• Otter Views: ‘Tis the Season for Flotsam

    Storm winds and rain having passed for the moment, a sunny Monday beckoned me out to Asilomar and Spanish Bay for an overdue walk along the dunes. Some changes were evident.

    The first difference was the sound of running water. At three or four points along the shoreline, rain-fed streams snaked through the brush and chuckled over smooth stones. Reaching the beach, the streams discharged ribbons of tea-colored fresh water into the roiling surf. It’s been a while since  that occurred.

    Nearing the Asilomar break surfers call The Reef, I spotted stones heaped on a low bluff where a beloved dog’s memorial once stood. Whether high surf or human hands took the memorial down, it will be missed. It was a heartfelt tribute to a man’s best friend.

    Further along, knots of kelp flung across the boardwalk suggested “king” tides and unusually strong winter surf. In one stretch along Spanish Bay, high water had buckled the wooden walkway into a junior version of the Santa Cruz roller coaster. Kids posed for photos balancing on the crazily tilted planks.

    Strolling out to Bird Rock, I watched a longboarder and a mat surfer ride the jade-green lefts that wrap in around the point. Motorists pulled over to enjoy one of the 17 Mile Drive’s premier photo stops. Backs against the railings and cameras held out at arm’s length, they laughed and waited for the biggest splash behind them. On the return walk, I kept an eye out for beached flotsam, figuring surf big enough to tear up the boardwalk might have left some oddity or other in its wake. I did find an unopened tube of sunscreen (30 SPF), but the only real oddity was a cylinder of tough orange plastic about the size of a home fire extinguisher.

    While it looked like a buoy, the cylinder had no loops or other attachment points, so I guessed it might be a float broken free from a net. Submersion lines, nicks and gouges suggested a long ocean voyage having ended in a punishing landfall.

    At one time, glassblowers aboard Japanese and Russian factory ships crafted net floats of thick, blue-green glass. Given limited storage space, it was cost effective to blow the glass while under way and attach the finished floats to the nets as needed. Floats of a particular vintage even bore symbols of their ships of origin.

    Sadly for “hot glass” fanciers, industrial plastic floats like the one I found Monday supplanted their art glass cousins long ago. And while a flotilla of barnacled “glass balls” may yet spin in some secret Pacific gyre, they come ashore so rarely they are now collectible. A big sphere with its original rope netting intact might fetch three figures, as would smaller floats imprinted with kanji or Cyrillic lettering.

    When I was growing up along a Pacific shore 60 years ago, Christmas was beachcombing season. While kids elsewhere were skiing, sledding or building snow forts, we sought treasure deposited by the winter surf. Glass balls were highly prized finds, but they were still common enough not to carry monetary value. Instead, each new ball or cylinder would join others nestled artistically in a giant clam shell.

    Other post-storm booty included weathered planks, odd fittings of brass or rusty iron, and knotted lengths of rope we kids were sure had come from shipwrecks at sea. Thus we were always on the lookout for clues to the flotsam’s place of origin or probable duration afloat.

    One Christmas vacation was so storm-lashed we stayed indoors for a week. The weather finally cleared on December 26. After breakfast, we weaned ourselves from the yuletide embrace of our parents and struck off down the beach.

    We set off toward the distant promontory of Black Point. The beach was narrow and flat, so glass balls and other promising swag would be visible from afar. Rounding one bend, we spotted a dark wooden box half-buried in the sand. Shouting with excitement, we ran up to the thing and started digging it free. It was a waterlogged wooden crate so solidly built it had survived a storm-tossed passage over the reef.

    Unable to carry this heavy chest, we ran back home and returned with a red wagon. With some kids pushing and others pulling, we hauled our treasure triumphantly to the house and urged my dad to open it with his hammer and pry bar.

    We stood back, awaiting the sparkle of gems or the gleam of gold bullion. At length my dad issued a gruff laugh of recognition. “It’s a case of C Rations,” he said. “This thing has probably been floating around the ocean since the war.”

    He claimed the rations were still edible, but we didn’t want to take the chance.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on December 26, 2014

    Topics: Otter Views


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