Flotsam and Jetsam

In the morning-after glow of a Red Sox victory, awakening to find bluebird skies and summer breezes, I suggested to my wife that our time was better invested on the beach than on the couch with the Sunday Times. So with leashed dogs, a pocket full of fishing lures, oars over my shoulder and surf casting rod in my free hand, we walked down the Old Shore Road and a fifteen-minute-boat-ride-later stood on the point of Dead Neck, the barrier island at the head of Cotuit Bay, a garbage bag in my back pocket because last weekend we wished we had one to clean up the beach.

Dead Neck looking towards Wianno

We talked as we walked, me stopping every so often to cast a bucktail jig high in an arc out into some suspicious looking waves, but the bluefish were focused on balls of juvenile menhaden or herring and wanted nothing to do with my hook. I spied a plastic bottle, high on the berm, lodged in the wrack of the high water line, that long brown thread of dried seaweed, slipper shells, whelk eggs, and trash. I reached for the bottle.

“Why don’t you pick that up on the way back, you numbskull?” my sensible wife asked. She was right. We were going to the Osterville end of the island and back. The trash could wait for the return trip; no use in giving a plastic bottle a trip to the Wianno Cut. I continued to cast, to reel, to jig, to fish. But I found no fish. Then I found a lure. The discovery of a fishing lure is always a thrill, a karmic giveback for all the lures I’ve lost, a present poking out of the wrack and flotsam, given away by the attached rat’s nest of mono filament. Found lures are Christmas presents from the beach. I like to think they contain the latent fight of a big fish doing battle for its life, a battle which it wins, the trophy below my feet, awaiting a new hook and a little polishing.

Into my pocket went the lure, out came the garbage bag, and for the next 45 minutes I cleaned up the Nantucket Sound-side beach of Dead Neck and Sampson’s Island. The process began with my wife asking: “How much do you think we’ll get?”

She needn’t have worried. By the end of the walk the bag was overstuffed, ripped, and leaking trash back onto the sand. I held the bag in both arms, with a lobster float tucked under my chin, exhausted from walking in the softer sand above the high water mark because that’s where the trash is.

I brought in 50 pounds of trash. I’d estimate 90% was plastic, the rest paper, aluminum or glass. I fear for the future of beach glass – those smooth, opaque gems which kids treasure. There just isn’t much glass on the beach.

  • A jar of Uncle Josh’s pork rind
  • Two plastic straws
  • 1 red plastic lid
  • 1 long Slim Jim wrapper
  • An insert sole for a Reebok shoe
  • A brittle empty plastic bottle of windshield wiper fluid (which shattered into a dozen pieces when I picked it up)
  • 7 plastic cups
  • 2 plastic Poland Springs water bottles
  • 1 plastic bottle of Propel
  • 1 Pabst can, two Bud light cans, one Bud, one Orange soda (Stop & Shop generic, unopened)
  • A brown glass bottle full of sand
  • A glass Nantucket Nectar’s bottle
  • 3 tennis balls (all Penns, one “4” one “2” one “coach”)
  • a large rubber softball
  • a hard hollow yellow plastic ball
  • 4 popped balloons with strings attached
  • 2 metallic Mylar balloons with strings attached
  • A bottle of Hawaiian Tropic Tanning Lotion
  • A plastic spoon
  • A plastic turtle
  • A plastic handle to a sand pail
  • 4 lobster trap floats
  • A polypropylene mesh bag
  • 20 feet of yellow polypropylene rope
  • 20+ snippets of green polypropylene netting
  • A lightbulb
  • 1 large ball of monofilament fishing line
  • 20 percent of a green plastic garbage can
  • A yellow plastic disc the size of a plate
  • About 10 plastic bags
  • A purple plastic tag that says “34813283” – 2006 DFO Lobster 34a/MPO HOMARD 34A
  • A Tyvek tag with the name of “Scott Rushnak”, Harvester permit #3396 for a bushel of Mussels which says: “This tag is required to be attached until the container is empty of retagged, and thereafter kept on file for 90 days.”

