Sunday, January 8, 2023

Sweep and Pattern Failure - Missing the point and everything else

 I was casually watching a YouTube video the other day on my shiny new computer tablet, following a big-name treasure media guy. You know, guys with names like Pirate Rick, or Backhoe Bosco, Silver know the drill. Internet "stars" (with a small s) chasing the spotlight. His GoPro was recording the hi-speed passage of the beach below with his huge tramping feet, in and out of frame, as he talked, rapid-fire, a lot smack; we are gonna' find silver! and "The adventure begins!" as the color graphics swell with "GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!" and music fades for commercial.

We are back!! Once again, the treasure dance continues along the sandy shore, coil sweeping, incessant talking, and an occasional jerk to a stop as we DIG A COIN; and a clad one at that! Exciting stuff indeed! But wait...something is wrong. I stare at the 4K screen and try to figure out what. Something very basic, even primal, is going off the rails here. Suddenly I realize what's wrong, and it's because he's missing every other sweep by stepping forward instead of doing a reverse sweep before he moves!  This is equivalent to metal detecting a football stadium and literally missing half the field with your scans! What's going on here? Why is he in a big hurry? This guys a media treasure star, a YouTube darling in metal detecting circles! And here lies the problem: A person new to the hobby watches these channels, examines the detectorists' every move, then clones the same techniques when they are out in the field themselves. And missing half the targets.

Social media metal detecting and real world metal detecting occasionally diverge due to the fact that anyone can start a media channel and call themselves a treasure hunter . And many times they really don't know any more about the hobby than the tyro's watching the show. However, that YouTube money is sweet, one of the reasons this happens more than anyone realizes; mistaking entertainment as expertise. Maybe this was just one instance, but no. Time and again I watch videos where the detectorist is practically running up the beach or across the park...and missing targets by the barge-load!

This technique is called out by Gary Drayton, one guy who really knows his stuff, as low and slow, move ahead one step, sweep, coil level, to the right (or left) then, one coil width forward, sweep in the opposite direction. Step forward again and do the same. This assures your search pattern covers ALL the ground. Continual walking forward while swinging the coil almost assures you only cover half the ground you are scanning! Paraphrasing Mr. Drayton, "It's not how much ground you cover, it's how you cover the ground!" This technique along with stable coil control (keep it level!) will assure your targets, as Jim Fielding says, "...will be found, if they are in the ground!" There are only so many slices of metal detecting pie left, and with more and more people entering the hobby, those slices are getting slimmer by the day. Get your slice, using good technique, before someone else does!

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Cleaning Coins - Are You Insane?

 One side of the metal detecting hobby that has almost become a hobby in its own right, is the cleaning of clad coins. I'm not talking about touching up valuable silver collectors' coins, oh no! I'm talking about everyday dirty money. Coins you dig up, find baking in the sun, or laying on or in sand, soil and muck. Filthy little metal disks...discolored, (and if zinc, half-rotted) unloved and as pitiful as a token of exchange can get. Now I know detectorists that LOVE to fill things with all the coins they have found. Big, clear, plastic 5-gallon water dispenser bottles, glass mason jars, aquarium fish tanks, a casket (you can TRY to take it with you!), milk jugs, thermos bottles, and on and on.  


Your Second Hobby - It's Complicated

Eventually, though, a new metal detector with some new amazingly advanced technical abilities makes the scene (daddy-oh) and you slowly become aware of all that metallic cash littering your seaside party barge. You need to either bank it by cleaning and rolling them or rinsing them off in hot water and tossing them in a Coinstar machine that counts it and takes anywhere from 8% to 10% of the total for services rendered, the result being you get handfuls of cash money ready for spending or banking. 

Now, if you are like a good deal of detectorists, you will go and spend $75 on a motorized tumbler; spinning rubber drums filled with chemicals, tumbling media (small gravel) and coins to be cleaned. And the TIME it takes to get all the coins through the process. Remember TIME, we will come back to it.

