Boat & Float Day

By John Weldon

beachcomber in pacific northwest

Winters in the Pacific Northwest are always exciting for a beachcomber, and this 2020-21 winter did not disappoint. The beachcombing 2021 “season” seemed to have started off a few months early in October 2020 with long-range debris washing in, including a few baseball-size Japanese glass fishing floats. As the winter wind storms started to increase in January, I was getting excited to see what interesting items would wash up on the Pacific Northwest beaches. The month of March went beyond my expectations with an exceptional dose of consistent westerly winds.

floats found on beach in washington state

The morning started off with finding typical large-size Japanese plastic fishing floats and a glass bottle with barnacle buildup, a good sign that the long-range Japanese current would be washing debris in. I continued my southerly route on my normal stretch of beach, taking in how nice of a morning it turned out to be and how crisp the ocean air felt. This particular stretch of beach caught my attention because it was clean of any debris until…about a half mile in front of me, I spotted a vehicle stopped relatively close to the surf line. A person was getting out to investigate something in the surf. Upon closer inspection, I could make out something large in the waves that would soon arrive onto shore. Then, in the blink of an eye, I caught site of another round piece of debris washing in right where I was walking. I immediately knew—it was a grapefruit size Japanese glass fishing float. 

The tide was still making its way in so I didn’t delay retrieving the wonderful glass object. As I finished documenting the find, a message along with a photo rang loudly on my phone. Come to find out, my mother and father in-laws (John and Carol Champ, seasoned beachcombers) were the ones who had stopped to investigate the large object not far from me. I read the message, looked at the photo, and couldn’t believe what I was seeing: it was a fishing boat washing in!

washington state beachcombing

I secured my glass treasure and made my way to the boat. Within a few seconds I was at the site updating my in-laws on what I had found, while also trying to make out what type of vessel they had just found washing in. As the boat made its way onto the beach, it became easily identifiable as a Japanese long-range fishing boat due to the writing along the side and barnacle build-up. This was my very first vessel I got to see actually wash onto shore. Of note, a similar long-range boat had washed in a few weeks earlier several miles south of this location. 

glass japanese fishing float found on the beach

I knew from reading about other boats washing in that these vessels could be carrying intrusive species from another area, so I quickly notified a Willapa National Wildlife Refuge volunteer and Cape Disappointment USCG watch desk. Within an hour, the refuge volunteer was on the scene to investigate the tsunami boat and arranged for it to be removed from the beach. A local towing service was enlisted to remove the 40-foot vessel, and did so all before closing time. This particular beachcombing day will always be remembered as Boat & Float Day!

This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine September/October 2021 issue.

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