Mysteries of Oak Island on tour
“Are you going on the boat tour,” asks a woman who is coming up the walkway at the Oak Island Marina as we’re making our way down.
We sure are.
“It’s fantastic,” she said, having just got off the boat we’re waiting to get on to take a waterside tour of the famous Oak Island.
Cathy Sherman, sporting a black long-sleeved t-shirt that reads Oak Island Nut, had with husband Jay just completed the two-hour Salty Dog Tour operated by Tony Sampson.
This would be our first – but not last – encounter with fans of the long-running docuseries The Curse of Oak Island, seen on the History Channel in North America and around the world, creating a avid fan base making a beeline for Nova Scotia and its southern shore.
Sampson, a seafaring raconteur who has lived and dived around the world, has been with the series since the beginning.
He started the boat tour last season to supplement the quickly sold out walking tours of the private island run by the Friends of Oak Island Society. This year, secured spots on the walks were reportedly snatched up within six minutes when they were posted online.
Last summer, Sampson took 700 guests around the island on his tritoon boat that can take 10 passengers out at a time.
He has added a second boat to his fleet and expects more than 3,000 bookings this year.
A third boat will start doing tours in September.
Castmates and fellow divers Dan Sweeney and Ken Deboer also lead Salty Dog tours.
American millionaire brothers Rick and Marty Lagina created the series and have owned the majority of the island since 2007, along with local residents Dan Blankenship, Craig Tester and Alan Kostrzewa.
During the sea tour, Sampson talked up the centuries-old lore of Oak Island, dropped in tantalizing tidbits about the hugely popular series (currently filming its seventh season on the island with digging machines and other equipment clearly visible from the water) and offered up an informative history of the area and treasure hunting, something he’s been interested in since he was a boy growing up in the U.K.
Of course, we motored by the famous Money Pit, as well as a newly extended cofferdam.
Our fellow boatmates that day, two related couples from Boston who knew the show and the operations on the island well, were most happy to get glimpses of other ongoing work to support the current filming schedule – I mean, hunt for the treasure.
The foursome had also done the walking tour earlier in the day.
One of the guests was also a Freemason, as is Sampson, and was interested in the supposed connection to the Knights Templar and the elusive treasure.
Sampson naturally played coy when questions arose that might spoil plot points of the upcoming season, jokingly professing to not being able to see whatever we were looking at.
“It’s really gone nuts, which is awesome,” the skipper said before we left the dock that day. “So many more people know about Nova Scotia because of the show. If you go down to the States and say Nova Scotia, they say Oak Island.”
Sampson said he can always tell when some cable channel around the world is running a marathon of the series because he will receive a flood of interest from there.
The entrepreneur is so busy these days between the show and the boat tours that he recently quit his job as a paramedic with EHS.
He said the Boston folks and the Shermans are typical of his clientele; 90 per cent from outside of Canada who watch the series in their home countries.
The Shermans, from Jacksonville, Florida, said they have visited Nova Scotia many times but wanted to make Oak Island part of the experience this time. The retired couple said they both like the series, but Cathy is more the superfan.
But even she admits there hasn’t yet been a big payoff.
“It’s kind of frustrating because they find some things, but it’s very frustrating that they haven’t been able to find THE thing,” she said.
“I want there to be something there.”
For now, the payoff is in the spinoff industries, like the boat and walking tours, visitors to the Oak Island Interpretive Centre where, of course, they sell tons of merchandise, as well as the influx of tourists who stay at places like Oak Island Inn or eat at the Mug & Anchor Pub in Mahone Bay where the Lagina brothers plot their next moves (and film it for the show).
Even the “more sceptical” Jay was wearing a Mug & Anchor shirt and excited to report that they ran into the brothers while eating lunch there.
A passenger on a recent tour posted on Trip Advisor that Rick Lagina waved to them from the shore during their outing.
Sampson, a treasure hunter since he was a youngster, gets why people are so intrigued with Oak Island and whatever might or might not be hidden there.
He said the search is as interesting as the finds.
“Anything is important – even a nail, a simple nail, can lead you down a certain path as long as you know what you’re looking for. It’s not all about the gold and silver.
“Anything can lead you down the path of discovery.”
If you go
- Nova Scotia mining association launches social media campaign about Oak Island facts
- Oak Island treasure hunter Daniel Blankenship survived collapse, combat, and the Mafia to die peacefully at 95
- Oak Island property owner’s new website displays 20-plus years of found artifacts
- The Curse of Oak Island - Brothers dig up ‘scary stuff'