TOBAGO -The true Robinson Crusoe Island? You be the judge!


January 2011: Story by Francesca Mariani

While staying at the Manta Lodge in Speyside, Tobago and diving with Tobago Dive Experience, we happened on some very interesting discoveries.

Our first dive was Runway, where we discovered a very large and very old anchor at approximately 110 feet. Sean Robinson, owner of Manta Lodge and Tobago Dive Experience and I ventured off course. He signaled me that we would be going a bit deeper and leaving the group so that he could show the anchor to me. Though covered in barnacles, coral and plant life it was otherwise in tact and clearly identifiable as an anchor.

After careful inspection, we realized that there was no indication of a shipwreck nearby, nor any chain attached. After the dive we did some research based on the shape, size and design of the anchor, and we are estimating it to be from the early to mid 1700�s. All of the information we found points to the fact that the anchor was likely dropped and left behind, Image by Ty Sawyerdue to some sort of emergency, since in those days anchors were very valuable and not something you would leave behind unless you were in grave trouble.

On our next dive, Sean suggested that we do a 50/50, meaning that we would split two sites, entering the first in the center, then fin across to the other site. That sounded like a great idea and we all agreed.

We dropped in at Coral Gardens, a wonderful site, and the home to one of the largest known Brain Corals in the world. It measures 12 feet high and 16 feet in diameter and is estimated to be about 450 years old. Rare Giraffe Sand EllWe explored the area around the brain coral, which is an easy drift dive where it is common to encounter several Hawksbill turtles, Oceanic Trigger Fish and an array of Angel Fish and Puffers. We then started our fin-across to a site called Cathedral. This breathtaking site is filled with beautiful coral life and is also home to the rare Giraffe Sand Eel, as well as a playground for Manta Rays during season.

The fin-across has never really been given much exploration as picturesque as it is, it simply serves as a short cut to the second site. This time however, I was lagging behind the group to take photographs. Alex, "Tigger�, our very patient dive master, who knows my history of stopping to get just the right shot, was bringing up the rear.  Alex "Tigger"

While hanging around waiting for us to catch up two divers in the group, Clint and Jennifer Bower - a wonderful married couple from Spokane, Washington, now residing in Post Falls Idaho - made an amazing discovery - a HUMAN SKULL! (Jen is a Registered Nurse and recognized and identified the remains immediately.) It was obviously very old, as it was covered with coral, and could easily have been passed by as being just that.  When we finally caught up, the whole group wascaptivated by this find,and taking a much closer look.

Indeed it was the remnants of a skull, sitting at about 60 ft. I, of course started snapping away, but because the others were low on air, I quickly snapped off several last shots, stuck my fingers through the eye sockets (only me) and we continued to our final site. (Note: the skull was about 300 meters away from the anchor we had explored earlier.)

After surfacing, I quickly downloaded the photos and pulled them up to take a closer look at our discovery. We had Jen take a second look as well. She confirmed that it was in fact a Human Skullhuman skull, due to the cartilage around the nasal cavities, obvious human bone consistencies etc.

The next day we again ventured to the unofficial “dive site” to search out our mystery man. It took us quite a long time to find him again, but we did, and appropriately re-named our new site Dead Man’s Point.

When I returned to my home state of Florida, I quickly started researching the history of the Island of Tobago in the early 1700’s. I was curious to possibly find some information on shipwrecks that would link our discoveries to an actual documented event.

While doing my research the name Robinson Crusoe kept coming up. Previously I had no idea that the part fiction/part biographical first edition book written by Daniel Defoe in England in the year 1719: “The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner” had any connection to Tobago. I knew for a fact that there was an actual island in Chile named “Robinson Crusoe Island”, hmmmm? I discovered later, this was for other reasons, and was duly named in the 1960’s.

After more research I found that in fact, the Island of Tobago was most likely the actual island that this book was referring to.

It is said that the details of Crusoe’s island were most probably based on the Caribbean Island of Tobago. This is supported by several factors including (1) Defoe repeatedly stated in the story that the island was near the mouth of the Great "Orinoque" River. Tobago is the only island matching the other details of the story that is anywhere near the mouth of the River; (2) the map printed in the 4th edition of Defoe's book shows an island that is within 2 degrees of the latitude of Tobago, and (3) Defoe had Crusoe's ship sailing on the north coast of Brazil heading west toward Barbados - putting it in direct line to shipwreck in Rockly Bay on the SW coast of Tobago. No other location even comes close to meeting the requirements.

British, Dutch and Spanish ships frequently passed through the Tobagonian waters. Due to the unpredictable and harsh currents and large above and below water rock formations, many - like Crusoe's, were shipwrecked.

In fact, there were many stories of real-life castaways relayed to Defoe during his lifetime. One of these seamen may in fact have been his inspiration for the story of Robinson Crusoe!

WHO IS OUR LONG LOST SEAMAN of “Dead Man’s Point”?

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