The Voyage of the Unsinkable Rubber Duckies
Beachcomber extraordinaire Dean Orbison has been assidiously recovering some of the 28,800 rubber duckies, turtles, beavers and frogs lost at sea when a cargo container holding them in 1992 "splashed into the mid-Pacific, where the 45th parallel intersects the International Date Line (44.7°N, 178.1°E)."
At Sitka’s second annual beachcomber fair held on 25 July 2004, Dean Orbison and son Tyler Orbison, 22, exhibited a hamper full of 111 toys they’d beachcombed nearby Sitka during 1993-2004. The basket held comparable numbers: 18% turtles, 35% ducks, 26% beavers, and 21% frogs. During years at sea, the ducks and beavers faded to white while the turtles and frogs remained original blue and green, respectively. Animal bites and the surf smashing them against rocks had ruptured many.
Through the years, Dean patiently recorded the date and location where they found ninety of the fist-sized toys. This astonishing record reveals peak recoveries in five years with intervening gaps of 2, 4, 3, and 3 years, i.e., 1992–1994–1998–2001–2004. Each year, Dean and Tyler conducted comparable beachcombing effort so the peaks in the time line are not the result of differing times spent along the shore. The first peak occurred before the Orbisons began recording, but a year in which other beachcombers reported hundreds. We may safely assume an initial peak in 1992, the year the playthings first invaded Sitka.
Why should the rubber duckies wash up in Sitka in clustered patterns? Enter oceannographer Jim Ingraham. The duckies were riding a vast circulatory current in the ocean called a Gyre.
Jim Ingraham’s computer simulation of ocean surface currents known as OSCURS (Ocean Surface CURrent Simulator), provides an understanding of the peaks in toy recoveries. ... OSCURS demonstrated the tracks the toys took, rounding the Gyre to Washington, where Karen Gerber and Verne Krause recovered a turtle and duck, respectively. In the Queen Charlotte Islands, Guthrie Schweers found two turtles and four frogs. Remarkably, after three years, all three beachcomber finds agreed with OSCURS trajectories around the Gyre.
The Gyre took the toys ashore at intervals. This information may be of interest to castaways, because the circulation of the Gyre also governs the probability that Messages in Bottles (MIBs) make landfall, where they may be read.
Historic MIBs — Messages In Bottles — provide confirmation of the Gyre’s orbital period as evident in the Orbison time series. In the 1950s, into the Gulf of Alaska Canadian oceanographers hurled 33,869 MIBs in 12-ounce brown beer bottles. Twelve drifted around the Gyre in 1.9-4.2 years, matching the interval between the Orbison peaks (2-4 years). The toys, plus MIBs, provide twenty estimates, indicating the mean time to orbit the Gyre equals 2.9 years. As to speed, the mean orbital period equates to 6.9 miles per day over the 6,800-mile course around the Gyre.
Some Messages in Bottles have stayed in the Gyre for more than half a century. There is something poignant about these capsules, patiently riding the soft waves of ocean, like prayers wandering in Limbo waiting to be answered. And unlikely as it may seem, some are read even as some rubber duckies come ashore, their purposes fulfilled in ways unintended. And the messages, like the ducks, become transformed. Their urgency, like the bright colors of the bathtub toys are muted, yet they remain themselves.
And Jesus was a sailor
When He walked upon the water
And He spent a long time watching
From His lonely wooden tower
And when He knew for certain
Only drowning men could see Him
He said "All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"
But He himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone.