Sneakers With a Side of Noodles

by Curtis C. Ebbesmeyer

Three days packed with radio and newspaper interviews — BBC Scotland; BBC London; Canadian Broadcasting Company, Victoria; Melbourne radio, Australia; National Public Radio (Rewind); Chicago radio, Illinois; Anchorage Daily News (front page); Seattle Times (front page); San Francisco Chronicle; Portland Oregonian — to mention a few.

How’d this happen? All because of two chrome-detailed, two-tone blue and white Nikes. In January 2003, slow beachcombing along Washington abruptly halted. “ Curt, I found these two Nike shoes a week apart on January 9&16, 2003,” emailed John Anderson of Forks, Washington. “ Both were found on Queets’ beaches. One’s size 10.5 and the other’s 8.5. Both are lefts.“

Knowing that unworn footwear often signals a container spill, I immediately sought details. “These are blue & white Nike EZW mens’ basketball shoes. The numbers are 306050 101 00, under bar code 10-30-02 2462071 (size 10.5), 2462067 (size 8.5), Pat. US 4936029*5042176* . On the top of tongue is ‘Made in Indonesia 021012 IY.”

The Nikes of Queets. John Anderson found these EZW Nikes in early- January 2003. See page 2 for enlargement. (Steven Anderson photo)



John sent the first report of new Nikes. Just in time for the March beachcomber fairs in nearby Ocean Shores and Grayland. Six numbers were dates – 021012 – indicating the Nikes were recently lost. The first four revealed that Nike ordered the footwear in October (10) 2002, and the last two that the Indonesian factory filled Nike’s order in December (12).

Next, I emailed Nike headquarters. “Curt, you have great timing. We were just talking about you,” emailed Dave Newman, Nike Cargo Safety & Claims, Regional Support Services & Sustainable Logistics, Beaverton, Oregon. “ Three containers went overboard in December 2002 off the northern California coast. David and I will see if we can pinpoint the date and location.” I didn’t have long to wait. On February 6, 2003, Nike’s Herb Hedges relayed radio traffic concerning ten containers overboard 30-
40 miles off Cape Mendocino, California. (explanations in [ ] to nautical terms): “URGENT. Vessel proceeding LSATAC in heavy, confused swell with approximate height 8-9 meters [26-30 feet; LSA-TAC indicates the vessel was sailing from Los Angeles, California, to Tacoma, Washington]. Wind approximately 30-40 knots on the port quarter. Departure GM was 6.0 meters [vessel’s center of grav-ity]. Both stabilizers were deployed. Speed approximately 19 knots. At 2018 LT [6:18 p.m. local time] – 0418 UTC [Universal Time Coordinates] December 15th, vessel took two very heavy rolls, approximately 20 degrees to each side very fast, which caused 10 containers to fall overboard and 6 others to capsize. Position: 39°53’N, 124°44’W. U.S. Coast Guard Humbolt Bay Group informed on VHF radio immediately after incident. All boxes loaded in Bay 66, port side Rows 06 to 16 in KAO for TAC discharge. Rows 4-15 were loaded with LSA cargo.”



“Generally, 5,500 pair [11,000 individual shoes] fit in a standard 40-foot ocean container,” wrote Dave. “So, the three overboard containers held approximately 33,000 shoes.”

With Dave’s email and John’s shoe report, I approachedthe media. I’d been working with Doug O’Harra, science writer for the Anchorage Daily News (ADN), tracking the stricken fishing vessel Genei Maru across the North Pacific Ocean. As a followup, I emailed Doug hoping ADN readers might report Nikes. Next thing I knew, ADN ran the story beneath a front page banner headline. That Sunday
(February 23), the Associated Press selected the ADN account as its daily feature. Immediately, the worldwide media picked up the AP story.


But wait! There’s more! Along with the Nikes, 6- inch diameter tin cans washed ashore. At first, John thought they contained coffee. “Chow mein noodles! Here’s the serial numbers: top, 29MN4; side, W50225618036– under that is 300343. Yes, they float. I found them down the beach from the shoes. I think they were lost at the same time as the Nikes.” At the Alert booth during the Beachcombers Fun Fair (1-2 March), we munched on the still-fresh and tasty month-old noodles. If a single 40-foot container went overboard, 17,000 cans of noodles may be drifting with the 33,000 Nikes, about one can for every two sneakers.

“Nikes drift, chop, chop!” I quipped to Jim Ingraham.

In the week after the media blitz, seven beachcombers reported 14 Nikes strewn along Washington, Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands. As to Nike speed, within 72 days after the containers went overboard, the flotsam footwear dispersed 850 nautical miles from northern California to Rose Spit at the northern end of the Queen Charlottes. That’s 360 miles per month!

There’s a hitch in all this. Nike forgot to tie the shoelaces, so you’ll have to find the mates. Pam Brown found a pair matching with half a size! The effort pays off ‘cause these Nikes have drifted only 1-3 months. All 33,000 of these $100 sneakers are wearable! After the great spill of 80,000 Nikes in 1990, for example, despite a year in sea water, those too remained wearable. You can hardly tell these new Nikes have been adrift for months!