I clean coins myself by throwing them all in a perforated drum (a spaghetti colander will work) rinsing the dirt off with hot water, or hot water and a little dish soap, drying them off, then tossing them in a Coinstar. I readily collect the cash, sans Coinstar's 10 percent, and that's it. And the Coinstar Organization is more than welcome to their percentage. The other process, the hobby-within-a- hobby, is a small industry in itself. Now some people with a lot of time on their hands do like to complicate things sometimes, and if there are more gadgets and devices involved, well, all the better!

Banks are notorious for complicating things, and you cannot just deposit dirty coins, oh no! They must be clean, shiny even, and they must be carefully counted and be rolled in separate little denomination tubes, sometimes also printed with your account number. And of course, you need to travel to said bank, stand in line, have the bank rep count the little tubes. But this all comes after you have mixed dishwashing detergent, salt, vinegar, gravel, and other stuff into a slurry filling only half the tumbler. Then wait at least 30 or 40 minutes to tumble a few handfuls of coins, which you then dump into a colander to separate the coins from the gravel, then rinse them, then dry them, then counting and rolling, etc. Also remember you cannot just dump all the coins in together, oh no! Dimes, nickels, quarters, half-dollars, and on up, must be separated from the pennies or they will turn pink during the process. And we cannot have that! 

Finally, after half-a day, you have made a dent in your clad coins and spend some more time cleaning up after the process. Meanwhile I have long finished rinsing and cashing in all my coins and am at the beach with my detector looking for more. And when all your labor, which is worth something in itself, is added up, you have probably spent more in time and materials than your coins were ever worth. That's my opinion, of course, but then again, it is entirely your preference how you want to clean your treasure. Just food for thought. Good luck and happy hunting!

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Detector Snobbery - Elitist Detecting

As the 21st Century progresses (although that can be debated), in the world of metal detecting there is a cold war running just beneath the glitz and glitter of treasure hunting, if that's even what they call it anymore. This conflict has always raged since the first guy with a mine sweeper found a treasure coin on a beach. And it is a war with the best, most advanced detector out there verses the best most advanced detector out there! You read it right, it's the all-time, all-encompassing argument between detectorists as to which machine is the best, and almost always degenerates into the time-honored discussion and disagreement over whose machine detects the deepest!

As the lists of detector manufacturers shrinks from several hundred in the mid to late 1960's to a half-dozen or less in the first quarter of the 21st Century, competition between the remaining brands has been fierce, and sometimes not on the up and up. In, then, the end, manufacturers Fisher, Garrette, DEUS (deh us), Minelab and Nokta Macro make up the players in this game of technical superiority. And there are plenty of arguments and points of context users continually par and counter-par with each other. I always find it a bit comical no one actually tests one machine against the other in a semi-scientific way. Except in one instance, they did. And the losers were not particularly happy about it. We will speak of this in a future post,

The end product of all this is BUYING THE LATEST MODEL metal detector, and totally believing the sales hype. Just so you know, the laws of physics governing the design of metal detectors are currently immutable, as far as electrodynamic devices go. These instruments have pretty well reached the end of the line unless a newly discovered tenet of our physical universe is discovered and then used to engineer better metal detectors that are light years in advance of our current models. Each new model is usually released with fanfare and excitement and with the unspoken assurance that it will surely go DEEPER than the previous machines of years gone by. But will it? 

Depth, from a metal detecting standpoint, is dependent on factors other than the machine itself. It depends on how wet the ground is, or in other words, how conductive the matrix (sand, soil, gravel, rock etc.) is to electromagnetic energy. Very low frequency machines are very good at passing through the earth and water, not suffering from signal attenuation, or energy absorption, that plague higher frequencies. It also depends on the type of search-coil, the size of the search-coil, how much power is being transmitted from the search coil. and how the gain and sensitivity controls are set. Just because it has a new and shiny exterior for 2023, does not make it much better than the sun-bleached hull of a metal detector from 2013. Especially if you are an expert at using the 2013 model. A new machine puts you back below the learning curve again until you get a few hundred hours using it in various situations and environments again. I would bet cash money on the old hand using an older detector they know like the back of their hand, against someone who has just purchased the newest machine with the amazing paint job with all the bells and whistles. 

