Bill Winkler has found more along the beach than can be uncovered with a metal detector.
photograph by Steven Billups www.sbillupsphoto.com
I have either spent time at the beach or lived by it almost my entire life. In the early 1950s my family vacationed in Dewey, where we rented a cottage on Dickinson Street. That’s where my love for the ocean started. Since then, that love has taken me from coast to coast, provided me with a career and even a glimpse of a time when schooners either mastered the sea or were swallowed whole by it.
In ninth grade, a guidance counselor asked what career I wanted to pursue. I chose marine biology. I figured it would give me a chance to be by the ocean. That meant not being indoors—something I didn’t want to do if it would feel like the confinement of school. But because my grades in math were merely average, my guidance counselor told me to choose another career. I recall thinking, “What the heck does math have to do with biology?”
Regardless, I finished my degree in biology from the
After I returned to the mainland, I migrated to the East Coast, where I made Pompano Beach, Florida, my home. I spent 17 years there fishing, surfing, scuba diving, treasure hunting for Mel Fisher and loving the beach life.
Yet I eventually came back to Sussex County, just miles from where I had vacationed as a kid. Though I was a skilled diver (I spent years working along Florida’s submerged barrier reef system), there was little demand for my services. So I ended up in the retail business with TreasureQuest Shoppe on Route 26, where I sell nautical decor.
After years of selling metal detectors to people who discovered shipwreck artifacts on the beach, several friends and I founded the Delaware Marine Archaeological Society in 1997. In 2002 the society completed the first maritime archeological survey in Delaware at no cost to the state. We focused on one 255-foot unidentified ship that was in the surf zone at Beach Plum Island. The fact that this boat remains anonymous is amazing, considering that it is one of the largest schooners built during its time. After years of work, we put together a 3-inch-thick report titled the “Beach Plum Island Project,” which details the architecture of the schooner. It includes VHS video, more than 300 photographs and plenty of drawings. Since the report was finished, much of the ship has been broken apart and scattered by waves, but at least part of her history has been documented.
Working in and out of the sea has taken me from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but now I find myself on the same sandy shores I loved as a kid. I find myself at home; although I still have the urge for adventure on an uninhabited island somewhere out in warmer waters.