Sigonella CPO combs beaches around the world for glass fishing floats
July 26, 2004
While strolling along beaches, John Herreria scans for glass.
What appears to be junk to a novice beachcomber is treasure to the chief petty officer in Sigonella, Sicily. For six years, he has drifted from beach to beach, hunting glass fishing floats used by fishermen in the 1800s and early 1900s.
The Mangilao, Guam, native has amassed a collection of more than 1,500 floats in a rainbow of colors and shapes.
Herreria got hooked Dec. 7, 1997. His master chief in Misawa, Japan, invited him to search for floats. Where the ocean licked the sand, Herreria found a blue-green float, 14 inches in diameter.
“That was a remarkable day for me,” said Herreria, 43. “It’s like a kid in the candy store.”
Every weekend after that, he combed the beaches in Japan. And after fishing for information, he uncovered their story.
The use of glass fishing floats traces as far back as 1840 to Norway. Their use spread around 1910 to the Far East. Ten years later, cork and aluminum floats appeared.
Collectors surf the Internet, scour beaches and rummage through shops and markets searching for the elusive floats.
“It’s the chase that’s keeping me going, the chance of getting that rare one or things I haven’t seen,” said the aviation administrationman for Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center.
He regularly corresponds with collectors in the northwest United States, a hot spot for the floats, where he plans to retire.
His wife, Joyce, initially wasn’t thrilled by his hobby.
“He was so obsessed with it, it was scary,” she said. “For me at first it was junk, debris – especially when he has to wake up at 4 in the morning. I’d just go with him, stay in the car and read my book.”
But the travel agent became more supportive of his pursuit when she realized it would take her places: Thailand, Mexico, Hawaii, Germany, Great Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands, and most recently on a three-week vacation to Scandinavian countries.
“I’m going for the sightseeing,” she said. “My attitude now is, ‘You love it, go ahead.’”
They usually camp near beaches, making sure they stop at Hard Rock Cafe.
They have about 300 guitar pins and other items from the restaurants.
“We do collect a lot of stuff,” the sailor said. “That’s what happens when you don’t have kids, you’ve got all the time in the world to travel.”
Joyce Herreria said that while she goes with the flow, it is a pain to clean the hundreds scattered around the house. The fishy baubles initially smell like dirty socks and are cleaned monthly.
“And I think we’re gonna be overweight in our household goods,” she said.
John Herreria has made more than $10,000 selling the floats, which range in value from $2 to $5,000.
Herreria’s most valuable one, a rare Japanese cobalt blue float, sold for $3,500.
The value depends on size and markings that indicate who made them and where. Most are shades of green because the glass was primarily recycled sake bottles.
Purple, violet and red floats — rare because gold sometimes was used to produce the color — trapped octopus, crab, squid and lobster. Clear floats usually were attached to fish nets. The large green ones were used for long-line tuna fishing nets.
The smallest are 2 inches in diameter, while the largest are 20 inches.
Designs vary, from round to rolling pin and torpedo shapes.
Some float to shore with fishing nets and barnacles still attached.
While Herreria hasn’t managed to get anyone hooked on his passion in Sicily, he has advice for wannabe collectors. First, research where floats have washed up, such as Spain, Portugal and northwest France.
“If there’s a tropical storm or hurricane or big waves coming in, right after that is when you want to go,” he said.
Go to the beach before sunrise.
“You want to be the first footsteps on the beach,” he said.
Don’t just look near the water; he has found some hundreds of feet from shore.
And it isn’t a hobby without hazards. Herreria has been chased by dogs and had run-ins with snakes as well as changing tides.
Joyce Herreria recalled a camping trip in Hokkaido, Japan, when her husband drove on the shore. Their car started sinking. She frantically ran to get help. She laughed that her husband was more concerned about unloading the floats.
But John Herreria said his biggest caution is this: “Be warned: It’s very addicting.”