Jewels of the sea

Jewels of the sea

To beachcombers, there's rarely a more precious find than a sparkling glass fishing float discovered bobbing in the surf or hidden among the tide debris. When the wind and weather are right, Peninsula beaches can provide the stuff of beachcombers' dreams.

Late winter through early spring is the best time to find the "wild" varieties of the sought-after Oriental baubles. Frisky storms swing float-laden debris into the Peninsula area. Most often, currents and winds are just right during those months to bring them ashore.

The desirable winds for float landings are westerly onshore breezes. An onshore wind combined with a high tide is the best time to spot them. The floats may not stay long, however, because the outgoing tide can quickly deliver them back to the sea.

Another good time to look for the floats is anytime after a storm. It's also been said that when small, bluish jellyfish called Velella arrive en masse on the beach, it's time to search for floats.

The floats, which come in a myriad of sizes, shapes and colors, are carried from Japanese waters to the Peninsula via the tropical waters of the Kuroshio Current.

The warm Kuroshio travels northeast across the Pacific starting at the southeast tip of Japan, and travels to Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands and then drops down the West Coast. It's been said that 40 percent of all the glass floats ever lost are still traveling this Pacific current. Many have been discovered completely covered with years of thick barnacle growth.

In addition to the Kuroshio, a legendary swirling mass of debris called the Oregon Maelstrom delivers Japanese floats to Peninsula beaches. A famous beachcomber, Amos Wood, reported in his book, "Beachcombing for Japanese Glass Floats," that the maelstrom, carrying hundreds of glass floats, logs and other debris, has been spotted by fishermen about 25 miles off the coast of Oregon. It is suspected the maelstrom is caused by the rush of water where the Columbia River and Pacific join at sea.

When storms blow through that area, the maelstrom debris can break off and come to the Peninsula area. Fishermen have tried to approach the spinning mass in hopes of gathering some of the larger floats but quickly changed course after discovering the strength of the currents, Woods wrote.

Luckily, the beaches near the maelstrom are flat and sandy. If they were rocky, many of the floats would not survive and would be crushed by the pounding surf.

During the winter and spring, it's best to dress warmly when looking for floats, and it's wise to watch at all times of the year for "sneaker" or rogue waves that can come seemingly from nowhere.

For those who would rather view the beautiful floats from inside a warm and dry building, Marsh's Free Museum, located in downtown Long Beach, has some old and very rare specimens on display.

Probably the rarest of the floats at the museum is a double-ball float with a thin spindle of glass running directly through the middle of both. This one is particularly rare because a double float is rare, as is a float with a spindle. The combination is extremely unusual.

Another of the rare floats at the museum is a whopping 59 and three-quarter inches, blue-green sphere. Wellington Marsh bought the float from a man who brought it to the tavern in 1927. He was so impressed with the size of the float that he borrowed $25 to buy it from the gentleman. This float is one of the largest ever beachcombed.

The museum also has roller floats that are shaped similar to rolling pins and lavender floats which reportedly are from the Japanese Emperor's fishing fleet, Marsh said.

While Marsh's displays rare floats, the store also sells many beautiful specimens. Several large floats line the back wall, and there's even a lamp that has a blue-green float for a base.

Whatever one's means of acquiring a glass float, one thing is for sure, they are lovely.

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