In folklore, magpies are known for their affinity for shiny objects, and their tendency to seek out jewels to adorn their nests.
Capt. Mikey Waters is like a magpie, but with the best intentions. As of this writing, Waters has recovered a total of 48 rings from the sand and ocean surrounding Martha’s Vineyard. Bracelets, necklaces, earrings, watches, and car keys are also among the objects found by his metal detector. Although Waters isn’t the only Vineyarder who goes searching for lost jewelry, he certainly appears to be the most prolific in his findings.
Waters has gained such an enthusiastic and grateful following that he has earned the nickname “the Ring Whisperer.” But Waters said he never expected to gain fame for retrieving jewelry. Since acquiring his first boat — a 13-foot Boston Whaler — at the age of 14, Waters has been inseparable from the water. The captain said that he has always liked the idea of “being a treasure hunter.” Several years ago, he started out walking the beach with a metal detector for fun, to see what he could find. Waters was curious about what more he could find at the floor of the sea, so he saved up to buy a machine that could detect metal both above and below the water.
Unfortunately, the most exciting loot he found with his new tool was pocket change. “I kind of lost interest,” he said; “it sat in the basement for a few years.”
Then, one day in 2012, Waters found his first ring: “Online one day I saw this very touching letter from this girl who said she had lost her ring on the beach. She that it’s not valuable, it’s not worth anything, but it means the world to me.”
At the time, Waters was recovering from a severe illness that almost “took [him] out,” he said.
“It was good timing because I needed to get some fresh air and exercise.” Waters fished out his metal detector, dusted off the cobwebs, reached out to the girl who had posted, and set out for the area where she had misplaced her ring.
“I sat my kids on the beach with a pizza, and I started walking around in a grid search pattern.” Sure enough, after a few minutes, he said, “it popped up!”
The gratitude he received from the girl and the positive response from the community was all it took to launch Waters into looking for more.
In one particular instance that we previously reported on back in 2014, a woman lost her family heirloom wedding ring while playing in the water with her kids. When she got in touch with Waters and was reunited with her ring, she was elated.
These days, Waters takes his metal detector wherever he goes. He also keeps a record to keep track of each ring he finds: “I keep a little notebook with some rough notes on where I found each one, and who it belongs to.”
Five or six feet is the deepest that he has to dive: “I’ve been fortunate to have most things in shallow water.”
The most expensive ring that Waters has recovered was estimated to be worth between $35,000 to $40,000. Its owner was “in tears and frantic” in the voicemail she left on Waters’ phone. So he headed out to the spot on State Beach immediately upon receiving it. Unfortunately, he had no luck finding it that day; “the weather was getting nasty, so I put a landscaper’s flag in the dunes to mark the spot, and planned to come back another day.”
The woman was losing hope, but he reassured her that he would try again. Four days later, when the weather was better, he tried again, and this time discovered the ring buried in the sand.
Ninety-five percent of the people whose rings he has recovered “have been very generous.” Waters said. “I don’t have any kind of set price. If you offer a reward, I’ll accept it. Just give me something for my time.”
His strategy for scanning the sand is to do a “double overlap,” in which he paces one direction and then goes back in the other direction and overlaps the path slightly until he covers the whole area.
The longest period of time between being requested to find a ring and locating it was a year. And some rings, he said, he still hasn’t found after a few years. “But I keep at it; I keep going back out.” After he can’t find one on the first try, “it becomes personal. I kinda need that accomplishment — I have to go find it.”
Waters warned against posting the location of lost jewelry in a large Facebook group like Islanders Talk because there are people who “swoop in really quickly” and pawn the lost items for their own benefit.
If he is not searching for a specific ring, Waters will head out to State Beach with his metal detector, and scour the sand until he hears hopeful beeps.
Waters said that it is fun to share the search with his kids, who often think of it as a treasure hunt.
“We have a treasure map of the Island with about 20 missing rings still,” Waters said in a text message. Here’s hoping those rings find their fingers again.
Have you recently lost a ring or precious piece of jewelry? Reach out to Waters via his Facebook page “The Ring Whisperer.”