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Washington Coast's Westport Begins Dropping Real Japanese Glass Floats For 2023

Published 01/10/23 at 5:44 AM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Washington Coast's Westport Begins Dropping Real Japanese Glass Floats For 2023

(Westport, Washington) – For fans of glass floats and other such beach drops, 2023 is turning out a banner year on not just the Oregon coast but the Washington coast as well. Lincoln City is the reigning king still, in terms of numbers, but recently Gold Beach and Bandon have joined with their own versions. (Photos courtesy Westport South Beach Historical Society)

Now, the Washington coast town of Westport steps up to the plate with a return to the roots of this glass floats craze: they've acquired the real thing, the actual glass floats from Japan. From now through Memorial Day, the beaches of Westport will be (pleasantly) littered the with smoky, green originals from the old country.

Some 1,000 will be left on these soft, sandy strands.

It's put together by the Westport South Beach Historical Society and its Westport Maritime Museum, which oversee this project. Funded by the City of Westport's lodging tax, here it's really a case of what is old is new again.

Instead of all “float faeries” dropping them on the sands, they've also got what you'd call “wranglers.” They utilize what's called a “wild release,” meaning it's really very much akin to the way people used to find these. The glass floats are dropped into the waters off the Washington coast town and they make their way in the natural route, according to John Shaw, executive director of the Westport South Beach Historical Society.

“We put them out several ways,” he told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “By boat, and by overnight release to the surf so that they will land naturally with the tide cycles. We also do some high tide placement with our float wranglers and fairies who typically work at night. The goal is to recreate that magic from the old days of a true beachcombed float.”

These are true glass fishing floats once used in Japan – recently scooped up from tsunami cleanups there and then recyled in a way by getting shipped to Westport. These are the heavy glass floats which have shades of green because they were recycled from old sake bottles. It's not the thinner, artful ones, Shaw said. These are truly hearty and sturdy because they had to be when they were used for decades until the '70s. Glass floats had to withstand all kinds of western Pacific conditions.

Shaw said they work with the faeries and wranglers on strategies to get the majority of the floats back to land utilizing the South Beach's currents and tides.

All glass floats are etched with “WSBHS 2023” to differentiate between those in this program and any of the actual wild floats that are occasionally still found here. Shaw said he helps engrave these himself.

It's the only place in the Pacific Northwest where you'll find an entire program utilizing originals (although Lincoln City on the Oregon coast has a period in February when they drop originals as well).

Now, the area has a new tradition that is aimed at beachcombers, with city and museum officials hoping Washington coast visitors will dig the nostalgia. Experience Westport and the Historical Society called it a chance to get to the beaches like the “old days.”

All along the Oregon coast and Washington coast, glass floats were common finds for decades. They became a major part of décor in many Pacific Northwest homes in the '70s. Japanese fishermen stopped using them a bit earlier, however.

“Floats sort of slowed over the years but were rather common through the '70s,” Shaw said. “We still see some floats here and there. There are floats still out there in the gyres but it has diminished from the heyday of the '40s through '60s.”

All this new approach began a few years ago and it's starting to grow again after the pandemic.

“We started it in 2018 as we reviewed some of the stories that most engaged our local visitors,” Shaw said. “We have a long history in the area of beachcombing and glass floats. We found visitors so often shared stories of family visits and finding floats. The Maritime Museum has a great collection of locally-found and collector floats.”

Shaw said he's watched Lincoln City's event catch fire over the years, and he knew Westport was onto something with its own Driftwood Show where wood markers are hidden on the beach for fun.

“Both are based around very nice glass art but are not 'floats,' “ he said. “They are nice but within the traditional float collector world are purely decorative. We wanted to do something that embraced a more traditional beachcombing experience.”

Organizers say to make sure you follow a couple of simple rules, however:

“Don’t hog floats. The nature of a wild release means that occasionally they will bunch up. If you find several, please make one your bag limit and leave others or help visitors. The goal of the program is to share the experience and stories with our visitors.”

See the museum site for more as well as Experience Westport. 360-268-0078


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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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