Hunting For Sea Glass In Massachusetts

08/08/2018 16:13

Who doesn't love Sea Glass?

Sea Glass is made when regular glass gets into the ocean. While finding a whole bottle may be preferable, one generally works with shards of broken glass. They wash into the sea, bang around for a few decades, and gradually 1) get the edges rounded off, and 2) acquire a frosted appearance.

Voila! Sea Glass!

The hunter/gatherer of Sea Glass is someone who finds use for a Cape Cod beach in February. Other than aesthetics, beaches aren't really good for much between October and May. You can surf, but that requires the acquisition of a skill, a wetsuit and a car big enough to carry a surfboard. Even then, you have to wait for days where the waves are large, and- even more then- a shark might eat you. Funk that.

You can still saddle up a surfboard, but you can also walk along the shore for free and keep your eyes looking down. You'll eventually gather up a nice pile of colored, frosted glass, which can be used for various artistic projects.

Don't be intimidated by Artistry. I'm pretty much a complete moron with Art (when I was starting out as a teacher, the inescapable chalkboard artwork which I had to perform was of such a low level that one of my students- her name was something like Hillary Aronson, in case you know her- came up to me after a class and said "Mr. B, next time, just tell me what you want drawn on the board and I'll get up and do it for youArt isn't your strong point."), but even I can buy a jar and put Sea Glass in it. Leave the jar on a windowsill where it can catch some sunlight... boom, Art.

The hunt can be as nice as the meal with Sea Glass, as- even if you strike out- you still get in a nice beach walk. Other than a greatly-increased risk of toe-stubbing, there's really no downside to Sea Glass Collecting.

This is stuff that you probably knew before reading this article, so what I need to do is some lengthy thinkin' on how sea glass is made, and where someone would be best sent to gather some.

As we noted before, the short answer to the How Is Sea Glass Made question is "glass falls in the ocean, et cetera." However, there are a few things that you should know beyond that.

One, there is some snobbery in the game. "Beach Glass" sounds just like sea glass, but it is not the same, and people will clown on you if you think that it is. Beach Glass is either made in rivers or- for the love of Mary- factories. This stuff is the Fat Girl/Poor Man of the artsy glass movement, and a resident of (or a resident with access to) coastal Massachusetts need not worry about it.

Two, sea glass takes 20-30 years to round into shape. You can't smash a bottle today, walk down the beach a few hundred yards tomorrow, and find a frosted version of the bottle you broke. Nope. You have to wait, for decades in some cases. Certain kinds of sea glass (I'm not sure what kinds, I'm assuming thick glass or something) take up to 50 years before they're display-worthy.

In the 1980s or so, they passed numerous Bottle Bill laws, and those empties are worth a nickel each now... nothing to sneeze at when you drink to the degree that I drink, player. People started returning bottles rather than chucking them, and poor folks would eventually gather up any leftover cold-soldiers to make a nickel per. Right around the same time, those tree-huggin' liberals forced many industries to move away from glass bottles towards the non-sea-glass-makin' plastic bottling. While the beer companies held out, even the drinkers picked up some love-thy-planet stuff from the more conscientious people, and are presently less likely to smash bottles when drinking outdoors.

All of the stuff in the previous two paragraphs means that there is less glass being dumped in the ocean, which means that the sea glass talent pool has thinned out substantially. Population growth cancels it out somewhat, but not nearly enough. The person saying "There was more and better seaglass when I was a kid," is correct, not fooled by nostalgia.

Three, the motion of the ocean is important not only for making the glass, but for moving it about. If glass stayed where you broke it, my local pharmacy would have no Noxema, and I'd have a lamp full of cool blue sea glass culled from my just-offshore stash spot. If you're serious about collecting sea glass- and your author is, at least this morning- you have to research where the currents run, where the rivers empty, where the population centers are, seabed sediment redistribution... and numerous other factors, trust me.

Fourth, know that one piece of glass is not of the same value as others. Typical colors include white, brown and green, the colors of the beer and soda bottles. Lesser-known colors include yellow and blue. Experts can look at a piece of glass and tell you what kind of bottle it came from, and from which era.

Basically, clear = beer, faint green = Coca-Cola, darker green = Sprite, and blue means that not only did someone drink Milk Of Magnesia at a beach, but that they enjoyed it so much that they smashed the bottle in celebration when they finished, like Gronk.

Fifth, you need a combination of timing and luck. Sea glass doesn't weigh much, but it weighs a lot more than sand does. Sand washes around more, and eventually will cover up sea glass. There are some tricks you can do to up your odds, but "needle in a haystack" is actually too conservative a measure for what a glass hunter is doing.

If you can go hunting after a storm, do so. Everything gets turned over, and new stuff is cast forth from the sea.

