Lego galore: Beach craze as toys wash ashoreSave
By Bill Gardner
When 50,000 cases of whisky washed on to the beaches of a remote Scottish island in 1941, the inhabitants thought all their dreams had come true.
Now, in scenes reminiscent of the film Whisky Galore, the sands of Cornwall are scattered with precious cargo - but instead of whisky, it is pieces of Lego.
Thousands of the building sets, including plastic cutlasses, dragons and daisies, have begun turning up on the beaches 17 years after they were lost at sea.
Nearly five million pieces fell into the ocean about 32 kilometres off Land's End when a large swell hit the container ship Tokio Express in February 1997, tipping 62 containers overboard.
It is believed that recent storms have released thousands of the toys from the seabed or sand dunes and beachcombers are rushing to hunt for the brightly coloured models among seaweed and stones.
Listed in the lost cargo were 353,264 miniature daisies, which are now being found in clusters of twos or threes on the Cornish sands, while top of the list for collectors are the rarer black octopuses and green dragons.
Since news of the Lego jetsam spread, families with children have flocked to the beaches.
Charlotte Arnold, 31, was yesterday enjoying a day on Great Western Beach in Newquay with her son Kieran, seven. She said: "My son loves Lego so he'll be looking non-stop."
Tracey Williams, from Newquay, who runs a Facebook page devoted to the lost toys, has built up a collection that is the envy of her fellow "dragon hunters".
She said: "I first started seeing them in the late 1990s and it's carried on from there. It's pretty competitive because it's quite an achievement to find a dragon or an octopus.
"Some of the pieces are so small you can't really see them. The witches' brooms just look like twigs, and you wouldn't know what the ships' rigging piece was unless you knew what you were looking for.
"These days the holy grail is an octopus or a dragon. I only know of three octopuses being found, and one was by me, in a cave in Challaborough [south Devon]."
All the Lego pieces lost in 1997 were in one metal shipping container - the contents of the other 61 lost containers have never been disclosed.
The ship's manifest showed that 4,756,940 pieces fell into the sea, including 3,178,807 that were light enough to float. Since the violent winter storms, the number of finds has risen sharply, suggesting the toys have been worked loose.
Graham Cheney, owner of The Sand Bar on Great Western Beach said: "I pick the beach for litter every morning and found a piece of Lego last week. I thought it was strange but didn't think much of it until I heard about more being found."
There have been reports of pieces found in Australia and Mrs Williams said her son had found an octopus in Ireland.
Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a US oceanographer, said strong sea currents meant it was possible the Lego could wash up on any beach in the world.
"It takes three years for sea debris to cross the Atlantic Ocean, from Land's End to Florida. Undoubtedly some Lego has crossed and it's most likely some has gone around the world."
He added: "Tracking currents is like tracking ghosts - you can't see them. You can only see where flotsam started and where it ended up."