The Mahog Log

Our tranquil local beach at Sand Haven can become a very bleak spot during the winter gales.  Huge swells come rolling in through the two miles wide  entrance to the Milford Haven Waterway driven by the south-westerly winds.  The swells create a surprisingly big surf onto Sand Haven Beach. A photograph is attached as seeing is believing.  At such time large tree trunks and telephone poles arrive.  Once or twice a year around 8 or 9 mahogany tree trunks and root bases in bright orange wood arrive together.  These are accompanied by sparse but distinct rounded cobbles of pumiceous lava. The mahogany is usually heavily bored by teredo worm.  They tell that a collection of debris from the Lesser Antillean islands of the Caribbean has arrived.

       As a geologist I worked for 30 years out in Saudi Arabia as I enjoyed the bare rocks of the desert and the helicopters we used to fly great distances.  One attraction of the job was that each summer we got 2 months paid leave.  My wife had considerably less leave per year. So we would spend a month of family holiday in Pembrokeshire and then I would fly out to the Caribbean for a month to work on the Caribbean volcanoes, which I had started while living in Jamaica from 1970 to 1974.  One of the jobs I did in the Caribbean, with my friend Alan Smith, was to map the complex large volcanic island of Dominica in the middle of the volcanic arc of the Lesser Antilles. Dominica is the most beautiful and unspoiled island in the Caribbean with a luxuriant tropical rain forest. It is unspoiled because it is mountainous with almost no flat ground for development and farming. The centre of the island is a high plateau known as ‘the Central Highlands’ with scattered volcanic cones and domes.  We traversed this area mainly on foot as there are few roads up there. However the Government of Dominica has a Forestry Department and they have extensive mahogany plantations in this high cooler forest. While mapping we followed the forestry tracks to get to the cones and domes. There we met many of the forestry workers who were cutting the mahogany trees into thick planks.  There were also a few places were some of the local people were still making dug-out canoes from the mahogany tree trunks.  Slabs of the new mahogany were stacked.  What was most interesting was that this type of mahogany wood was not the dark brown and hard variety that we are familiar with in furniture but was a different variety. It was less dense, softer and has a very bright orange color. The wood chippings and bark fragments scattered around were the same bright color.      

     In March 2021 a mahogany tree trunk measuring 3m by x1m was washed up in the exact spot on Sandy Haven beach where an American Utility pole had arrived in October 2019 (see story ‘The American Utility pole’). It had that familiar bright orange color, and associated with it were fragments of the bright orange mahogany bark and some pumice cobbles.  A similar log washed up on Marloes Sands some years ago is shown in a photograph with the story ‘Another gift from King Neptune’. As I am now a retired geologist unable to travel overseas to visit the warm tropics because of the Covid, it delights me to find these familiar items delivered right to my door in Sandy Haven. They remind me of pleasant days in distant tropical islands and the richer lifestyle there. I have worked on most of the Caribbean Islands but the only place I have seen the soft orange mahogany growing is in the central highlands of Dominica.  It seems reasonable that here is a very good case for identifying this as the source of the material arriving on Sandy Haven beach. The journey made by this log and its accompanying fragments of orange bark and pumice is, on a great circle, 6,380 km or 4,000 miles. The mahogany tree trunk was unusual in that it mainly lacked teredo worm borings. I determined to have it as a garden seat at The Anchorage as a calling card from the Caribbean.

     Its recovery however proved very difficult for the surf and gales continued for a month.  The surf caused a drift along the beach away from the sheltered waters of Sandy Haven pill and I was afraid the log would be carried away from Sandy Haven.  If I could only get it a few hundred yards across the beach and out of the surf into the shelter of the pill. It could then be easily towed across the pill at high tide to our local beach only some 80 yards from my garden.  So for several days I could be found on the beach at high tide on the end of a long rope attached to the log.  The log was a wild thing in the surf, being rolled up and down the beach. I would steadily pull it a few inches each time towards the pill.  A few families visiting the beach were mystified by my action and came up and asked me what I was doing.  I explained and they left me to it. I did not succeed.

       Finally, after a month, the weather changed and a calm day arrived.  I had arranged with my former school friend Michael Webb of Milford Haven to meet on the beach.  We found the log high and dry with a flat calm sea. So we rolled the log down the beach and into the water. I drove back to The Anchorage (the tide was in and the footbridge submerged) and launched a small boat and paddled over to the beach.  The log was tied to the back of the boat and I padded it back to our beach. I landed it there and my neighbour, Jim Llewellyn of Rock House, called over that he would drag it up into my garden for me, which he did.  The log is now a seat against the garden wall near the Wishing Well.  Unfortunately the sun and rain have bleached the outer wood and its bright orange colour can no longer be seen unless cut with a saw.

Comments are closed.