits and bobs. We returned to North Weald leaving an open invitation to return to the UK. Little did he know at the time that the Bluenoser would do just that!
The clad collector
During the next year I managed over 7200 clad coins that amounted to enough money to pay my airfare for a return visit to the UK. When I emailed ‘Special K’ in Lincoln regarding my forthcoming visit I immediately felt that this was indeed going to be a super trip. Over the next few months I drove the poor lady at Travelex crazy buying £5 notes every time my pockets filled with change. And landing at Gatwick in the wee hours of the morning with Jim anxiously waiting as he had tickets for a rally in Sawbridgeworth.
Being awake for over 24 hours didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for a stint of detecting and away we went. That Friday was a long one as the field was muddy making walking an arduous task but we made the best of it! Highlight of the day however, was not the finds but meeting the boys whose posts I have been reading on the UK detecting forums and putting a face to the name.
Later in the evening after Jim and I had checked into a local hotel we returned to a pub near the digging fields. I can’t recall leaving but I’m a tad too long in the tooth for that merriment. Especially the next day, as every step taken was like the bells of Saint Mary’s ringing in my thick skull. The finds’ cabinet was near bursting with wonderful finds ranging from gold coins and artefacts as far back as the Romans.
The last day was our most productive with Jim scoffing up a nice Roman fibula and an even better Roman snake brooch. To my hammered coin and buttons a slew of large pennies were recovered from a far grassy field that was now getting worked over by a pair of serious Minelabs.
In the raffle I won two baseball caps. The first I gave to Jim and the second to the bare – headed ‘mate’ with the Minelab! We returned to his humble abode in Lincoln and I did grow rather fond of those early morning chow downs which more than fuelled our long days of swinging in the surrounding fields!
A memorable day
It was going to be a very special day indeed although I didn’t know it at the time. Jim and I followed our daily routine ending up in a stubble field that yielded him a hammie and me a silver Roman. That was it. Nothing else. Zip. Zilch.
After ten minutes on another ploughed field, I called to Jim to show him one of my finds. I asked him which brand of ale the gold coloured foil had come from. His eyes grew wide. “Well done mate. That’s a gold hammie!” I was beside myself as I thought it was hedge fodder (as Jim called it). Little did I know it was a coin coveted by many – a Henry V quarter noble, so did a happy jig! After settling down we called it a day and adjourned to Jim’s favourite pub where I consumed vast quantities of brown ale. Next day I had the pleasure of meeting Martin who is a friend of Jim’s, and we ventured to a nearby village for a little detecting. Finds were few until Martin hit a hot spot that netted him three hammies. I hugged the roadside unearthing a half dozen large coppers.
Skegness was our next destination and we decided to try our luck at beach detecting – we were not prepared for what greeted us. The high winds carried sand forcing us to shield our eyes. A quick visit to a local vendor for sunglasses resolved that problem. Jim to the left and I to the right towards the pier which had its moorings completely exposed due to the tide being low. After an hour of being sandblasted we packed up with our meager finds in hand and meandered home.
My time in the UK was drawing to a close and as Jim drove me to the airport I truly felt a sadness deep within. Throughout my vacation I had suggested to Jim that a trip to Nova Scotia was in his future and that my door was always open. Although I managed to cross an item off my list of things to find, the greatest treasure without a doubt was the friendship and admiration I gained for my host Jim Kursewicz, a true ambassador of this great hobby.
From the land of the Bluenose … may the winds fill your sails, the fish of the oceans grace your nets with a safe journey to your home port and to the ones you love!
Originally published in the UK Searcher magazine