I would say that learning your current machine's strengths, weaknesses and hidden talents makes it mandatory you don't fall for the latest machine to come down the pike every six months to a year. I know people who buy the latest machine before learning the previous "latest machine" from 11-months earlier. This will get you nowhere quick, but if you enjoy spending money and have plenty of it, by all means buy the latest detector out there ever 6 to 12 months, people will marvel at you, but not at you finds until you learn the machine really well. But you don't have time with a new machine being released really soon by a competing manufacturer you will have to have. Take a little time to learn a machine really, really well. Your detector will love you for it.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

SCUBA Danger - Seriously Tanked

 Treasure diving had always held my fascination since I was a kid. Mike Nelson and his flaming magnesium underwater torch was the coolest; finding treasure, beautiful women, and still fight the bad guys deep in the depths! Luckily, my father was an avid diver, making his own gear before most of it was available commercially. Made his own wetsuit, bought a dual-tank set-up and he was off. I made the mistake once, during elementary school, when we were planning a bring your father to class event, of telling them my father was a scuba diver. This was like in 1960, when diving was not all that common. 

When Dad brought his tanks and gear in the day of our class, unknown to me, the subject was so interesting the teachers at the entire school got together and made it an all-school event in the school auditorium! Dad was expecting a short talk in a 20-student classroom, but instead found himself staring down a 650 sized student body, along with 20 or 30 teachers! I can still remember him, in his blue business suit, hefting the tanks on his back and the mask on his face while he explained in detail the use of all the gear. You would have thought he was a celebrated astronaut, and this was before astronauts! Afterward he was surrounded by interested teachers asking further questions. 

I thought he was going to kill me when I got home, and I was ready to explain that I had no idea they were going to do that, but he was still basking in the adulation of the 650-plus audience, so I escaped wrath of any kind. I was also the one tasked with bringing over 650 "thank you" notes home for him to read. One was mine. It read "Thanks Dad!" which my teacher chewed me out about, saying I showed no creativity in the note. I listened to all this and thought "Jeez, I see him every day, and I am still apologizing for what you and your ilk did without my knowledge!

Dad ended up teaching me to dive and also enrolled me in a NAUI scuba class at 14. I finally got my dive card, but not until NAUI had tortured me a few times diving in zero visibility water, tasked to navigate underwater with a compass, and how to change tanks underwater, or remove them completely. That last maneuver actually saved my life once, while I was doing an underwater hull-cleaning on a large yacht parked up against a seawall. 

I had gone under the boat and come up on the seawall side. I started cleaning the hull and was not particularly being very observant, when I suddenly noticed the tide was going out and the boat was settling on me. There was a slight concrete lip at the bottom of the seawall, not very wide, but my escape was blocked by this, and the curve of the hull was closing my escape upward to the surface. There was a large post at either end, near the bow and the stern so I could not get out that way. My tanks would never fit, and neither would I with or without the tanks! I suddenly realized I was going to drown.

trapped underwater in a confined space

My route back down under the boat was just barely wide enough for me to get through without the tanks. To make matters worse, passing boat traffic was making the hull ride up and down, creating sort of a continuous guillotine effect between the hull and concrete ledge. I'd have to time this well or be cut in half by a 25-ton boat! Either drown or be crushed. In the confined area I was in, I still managed to remember my NAUI training, and get the tanks and BC off, still breathing off the regulator. I braced my flippered feet against the seawall behind me, watched the hull coming up past the ledge, held my breath and PUSHED! I shot down between the yacht and the ledge and seemingly forever, surfaced on the other side.

My other buddies who had been working on the other side were astounded when I told them what had happened. I later showed them what had turned out to be a confined space, that none of us had recognized as such. You couldn't even call for help, because you could not surface by that time. Once again science, technology, training, keeping a cool head and working the problem saved me from certain death. Probably in a parallel universe I wasn't that lucky.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Pinpointing Targets - The million-mile stare

 One of the most difficult skills to master in metal detecting is accurately targeting signals under the coil. Some of this is due more to the lousy targeting abilities of less costly detectors, than the operator, Now, with small, handheld pulse detectors, many just assume digging a 12" wide, pizza-sized hole will suffice. Then waving the small electronic magic wand over the area, it will quickly and easily locate the target. We quickly remove and marvel at the gold coin we just pinpointed, then head for home. It's Miller time! No, sorry, just no. 