    What did I get out of the deal?

    My payoff was a 12″ pearl Bomber lure in very good shape with slightly rusted treble hooks, a nice Spofford Ballistic Missile in fluorescent orange with metal reflective tape, an Orange Ranger plug with no hooks, and another no-name orange plug with metal tape – the first one is a nice striper lure, the last three are classic bluefish popper plugs.

    There were no messages in a bottle – although the song by the Police was embedded in my head for the entire walk – and nothing like the tide float I found on the beach when I was ten and sent back to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute who wrote me back and told me it had been dropped from the Research Vessel Chain off of the Seychelles three years before.

    Flotsam is pretty cool stuff – unless it is plastic and chokes turtles or gets caught in the beaks of seagulls. Everyone is familiar with the lost container of running shoes that gave oceanographers a wealth of information about oceanic currents. Here is a link to an excellent article about flotsam.

    In late May of 1990, the container vessel Hansa Carrier encountered a severe storm in the north Pacific Ocean (~48°N, 161°W) on its passage from Korea to the United States. During the storm, a large wave washed twenty-one shipping containers overboard. Five of these 20-metre containers held a shipment of approximately 80,000 Nike shoes ranging from children’s shoes to large hiking boots. It has been estimated that four of the five containers opened into the stormy waters, releasing over 60,000 shoes into the north Pacific Ocean.

    The following winter, hundreds of these shoes washed ashore on the beaches of the Queen Charlotte Islands, western Vancouver Island, Washington and Oregon. With the help of beachcombers from British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, Ebbesmeyer was able to determine that hundreds of shoes were recovered. When Oregon newspapers began running the story, the Associated Press picked it up, and the word spread. The publicity resulted in many additional reports of the finding of Nike shoes on Pacific beaches. Dubious about some of the reported finds, Ebbesmeyer decided to confine his study to only those shoes found in groups of 100 or more. Even with this restriction, he accounted for approximately 1300 shoes from the more than 60,000 released.”

    Before I go – here is Wikipedia on the definitions of “flotsam” and “jetsam”

    “Traditionally, flotsam and jetsam are words that describe goods of potential value that have been thrown into the ocean. There is a technical difference between the two: jetsam has been voluntarily cast into the sea (jettisoned) by the crew of a ship, usually in order to lighten it in an emergency; while flotsam describes goods that are floating on the water without having been thrown in deliberately, often after a shipwreck. Traditionally spelled flotsom and jetsom, the “o” was replaced with “a” in the early twentieth century, and the former spellings have since been out of common usage.”

    Author: David Churbuck

    Cape Codder with an itch to write

    0 thoughts on “Flotsam and Jetsam”

    1. Very cool day … and nice of you to clean up like that. We spend a lot of time at Hopkinton State ark … especially with the kids on the weekends. But last week, my wife and I took an afternoon and a giant garbage and took in a huge haul of trash from the shoreline. Nothing of any value whatsoever … but it felt good to do the work. A guy with a cigar and dog walked by … asked what we were collecting. We told him we were just picking up. He says through clinched teeth, “Nice.” I’m sure he had a good chuckle over his highball that afternoon. In any event, it was nice to go there today with the girls and see all that clean beach around the lake.

    2. Damn this is a great post Dave.. the county is on fire not far from my house– again. Oh well, that means my roof will have long streaks of pink from the borate bombers exiting the fire over my house on their way back to to the tanker base at Lake Elsinore. Ahh life naxt to a national forest.

      Again great post,

      Argh matey!

      Jim

    3. David,

      Great post indeed. You seem to have a virtual treasure trove of life experiences to draw from, and demonstrate a truly remarkable knack of intertwining the mundane with these little historic pearls. Like your photos, you’ve made virtual art from garbage.

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