Look what the tide dragged in: The most unusual flotsam and jetsam found by beachcombers over the years
About the only thing I’ve ever wanted to find on the beach is treasure. A chest of cursed pirate escudos ideally; a princess’s heirloom toe ring will do too. I remember looking up ‘flotsam’ and ‘jetsam’ in my youth, hoping they were named for brothers separated by a shipwreck. Turned out, ‘flotsam’ was what broke away from wreckage and stayed afloat. It belonged to the Crown. ‘Jetsam’ was what was voluntarily jettisoned overboard. It became the property of whoever owned the land it washed up on.
Beachcombers have found the most unusual flotsam and jetsam. In 1992, when a US-bound container vessel from China tipped over in the North Pacific, its contents got an early outing. The ship was carrying 28,000 rubber duckys and other bath toys. They’ve stayed merrily bobbing, going where ocean waves take them. Oceanographers have been tracking where they land up, to better understand sea currents. The ‘friendly floatees’ have made it to Hawaii, Alaska, South America, Australia and the Pacific Northwest. There’s even a book about it, I mention it only because it is titled Moby Duck.
Does it rival the Great Lego Spill of 1997? That’s when a wave tilted a New York-bound cargo ship so far, 62 containers slipped into the sea.
One was carting nearly 4.8million Lego bricks. They washed up on the coast of Cornwall for nearly a decade. Most pieces were nautical themed – flippers, octopi, squid and fish, which must have surprised locals. Check out @LegoLostAtSea for ongoing discoveries.
In Norwich, down the coast, plastic pipes wider than a house washed up in 2017, bound for Nigeria but coming unharnessed en route. In 2007 the Napoli made headlines not for sinking but because some of its cargo floated to southwest England, where locals made away with perfumes, luxury goods, even BMW motorcycles.
In 2008, a huge metal tank mysteriously washed ashore on someone’s lakefront home in Idaho, USA. It didn’t budge for years, so a local stuck some vinyl circles on the sides to make it look like a giant die. The die rolled away five years later to land on the shores of the state’s Lake Coeur d’Alene. Maybe it just felt lucky.
Also, the Dutch guerilla artist who goes by Ego Leonard has been leaving gigantic fiberglass Lego figures at beaches around the world since the late 2000s. I’m guessing it’s not as fun as discovering something the sea threw at you. But I shouldn’t be fussy. In lockdown, I’m coming to realise that perhaps being able to walk along the beach is a treasure in itself.