Flotsam and Jetsam

I just finished reading “Washed Up: The Curious Journeys of Flotsam and Jetsam” by Skye Moody. 

One of my favorite things to do is walk the beach to find unusual items that have washed up.  I have collected, from along the Gulf Coast, the usual sea beans, shells, drift wood, sponges and other sea critters.  I have a great collection of shark teeth, fish bones and sea glass.  Last year I found a piece of broken china with a crown stamp on the back, and a piece of fired pottery.  And just last week in Palm Beach I collected a toy scuba diver, the handle of a broken oar, a ball of carnauba wax and blisterpod and cocoplum seeds.  What I left behind amounted to some rope, part of a plastic toy car and 5 feet of worn, hollow bamboo.   This book was right up my alley.

In case you’re wondering, flotsam is basically the wreckage and the cargo from the wrecked ship that floats on the surface of the sea.  Jetsam is the stuff thrown overboard to lighted the vessel.  Ocean storms are responsible for a lot of the flotsam and jetsam.  During rough seas, cargo boxes from shipping vessels can fall overboard, break open and then you’ve got items such as Nike shoes, Lego building blocks, furniture floating around the ocean currents.  This stuff can get caught in the current and circle the ocean several times or end up on the nearest coast.   Things that sink and need a scuba diver to retrieve is called lagan.  I suppose wreckage from hurricanes can count as flotsam, unless it sinks.  I’ve never encountered a furious hurricane that allowed me to walk the beach shortly after.  I don’t know how long it takes for house parts and contents to wash up. 

The Washington and Oregon coast is a great place to beachcomb if you’re interested in collecting the unusual and Skye Moody does a great job describing what, how and why lots of things wash up along the northwestern coast.  She also spends a great deal of time describing the history of flotsam with legends and native tales of superstition and gods.  She chronicles shipwrecks and messages in bottles, rubber ducks, flotsam and density, Japanese fishing floats, ambergris and beach whistles.  There is an interesting section on the Great Garbage Patch.

Even if you’re not a beachcomber, this book makes a great read.  You never know what you’ll learn about our oceans, our beaches and why people collect things.