Finally, much like a mating leopard, you have to pick your spots. Location is everything. You need to identify and exploit certain natural features which are distinct to the local geography. That's where we're headed now.

I was just kidding about Gronk smashing Vap-O-Rub bottles at the beach. Most of our sea glass comes from inland flooding. Rivers rise up, find bottles, wash them downstream, smash them up a bit, and send them out of their mouth into open ocean. The lucky pieces make it back to the beach. The coastal people smash bottles too, but their numbers don't match up with everyone inland.

So, your search should start with a river mouth that empties into Cape Cod Bay or the open Atlantic. The North River, the Taunton River, the the Charles River, the Mystic River, the Green Harbor River, and even the Hudson River will spit out glass that you can eventually collect. Glass can wash a long way from where it started.

Once you have that part done, you have to look at currents. Currents wash the glass to wherever it is going to end up... well, currents and waves, of course. You need to imagine the glass washing into the sea and being directed somewhere by the local currents... currents which, thanks to this handy map, you are now familiar with.

So, you have a glass source, the general direction from the source where the glass went, and now you need to guess where it ended up. This is where I have to invent a geographical term. A "basin beach" is something that sticks out into the sea a bit and collects whatever floatsam and jetsam the sea has to offer. Think of the basin beach as being a big first baseman's mitt, working the current.

Once you're on that beach, look for the area where everything washes up. If a beach has a sandy part and a rocky part, go to the rocky part. Work the fringes of the pile, or go All In and start digging in the rockpile itself.

I actually suck at the collecting, myself. I'm a tall man, and I have terrible eyesight. That's a bad combo to call in on a job where you are looking for tiny bits of glass on a beach, and that's before you factor in the ADHD and the often copious drug usage. What I am good for is helping you skip some of those steps I listed by pointing out local beaches which fit the criteria for a sea glass hot-spot.

Horse Neck Beach, Westport

The Gulf Stream current pushes right up into the body of water known as Buzzards Bay. America's east coast most certainly coughs up a lot of sea glass. Most of it goes out to sea, some of it ends up on Lon-Guy-Land, Rhodey takes her share, but that still leaves a lot of Niceness washing into Bee Bay.

Horse Neck Beach (do not buy into rumors that it was named that because a harlot was lynched there) is well-positioned to get a cut of that action. I suppose that a lot of New York glass washes over here, which should help your numbers out some with ol' Lady Luck.

HNB is also close enough and yet far enough to/from the Taunton River to guarantee a nice flow of glass.

More glass probably goes to the Elizabeth Islands, but mining that involves you getting a boat and stuff. Remember, you're putting broken glass in a jar... let's not ring up any silly expenses.

Speaking of which, the two best spots to capitalize on the Gulf Stream current- Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard- are also eliminated for needs-a-boat reasons.

Old Silver Beach, Falmouth MA

On the other side of Buzzards Bay, we have the town of Falmouth. In the town of Falmouth, we have Old Silver Beach.

I like more rocks on a beach when I hunt, but OSB is very well positioned to get washashore sea glass. If you can get up by Crow Point, do so. It's rockier there.

You may end up in someone's front yard, so be careful. I grew up on a beach and live on one now, so I tend to be a bit unaware of beach restrictions in other towns.

If you find some silver there, even better. Just don't be, like, taking it out of people's beach houses or anything, friends.

Craigville Beach, Centerville MA

Cape Cod, which is a barrier beach for Massachusetts, is also protected by a pair of barrier islands known as Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, as well as the Elizabeth Islands. These islands, and the multitude of jetties and groynes along the coast (Dennis Port has so many groynes and jetties along the shoreline, it looks like a zipper when viewed from space) interfere with the glass gathering process.

The islands, at a sharp corner of the Gulf Stream, also have odd currents. They sink ships, which is why they dug the Cape Cod Canal. It also messes with the sea glass distribution.

Even if they don't stop the flow of sea glass entirely, the process becomes somewhat unpredictable. We'll give you a southern Cape location to check, but don't say that we didn't warn you.

Craigville sits in a gap between Martha and ACK, and is a nice base from which to operate. She is also basin-shaped, which should act like a catcher's mitt and trap seaglass.

Remember, since you aren't too far from the Kennedy Compound, you might get some high-pedigree glass. I know a guy who lives near Chappaquidick who claims to have red sea glass from Ted Kennedy's brake lights.

Friggin' sweet stopper!

Coast Guard Beach, Eastham, MA

Cape Cod is several different beasts as far as sea glass collecting goes. Buzzards Bay is well-positioned, while the south-facing Cape isn't. Once you turn the corner at Chatham, however, it's a whole new ball game.