Pinpointing a target with a VLF metal detector is dependent on two things, well really one thing, the search coil, but in two flavors; concentric or the wide-scan (also known as a double-D) coil. When you find a likely target you would like to dig, with a concentric coil, you swing the coil back and forth above the target until the signal is either the loudest or the highest tone, or both, the detected target location will usually be, visually, at the center of the concentric coil. Usually I look for an item at the target point under the coil...a leaf, a small stone, twig...and stare at it as you swing the coil away ("The Million-Mile Stare") and you prepare to dig. When I first started out detecting, my technique after locating the target center in the concentric coil, I would do "the-million-mile-stare" at that location, swing the coil away, and push a coin-probe in the target center. It worked well as a visual-aid when digging, until I got the technique down pat. 

concentric target center on the left is usually where the red x is indicated
wide-scan (double-d) target center in green X is punching the "pinpoint control
Wide-scan (double-d) target locations red X front and back using "wiggle" method

You will find more expensive detectors will come with a wide-scan or "double-d" coil that pinpoints somewhat differently, When I switched from a concentric coil to a wide-scan coil, I found it somewhat difficult to pinpoint very well with the double-d, and had a few choice words with the %$#!&%$!& thing while out hunting the beach!  Metal detector manufacturers, thanks to computerization, have electronically "forced" the circuits to simulate a pinpointed target physically at the center of the double-d coil. And there is nothing wrong with this, as machines using the double-d coil get more technically advanced, pinpointing gets more accurate. BUT, and its a big BUT, understanding and using this coil to best advantage means using it as it was designed. I don't want to launch into another explanation on coils and how they work, just how they pin-point.

The solid strip down the center of the coil is called "the hot-shoe" on a double-d. When you are pinpointing a target, you don't have to use (although you can) the "pinpoint" button, but use a technique called the "wiggle" method. Upon gaining a target, in any mode you choose, you narrowly wiggle the coil back and forth while moving forward slowly, maintaining the target signal. When the target signal suddenly drops off, the target is directly behind the back edge of the coil. And this ability is what make water hunting possible with this type coil. Hunting in chest-deep muddy water? Can't see the coil? Use this technique, and once target is pinpointed, put your toe touching the back of the coil, swing the coil away, then move your toe back a few inches, put the long-handled beach scoop at a 45 degree angle just in front of your toe and dig, Chances are good you will dig the target on the first try, and you never even saw the bottom, you did it all by practice and feel. Don't try this with a concentric coil, though.

Another method in detector pinpointing techniques, using either type coil, is called "de-tuning," which increases the physical accuracy of the coil. As you swing over the target, as soon as you swing slightly away from the target center, punch the pinpoint button off and then punch it back on, and keep swinging, narrowing your sweep each time you de-tune. It takes some practice, but you will be making surgical recoveries of targets as your skills improve.

Still another technique we used back in the day, before electronic hand-held pinpointing devices were available, and still useful today if you cannot yet afford a pin-pointer, we called poor man's pinpointing. The fact was we were not poor, we were just underequipped. You managed to isolate the target using the detector's pinpointing feature, but the target is small, and hard to see or feel in dirt of the hole you dug, especially if you were wearing gloves. Frustrating though it is, the fact that a search coil, no matter what the type, will detect on both sides of the coil saves the day! Grab a handful of dirt from the dig and wave it over the top of your search coil until one handful sounds off, then poke carefully through the dirt in your palm until the target is located. It's Miller Time!

The really important aspect of all this, to you, and the hobby in general, is to master pinpointing, so you can excavate detected targets with surgical precision, and leave the 12" wide digs to the prairie dogs, keeping our hobby safe for coming generations.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Kathy Davis-Waters - Goodby to A Friend

Kathy Davis-Waters was a friend of mine, and a member of the CFMDC since 2014, and had an active hand in the club and its activities, having been a club officer (vice-president), and a member of the club within the club, hunting police evidence, with the CFMDC Search Team. Cancer took her in mid-August, something we all knew was coming, including her. We were all hoping that, like in a TV show, there would be some last-minute plot twist that would erase the evil disease and bring her back to us in full health again, smiling and joking, doing her best to enjoy continuing life and her joy of God, friends, and metal detecting. Alas, it was not to be, and we sadly bid our friend goodby on the morning of August 17th 2022 where she passed peacefully into the arms of our Lord. 

