Beachcombing Destination: Prince William Sound, Alaska
By Megan Lierman
In the summer of 20222, our husbands, Pete and Bill, took my sister, Amanda, and me on a beachcombing adventure in Prince William Sound. They’d been planning the trip for months to this sound in the Gulf of Alaska. Prince William Sound was subject to an exceptionally large tsunami after a 9.2-magnitude earthquake that rocked Southcentral Alaska in 1964, which pushed large amounts of debris (aka treasures!) and driftwood onto beaches in the area. We had also read about a cargo ship that lost more than 100 shipping containers near British Columbia in the fall of 2021, with some of the contents showing up on beaches in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.
Armed with that information and knowing the direction of the ocean’s currents, we left our kids at home (with grandmas in charge) and headed out in our boats to find adventure. Our goal was to find fun buoys and other nautical finds—but we all knew that we were really on the hunt for Japanese glass floats.
The boats motored through the Sound in fairly calm seas for a couple of hours. We were heading to a bay that our husbands had identified as a potential location for us to anchor our boats and camp overnight. On the way into the bay, we scoped out the shoreline with binoculars to see if we could spot anything from afar. To our surprise, we could clearly see piles of rope and bright orange buoys dotting the shore; at that point we knew we wouldn’t be disappointed with whatever we found.
After mooring our boats together, we came up with a game plan…Pete and Bill would get us as close to shore as the rocks and tide would allow, and then we’d hop onto the dinghy and go the rest of the way to the shore. While we beachcombed, they’d fish—and occasionally check on us via binoculars, since there was spotty cell service at best. Armed with bear spray, bear bells attached to our bags for noise, along with air horns and Ziploc bags for any treasures we found, we were off!
Immediately after arriving at the shore, we found piles of driftwood, black buoys of all shapes and sizes, small foam and PVC fishing floats, the bright turquoise rope we’d seen from the boat, plastic water bottles, and LOTS of deer skulls. As we moved down the beach, we found a full-sized suitcase with a stuck zipper. We were sure it was full of either body parts, drugs, or money. Once we got the nerve to cut open the suitcase, we were semi-disappointed to find it only had a smaller suitcase with the tags on it inside.
One recurring item we found repeatedly was what seemed to be a very lightweight fishing boot, made from material similar to Crocs—we must have found two dozen of them over the two days of beachcombing.
We stumbled on a site full of deer bones that looked like a bear buffet, and shortly after finding a cave entrance that had matted grass in front, we decided it was time to leave. As we were packing up the dinghy with our finds, we got a blip of cell service and a text saying Bill had caught a 70-pound halibut; dinner was secured!
The following morning, after coffee and breakfast burritos, we set out for more beachcombing—only this time they planned to get us to a stretch of beach with treacherous seas, which was potentially dangerous for the dinghy.
The beach we were aiming for had a rusty old shipwreck on the shore (comforting, right?); we motored back and forth, watching the surf and looking for rocks that might cause problems in the raft. We finally decided that we would attempt a landing. With nervous adrenaline, we hopped in the dinghy, and started our drive, finding an opening in the rocks to glide through.
Again, we were greeted with piles of driftwood, metal buoys we presume were from the shipwreck, buoys with rope netting, buoys so large we could barely wrestle them into position for a photo, rusty oil drums, frosted sea glass bottles…and then it happened. As we stopped to take a break from carrying ropes and buoys, Amanda looked down between her feet. There, nestled in the sand by a driftwood log, was the most perfect little Japanese glass float. Though we’d found some great treasures by the end of the day, none of them compared to this float.
Our way back to the boat was adventurous to say the least. First, the tide had gone way out since we’d made it to shore, so we ended up having to carry the dinghy and the outboard motor quite a way down the beach to get it back into the water. Second, we had to get selective and leave some of our buoys behind, or we wouldn’t have space in the raft. If the buoy didn’t have embossed writing or rope netting attached, or if it wasn’t a fun color/texture, we left it behind for the next beachcombers that might come along. Third, the low tide uncovered a bull kelp patch that threatened our propeller, but we safely made it back to the boat and our bay after a long day on the beach.
That night, our husbands treated us to grilled filet mignon and scallops over a fire on the beach, along with a bag of salad and some tasty wine. Over dinner, the four of us concluded the following: 1) we need high-visibility gear while we’re beachcombing since it is hard to spot beachcombers from the boat depending on their clothing, 2) we need walkie talkies next time, because it’s very hard to hear and would have been bad if we had encountered a bear; and 3) we will do our best to stop purchasing and consuming single-use plastic items due to the plethora of plastic we found.
The following morning, we awoke to pouring rain, wind, and waves. After two attempts to navigate the stormy seas, we finally made it back to civilization. Only one of us found a glass float on this trip, so the search will continue…
Read about more of Megan’s beachcombing adventures
- Bucket List: Nome, Alaska
- Sea Glass Travels: Glass Beaches of the World
- Bucket List: Seaham, England
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine September/October 2022 issue.