Recent storms have washed up plenty of plastic bottles, Styrofoam and other trash on North Coast beaches. But for a few lucky beachcombers this week, the storms also brought priceless treasures.
Rumors of finding rare glass Japanese fishing floats in Clatsop and Tillamook counties abounded this week and for one couple visiting the Oregon coast, the ocean revealed the find of a lifetime.
Greg and Susan Sims of Marsing, Idaho, were walking their dog, Junior, on the beach at Arch Cape the morning of April 6 when they made their discovery - a glass fishing float 38 inches in circumference, that had been deposited at the edge of the surf.
"We were out there looking for tennis balls and Greg looked out there and said, What is that?,'" said Susan.
"I bent down and could see light through it and realized it was glass," Greg added.
The couple carried the float up to Shaw's Oceanfront Bed and Breakfast, where they were staying, and owners and longtime Arch Cape residents Jim and Barbara Shaw were astonished by the find. The last time they recalled a guest finding a float on the beach was about seven years ago.
"This was the first I'd heard of finding glass balls along here in a long time," said Barbara, who has lived full-time in Arch Cape with her husband, Jim, for more than 30 years. "I think the swirl of debris out there has opened it up."
"I'd say it was about a million-to-one chance to walk up and find that ball," added Jim.
Because so few glass floats remain in the ocean today, the Sims' find is especially rare.
Glass floats were historically used by fishermen in many parts of the world to keep nets afloat. Large groups of nets were strung together, sometimes as large as 50 miles long. The nets were supported by the hollow glass balls, filled with air to give them buoyancy, then set adrift in the ocean.
Those floats washing up along the Oregon coastline most likely traveled across the Pacific from Japan, where they were first manufactured as early as 1910.
The use of glass floats in the Japanese fishing industry today is far less common, as the glass was gradually replaced with plastic, aluminum or Styrofoam. Several local historians confirm that the use of glass in manufacturing floats is once again on the rise, though is far less common than these other materials.
Historical records document the days when finding glass floats along Oregon's beaches were plentiful. In one recollection, the floats were so common that children would smash them:
"Some of the children found fun in gathering Japanese floats on the beach. When we had collected fifteen or so, my sister and I would see who could smash the most. Well, there was nobody here but us. My sister continued to like collecting the floats. During World War II the beach patrol spotted her on the beach looking for floats at two or three o'clock one morning and brought her to the home place." - Emily Sijota, courtesy of the North Lincoln County Historical Museum.
Another account recalls the floats being cast up by the thousands during winter tides:
"The glass floats, as all northeasteners know, are equipment attached to the fishing nets of the Nipponese, and have torn loose in storms to drift across the Pacific. You may judge somewhat the distance they have voyaged at the whim of wave and wind current when you consider that the mouth of the Columbia River is 4,328 miles from the harbor of Yokohama. The winter tides cast them up, sometimes by the thousands, on the beaches of northern Oregon and Washington. They vary from minor sizes to heavy globes 50 inches in circumference, and have quite revived our seashore the immemorial practice of beachcombing." -Ben Hur Lampman, courtesy of the North Lincoln County Historical Museum
But finding a glass float on Oregon's beaches today is a far rarer experience. Most of the remaining floats in the ocean are stuck in a circular pattern of ocean currents in the North Pacific. Occasional storms, like the ones that pounded the North Coast recently, will break the floats away from the currents and wash them to shore, bringing out devoted beach combers to hunt for the treasures.
As it often seems to go however, treasures tend to come to those who aren't even looking for them. In the case of the Sims, Greg explained that when he first found the float, he had no idea how valuable and sought-after it was.
Amazingly, the Sims's find came during the couple's first visit to the Oregon coast, where they were researching and reviewing dog-friendly places to stay for their publication, Fido-Friendly magazine. They couldn't be happier that it was Junior that led them to their find.
"To be able to go home and tell everyone about this, we're thrilled," said Greg.