Kathy Davis-Waters Treasure Hunter

Kathy Holding An Air Inlet Door from a WWII Grumman TBM Bomber

Kathy spent as much time as she could on small metal-detecting expeditions with all members of the group, and was an ardent detectorist. Her love of history always shown through with her various finds, and her excitement was palpable every time. One of her most spectacular recoveries, in my opinion, was a 1916 brass tire gauge that still showed signs of being serviceable over 100 years later! Unfortunately we had agreed to turn over all artifacts to the property owners after the hunt and she had to let her precious find go, a part of being in the hobby, but not particularly liking it. 

Kathy being Kathy...getting the "Kathy" stare 

 She was a master of many trades; she had been a Disney World photographer for many years, a private wedding photographer (her stories were priceless!) worked as a Uber and Lyft driver, but being a photographer was foremost. The other was detectorist. 

Kathy asking the farm owner where he thinks the $4000 diamond-studded cross might be

Kathy took part in many of the CFMDC Search Team's evidence hunts, lending a hand to put dangerous criminals where they belonged, behind bars or worse. She served as club Vice-President for one term, doing her best through cancer treatments to assist and support the club and the people in it. 

Proudly Displaying A Spoon Found On An Airbase Hunt

Kathy was a treasure hunter, and a good one. She originally used a Garrett AT-Pro, which she thoroughly wore out, upgrading to a Minelab CTX 3030. I hunted with her on many occasions and we always had a good time. Finding things was usually secondary to the fun we were all having!

Kathy (far left) my wife Patti, Me, and Mary hunting a Florida Park

We will all be missing Kathy's smile, her pranks (like yelling "GoPro STOP recording!" as she walked by) and her friendship, as she can never be replaced in our hearts. Rest in peace, Kathy.


Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Rewarding Hobby-Dealing With Gratitude

 Something I've noticed for many years now, is the conclusion to a successful lost ring, lost jewelry, lost necklace, pendant, and so on hunt is the happiness of the person who thought they would never see this item again. Hand over open mouth, jumping up and down, heartfelt hugs and the plethora of body language with verbal exclamations that go with the realization that your electronic magic wand has turned an unfathomed loss, into an unbelievable reunion! Here, at this point, is where the rubber meets the road. The person, or couple, or family holds out their hand with a wad of bills...maybe $20 or can go as high as $1000 at times and everywhere in between. The sudden quiet is deafening, the birds are frozen in flight, the world has momentarily stopped turning.

My Wife Returning A Lost Wedding Band

As part of our prime directive, our detectorist mantra, we never ask for a reward, but if one is offered? You, of course, are above all that, and your benevolence shines with a nuclear radiance...sometimes blinding you to the situation as it really stands. "No, no. I was glad to find it...that's what we/I do as a, no...!" Let me say this about that: there is nothing wrong with being magnanimous, especially when you consider the time it took you to find it, or the magnitude of the recovery. BUT when it was truly a herculean effort, say in a dirty muddy scummy side canal, or alligator infested pond, or several days of pounding the ground, the atmosphere changes. Your equipment is specialized and expensive, the experience and proficiency in using that equipment is a hard-to-find commodity and traveling to the site is getting more and more expensive. Yes, yes, you have a great retirement nest-egg, yes everyone admires your charity and holds you as a hero, and it may well be deserved, as I have seen time and again, detectorists selflessly even put themselves in danger to recover and unrecoverable heirloom. But I'm talking about not a physical daring-do, but the mental state of the person who experienced the loss then the miraculous recovery. They really want to reward you...they really do! No one wants to live in the shadow of debt of another, and they would like to see you have a nice dinner out, or a movie as a token of their thanks for what you did.

So, as they hold a reward in their outstretched hand, I would advise you to thank them profusely and take it! Let me explain, especially to those of you that are mentally accusing me of being a detection hooker!  Although it is not really quid pro quo, it comes close. They go away happy for the return of the unreturnable, and you go away happy, maybe going to dinner and see Maverick with your wife on their dime tonight. Or not...just consider it.