I like east-facing Atlantic beaches. A very determined piece of European or African sea glass may have fought her way to America against the Gulf Stream. Who knows? It may have once been Queen Isabella's compact, or Napoleon's Courvoisier bottle, or John Bonham's headlights, or Idi Amin's coke mirror. You never know, stuff like that gets tossed around all the time.

Park and walk north (left) once you hit the beach, to get yourself past the sandbars.

Race Point, Provincetown, MA

RP is one of those gold mine spots. She's also the first beach on our list that isn't getting Gulf Stream in her mix. Most of her sea glass is coming from the north.

People who study currents are already saying "By George! The West Maine Coastal Current aims right at Race Point!" You can't sneak anything up on those people. RP gets stuff from Maine and New Hampshire all the time, including sea glass.Throw in whatever Boston glass washes out that far, and you have a hot spot.

Stellwagen Bank also channels stuff towards Race Point. Note that the Bank, and Cape Cod to a greater extent, slow down waves. This slows down sea glass migration.

Skaket Beach, Orleans, MA

I knew that my kung-fu was superb when my research on which beaches to hit led to a list which matched up with the Sea Glass Ninja Lady from Cape Cast. She admitted that she had no idea why one beach or another yielded better results, but our conclusions match up well.

Inner Cape Cod Bay is a tremendous place to go. It acts as a catch basin for the runoff from the Western Maine Coastal Current. This current is the engine that drives Cape Cod Bay's sea glass movement. Water is pushed along the shore from Maine, past Boston, and into Cape Cod Bay. The fish-hook shape of Cape Cod helps catch the glass as it moves down the line.

Sandy Neck Beach, Barnstable MA

Sandy Neck Beach is a rather long beach, so if you strike out here, you might want to look for easier-spotted things as your next hobby. I'd recommend Lighthouses, it's tough to miss those.

Sandy Neck Beach is a 4700 acre barrier beach, and she is what everything that washes down from Boston eventually bumps into.

You can double up on Sandy Neck Beach. It's where the sand that washes down from Sandwich ends up. Added bonus... when they dredge the Canal, they dump the fill on a beach just west of SNB, and it washes East during storms. Go to Sandy Neck after a full-moon storm, you'll get a lot of Sandwich's sea glass as well.

Scusset Beach, Sandwich MA

The South Shore ends with a THUD as you hit the Scusset Beach jetty. They made the jetty to protect the Canal, but they may as well have made it to catch sea glass.

If Sandwich is being robbed of sea glass, that means someone else is getting extra! Ironically as Hell, I think that this was Mr. Glass' motivation in Unbreakable.

If you want to throw some sand over the jetty towards Sandwich, they'd appreciate it.

Manomet Point, Plymouth MA

P-Diddy is somewhat sheltered by Duxbury Beach, and Manomet Point is the part of Plymouth that sticks out the most into the sea. If you follow the current down the South Shore, MP is what you'll eventually run into.

You're not too far downstream from an oceanfront nuclear reactor here, which in theory would make it possible to look for glowing, irradiated sea glass at night.

If you want to be up the river from the plutonium, try the perfect-for-the-job Long Beach part of town.

Duxbury Beach, Duxbury MA

Duxbury Beach is pretty much the exact shape of the Western Maine Coastal Current, and the current repays the favor by giving Duxbury 5 miles of sea glass hunting territory. Nothing on the South Shore sticks further out into the current than Duxbury Beach does.

You get another 5 miles on the bayside, but the big scores are on the oceanside.

Once you commit, you may as well walk down to the uninhabited part. Less people have worked the territory, upping your chances of scoring big.

If you feel really ambitious, dig into one of the huge rockpiles around the crossovers The good stuff is under the rockpile.

Since I am a former Mayor of Duxbury Beach, you have to give me 10% of your haul, or half of any blue glass.

Egypt Beach, Scituate MA

You'll feel like King Tut after you pillage Egypt Beach, wocka wocka wocka...

Scituate has several beach styles, including rocky, sandy, and marshy. Egypt Beach is what Goldilocks would settle on after dissing the other beaches in town for one sea glass-huntin' reason or another.

You can dig in the rockpiles, or you can walk along the perimeter and pick off the strays. It's Scituariffic!

Nantasket Beach, Hull MA

We saved the best for last!

Nantasket represents two things here. She is the end of the South Shore gold mine, and she is where the WMCC loses her power. That's the bad news. Everything else is good news.

Nanny may hold the title for the region, as she is perfectly positioned to get Boston's glass. She also gets the inland glass, when the Charles and Mystic Rivers spit their bounty out into the sea.

Point Allerton is probably a better spot, but Nantasket is more accessible. The area around the high school is productive, as well.

Much love to Julie Nightingale for the sea glass pics. Sara Flynn gave us the Duxbury Beach shot with the stairs. Jessica Allen was nice enough to shoot Hull for us.