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Be Sure the Cans and Bottles Sink

Photo Courtesy of Foss Maritime.
Photo Courtesy of Foss Maritime.

I read somewhere that the tide rolls in like a giant tornado on its side, carrying tons of food for fish and clams and other good things to eat.  That’s why seagulls and salmon hang around the tide line and the fishermen are right behind.  Nearing high tide, it slows to a stop and leaves a line of drift on the beach for us to comb for treasures of any kind, though there were certain things in the drift that we were not allowed to bring home such as medicine bottles that still had stuff in them, or other medical things.

There were two of us in the rowboat with a garbage can between us.  My old friend, John Sweetman, was rowing and I sat in the stern, as we headed into deep water where the tide was strongest.  John’s Father yelled from the shore, ”Be sure the cans and bottles sink.  The tide will take away what we give it.” 

We burned our paper and saved our lunch bags from school to be used again. Ordinary household garbage that was food grade and not used for compost was supposed to float so the seagulls could pick it. We had no such thing as plastic bags in those days and we produced far less garbage, not even having trash collection. The garbage dump was a place to pick over and recycle such things as a rusted out old wagon that we liberated for its wheels to be used on a go cart.  Such was our thinking in the 1950’s when the tide took everything away that we threw on the beach and nobody thought anything of it.

It was 1956 and we were commuting to school in Seattle.  We heard on the radio that a four engine Stratocruiser had ditched off Point Robinson carrying 32 passengers.  The Boeing 377 was a common sight overhead in those days. The sound of the engines was a thrill for us kids and they flew low and slow.  We had the day off because of a Catholic holiday and I hit the throttle hard, racing to Point Robinson where we found the whole of Vashon High school milling around, though they had to return for afternoon classes. 

    Gary Larson was my neighbor and good friend who had gotten there long before us and had successfully saved several of the passengers from drowning in the frigid water by having them hang on to the gunwales of his newly built rowboat while he towed them to shore.  Arden Ibsen ran our shop class and that is where Gary built his 14 foot fiberglass rowboat, though he said “It was a bit beamy and tippable.”  Most of the crew and passengers survived.   I asked Gary if the rowing had been tough at times, knowing how the tide races around Point Robinson.  He admitted that it “Wasn’t easy.”

The last time I saw Gary, he was a Crew Chief in the Air Force and drove a C-124 Globemaster on the ground from hanger to hanger.  The plane was called, “old Shaky.” 

Bob Smith, another classmate and his father, Art were the first people on the scene.  Art ran Vashon Sand and Gravel and after a few hours rescuing soggy mail bags, and whatever else floated up from 400 feet down, they let my Brother Mike and I borrow their boat. 

“Mike,” I yelled.  “Get a hold of the other end of the bag.  It’s too heavy: I can’t get it over the rail.”  I couldn’t imagine what a soaking wet mailbag must weigh. The plane had been bound for Chicago with a cargo of live chicks when it “ditched” and hundreds of chicks came up with the rolling tide. We did pick up the occasional life preserver and were grateful that we didn’t find any bodies.  “I see a purse,” Mike yelled and I rowed the boat hard against the tide for Mike to pick it up.  Our bad luck held for the purse was empty.