Oregon Coast Beachcombing Hike

(Spring 2000)

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I've always wanted to photograph one of my beachcombing walks, especially if there was a good chance of finding floats. "I'll make sure to photograph the glass float just as I found it before I pick it up", I told myself. That will make it authentic!

During the spring of 2000 in the month of May, I was down in the Three Capes area for a weekend at the beach. It was a beautiful day following a spring storm and westerly winds. The sun came out and it appeared that things were washing in on the incoming morning tide. Beachcombing conditions were looking good, so I grabbed my camera, put some water and snacks in my daypack and headed to the beach to see what I could find.

I knew that even if I didn't find a float, the weather conditions were classic for float hunting so I knew the pictures would give a good idea of what it's like to beachcomb for floats on the Oregon Coast.

I hiked the spit from Cape Lookout first and this is what I saw when I hit the beach:

This is a typical view of the time-line. Bottles, seaweed, and velella clearly mark the incoming tide. Seagulls and crows were picking at the goodies coming in on the tide. I even saw a pair of bald eagles perched on a stump scavenging for food.


I ran into some interesting things that washed in. Here's a sample.

This bamboo pole was pretty big, about 4-5" in diameter and 8 feet long. I don't find ones this large too often.


Bottles with barnacles are very common when the conditions are right. This one has large gooseneck barnacles, a sign that it's been in the ocean for quite some time. This is a great indicator of good glass float hunting... but I haven't found a float yet!


Well, I guess if I didn't bring water, I could have used this. The outer Mylar bag was slightly opened, but inside were individual 100 ml packets of water that were still intact. That's not much water in each packet but I guess by the time you're relying on this, you're probably counting every drop. When I was growing up in on the Oregon coast in the 70's I used to find plain old gray cans of emergency drinking water.


A banana float, a small blue plastic float, and a Japanese (I guess) plastic bottle, all with gooseneck barnacles. These were lying about 50' from each other and I just scooted them together for a group photo.


This is the reason why beachcombing the Oregon coast is so enjoyable. You're often completely alone, the beach is full of surprises as it's always changing so you often see things that no one else will see. This large log perched on it's 4 foot sandy stand will probably be gone on the next incoming tide.

Conditions looked pretty good along most of the beach yet I found no floats on Cape Lookout spit.


I had plenty of energy left, so I decided to check out Cape Mears spit too. The tide was really coming in strong and.... well.... who knows!


I met this lone beachcomber coming back from Cape Mears spit just after I set out. He had searched the previous nights tide and was dragging a collection of plastic floats back home. I wonder where his wife will make him put them? He look pretty tired. I guess I can give up on hoping to find floats on last nights tide, I better just concentrate on the current incoming tide.... so off I go....


The number of velella coming in kept increasing as the morning continued. Although this is still just considered a modest amount of velella, some of these velella were the largest that I had ever seen.


Here's an example of one of the larger velellas, about 4 inches across. It's not obvious from this picture, but these little guys have a small sail on the top that blows them along as they float on the surface of the water. On the bottom they have very short little tentacles for catching food. Turned upside down, they look a bit like a sea anemone. They don't sting although when I was about 10 years old, they washed up so thick on the beach one year that we took off our shoes and sloshed through them. They were over a foot deep on places and after awhile our feet seemed a little numb.

When the velella are coming in really thick, glass floats are usually also found, so my hopes were high. However, I kept finding all sorts of interesting items, but no glass floats.

This large oblong float had thick clusters of gooseneck barnacles growing on it.


This is a common sight during the spring, a sandal with barnacles. I remember the time when all the Nike shoes washed up. People actually collected them and traded to create matched pairs. They would then pick off the barnacles (which were small for the shoes had only been in the ocean a couple of months), wash them, and use them!


I know, I know, this picture is kind of gross. But I have to show you everything. There was a big crowd of birds around this small porpoise that had washed in on the previous nights tide. It looked like they were making quick work of it. I think it's only the second porpoise I've found on the beach in 30 years of beachcombing.


What's this! Could it be a float washing in?!!

Sure enough. After I had found nothing on the way out and was heading back, resigned to the fact that no floats were going to be found today, this little guy comes washing in. It was advancing up the beach with each new wave.

As with most floats, they have a ring of algae that grows where the float is submerged.

So the grand total for about 12 miles of walking was only one float, but a great amount of solitude and meditative hiking along the hypnotic pounding surf on a beautiful spring day. The journey is the reward.

- Steven

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