In a surfing wetsuit, headphones on, electronic gear strapped to his body, wading slowly through the water, Don Marshall doesn’t look like other park goers at Elk Lake.
He is in the zone sweeping the shallow murky water with his underwater metal detector, focused on hitting a telltale chirp of treasure buried in silt below. Chances are that of the thousands of people who flocked to Hamsterly Beach over the many hot days of summer, at least a few lost prized jewelery in the water.
“I listen for the tones. You can tell from the crispness of the sound when it’s pure metal. The tone is very sharp. Rusted nails sound corroded, sound gravelly or growly,” Marshall says. “When you hit a good tone you get excited, but it could be a bottle cap that’s not rusted, or a pull tab. You get all excited and it’s a damn pull tab.”
The retired Saanich resident has been ring and jewelery hunting around Greater Victoria for about three years and has been the mild-mannered saviour for five people this year alone. He’s Victoria’s sole listing on The Ring Finders website, a worldwide directory of metal detectors for hire.
This year Marshall is batting 100 per cent – five calls for help, five located rings, both on land and in water. At East Sooke Park in July, he spent five hours over two days to zero in on a wedding ring lost in shallow water by a woman playing with her kids. A few weeks later at the University of Victoria, he located a platinum engagement ring lost amid grass and trees behind the Student Union Building.
“It is so exciting, really exciting on how excited people are when you find their rings,” Marshall said. “The last one at UVic was a heirloom ring, passed down they told me three or four generations. They were so upset it was lost, and it was a hard one to find.”
Marshall charges $25 for a call out fee to cover gas and takes a reward based on what a client can afford. He’s pulled three valuable rings out of the water at Elk Lake the past couple of years, and advertised the finds on classified ad websites, but nobody came forward.
“It depends on how new (the jewelery) is and the level of tarnish,” he said. “If they are new enough, I’ll advertise them in UsedVictoria and Craigslist to try and get it back to the owner. It’s hard to find the owner of an old wedding ring.”
Last Friday, Marshall was wading in Elk Lake as part of his regular post-summer exploration of popular beach spots. His underwater gear is good to a depth of 20 feet, although Marshall will wade in neck high following the tones. He carries a scoop and a floating sieve to separate the junk from the occasional treasure.
It’s a pastime that requires patience – popular spots can be littered with bottle caps, nails and even bullet casings, all which can twig the device. He’s part of a loose community of about half a dozen people who regularly explore Greater Victoria parks and beaches with metal detectors.
The Saanich fairground manager even allowed Marshall to explore the grounds and target-rich areas under rides. “There’s plenty to find along the towel line in the sand at Willows (beach),” he adds.
Marshall purchased his metal detecting equipment as a way to keep busy after retiring from Telus. The draw, he says, is the mix of being immersed in Victoria’s natural spaces and the quiet solitude of the hunt.
“It was a situation of finding something to do to stay out of the bar,” he said laughing. “And it’s the only hobby that pays for itself.”
Check out theringfinders.com.