The Domino Effect

beachcombed domino

All photos courtesy of Rochelle Frankson

As with any hobby, like bird watching or sea glass collecting, sometimes it’s good to have a backup for the days when your quarry is sadly not there,” Rochelle Frankson explains. “My mother and beachcombing  partner Bernadette is strictly a sea glass collector and will still be one even when the sea glass pickings are slim. I like to diversify and collect any odd thing that might have a story to tell like shells, beach metal, rocks that might be meteorites (that happened one time!), pottery, or beach flotsam that can be repurposed into dog toys for our six dogs. Anything and everything that sparks interest—and can fit in the car—is up for grabs when we head to the beach.”

jamaican beachcomber Rochelle Frankson and her mom

Rochelle Frankson is a beachcomber from Jamaica, or Xaymaca, the indigenous Taino name for the island, which means “the land of wood and water.”  Rochelle lived in the U.S. for eight years studying and working as a biomedical scientist before returning to her home country in 2017, which is when she says she picked up the beachcombing bug.

jamaican sea glass shells dominos

As a beach fanatic, Rochelle hunts for all sorts of treasures, but her favorite find is a domino. 

Playing dominos is an extremely popular pastime in Jamaica. Rochelle says if you travel the island at night, you will almost always see a game being played in front of shops and bars. Though her domino beachcombing started as a joke, Rochelle eventually realized the ubiquity of the tiles on the beaches of the island presented a challenge: complete an entire deck, or 28 unique tiles. So far, Rochelle has collected more than sixty dominos, but still hasn’t completed a full set.

“Interestingly, I’ve been able to find five 4/- tiles but no 3/- tiles!,” laughs Rochelle. “These odds just make the game fun as I never know what tile is out there waiting for me until I find it.”

While Rochelle used to believe that the beached dominos came directly from Jamaica (which she explains has a pretty bad waste containment problem), a recent discovery suggests otherwise.

palo viejo dominos

“One tile I found this year however suggests that a significant portion of the tiles I find may actually have been lost off one of the larger shipping vessels that frequent Jamaica’s ports. Larger companies will sometimes issue special domino sets with their brands marked on them,” explains Rochelle. “I have found a domino marked ‘KFC’ and in May I found a tile marked ‘Palo Viejo.’ Palo Viejo is a Puerto Rican rum I’ve never seen sold or promoted in Jamaica. The fact that I found a tile marked with this brand of rum is what led me to suspect that the tiles I find may actually be a bit more well-travelled than I first thought.”

beachombed dominos on black pebble beach

Just like the dominos she discovers washed up on her beaches, Rochelle is also well-traveled. She’s beachcombed along Lake Michigan, the shores of Halifax Nova Scotia, and Japan (which she says is her favorite so far). Whenever she travels, she likes to research the beaches at her destination ahead of time to see if there are any seasters she can hunt with when she arrives. By the time you’re reading this, she will have traveled to Alaska, and she plans to travel to Europe next.

collection of beach dominos

When she’s home, Rochelle beachcombs once or twice a week in the morning with her mother Bernadette (with whom she has a friendly marble-hunting competition) and her six dogs: Kelly, Zeus, Scooby, Lucky, Jet, and Vagabond. She says that every part of the island’s coast has a rich history and fascinating treasures waiting to be discovered.

rochelle frankson at the beach with her dogs

“My favorite thing to do with my beach dominos is to check those I’ve found to determine whether they’re new or duplicates,” Rochelle, explains. “I update my tally sheet and share it on my Instagram page. Over time, I’ve gained a modest following of folks who like to know how the hunt is going.”

Though she has fans online, Rochelle says beachcombing is not popular in Jamaica—most people don’t even know what sea glass is. Most Jamaicans believe it is very strange that Rochelle collects beach trash, though some are fascinated by the historical aspects of her collection.

“One day I saw what looked like a two-and-a-half-foot metal pipe partially submerged at the edge of the water. I’d never seen anything like it at a beach before and decided to dig it out,” Rochelle says. “It ended up only being one half of the item and looked like a cylinder that had been split down the middle, but since it looked pretty old and rusted I kept it.”

Bernadette joked that it was probably an old sewage pipe, but a girl can dream. “A few weeks later while shopping at an antique dealer for a present for my dad, I noticed that the dealer happened to have a few cannons and cannonballs displayed out front,” Bernadette continues. “While my mystery find was much smaller than these, we showed the dealer the item and instantly he identified
it as part of a signal cannon.”

If you’re visiting Jamaica, Rochelle urges you to leave your hotel or resort and experience the island in full. In addition to taking in the vibrant music, dance, art, and food, she recommends checking out Dunn’s River Falls, Trench Town Culture Yard, the Bob Marley Museum, Devon House, the Blue Lagoon, and Glistening Waters. Use common sense and stay safe.

Rochelle has one last tip for visitors. “Check the heaps! If there’s anywhere that you’ve seen small bits of driftwood or beach trash gather, it’s likely that the tide also brought some sweet finds and left them there. Although it’s sad and icky for our beaches and reefs, your reward for doing a quick beach clean will be the treasure that’s usually mixed in.”

This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine November/December 2019 issue.

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