Drifting ornaments

Nancy Whelan has been searching long and hard, unsuccessfully, for authentic glass fishing floats

Mundane yard chores tend to put the mind into a free-floating zone where anything can pop to the surface. Yesterday the floats surfaced.

Since first setting foot on a surf-scoured Island beach I’ve searched, always in vain, for a glass fishing float.

There’s no end to the trophies of wood, rock and shell that I’ve lugged home, most often to a husband’s dismay; a shining aquamarine orb, however, is still waiting for the perfect moment to present itself.

Not having found a fishing float doesn’t mean that I don’t have one, though. When the cedar chips had finally beautified that particular area of the yard, I started to rearrange the garden décor. Four glass balls of varying green-blue hue and size found themselves perfectly placed between some potted plants.

Somehow I doubt that these intriguing glass balls ever performed their once intended job of keeping a fishing net afloat. Since scarcity breeds desire, replicas of the original fishing floats have been churned out for the tourist and collectors’ market and may not be the coveted ‘finds’ with an ocean voyage attached to their pedigree.

My particular floats came from a TOSH art exhibit some years ago. More accurately called an installation, dozens of floats had been artistically arranged in groupings on the gallery floor.

Individual floats were for sale. You can imagine the painful decisions involved in fitting the floats to the budget. But purchasing and acquiring does not have the same thrill as discovery and I’ll never walk a Pacific beach without a beachcomber’s wandering eye.

Interestingly, what we tend to call Japanese fishing floats, were first produced in Norway around 1840, where they kept gill nets of the Lofoten cod fisheries afloat.

The glass floats replaced most of the wood or cork float previously used in fisheries worldwide by the 1940’s. Japan was using them as early as 1910.

Hard to believe, but these floats were originally handmade by glassblowers. The Japanese were early in the recycling fad, and used old, melted down sake bottles which gave the floats their blue-green colour along with the air bubbles from the rapid recycling process.

Most of the escaped glass floats have ended up in a circular pattern of ocean currents in the North Pacific Ocean.

Apparently it may be possible to find a glass float on some northern Atlantic coast because a few of them have been trapped in Arctic ice, eventually moving over the pole to the eastern ocean.

Having not yet found any glass floats of my own, I once settled for some home décor made of the egg-shaped cedar wooden floats.

In our lighthouse years, these wooden floats were easy to find and we made our collection into a room divider between the cooking and eating areas of the huge island kitchen.

With bookshelves built to waist-height, we strung the floats on old boat lines hung from the ceiling down to the shelves. Truly a most nautical effect for a lighthouse kitchen.

For a while it kept the young ones busy searching and collecting… though I’ve not yet seen it featured in ‘Coastal Living.’

— Nancy Whelan’s column appears every second Thursday in The NEWS. E-mail: njwhelan@telus.net.

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