Tue. Apr 20th, 2021

Volume 17 Issue 2

There it was, as big as life on the cover of Harper Magazine: the story of Moby-Duck.

For several years I’ve been telling the story of the floating toy ducks that were lost at sea and that have washed ashore all over the world. I first read about the affair in the India Times newspaper while I was preaching in New Delhi. Being uncertain of the veracity of the story, I have been presenting it as if it were an urban legend. There have been a number of stories about it, but even so, I have had a few challenging and skeptical enquiries.

Anyway, there I was in the bookstore browsing through the magazine section, when the January 2007 Harpers leaps out at me with its bold cover picture of a yellow rubber duck. Moby-Duck.

The essay writer, Donovan Hohn, had documented that on January 10, 1992, a ship sailing for Hong Kong and headed for Tacoma, Washington (USA) had in fact experienced a loss of cargo at 44.7 N, 178.1 E. in the great Pacific Ocean. The vessel was loaded with 50,000 tons of cargo, including a container that held 28,000 plastic animals — of which 7,200 were yellow ducks. The toy ducks were designed for children to use as a bath toy. During a storm, the containers broke free of their restraints and twelve washed overboard. At least one broke open: the one with the ducks. The toys dislodged from their packaging and were caught up in the currents; and according to Hohn, for years have been washing ashore on beaches in various parts of the world. The phenomenon has even revealed new findings about sea currents that have surprised researchers. None of the ducks, however, have ever been found in Tacoma, the port of destination.

Mr. Hohn uses the story to demonstrate his concerns for the environment and the worlds misuse of precious resources in manufacturing such things as plastic ducks. And he uses it as an allegory, howbeit a bit complex, to encourage the reader to ponder the 22 billion dollar per year toy industry (in American alone) which makes use of plastic to produce 70 percent of those toys. Plastics that will take the world several hundred years (if ever) to eradicate the pollutants they cause.

As for me, on the other hand, I will now feel more confident to tell my story. Thanks to Hohn I can now ascribe it a time and date. I will press home my own allegorical interpretation: you cant expect to reach your destination as a floatee.

Our lives need purpose. We need a clear picture of our destination. None of the little floatee ducks made it to Tacoma. The currents took them here and there, but not to the port of destination.

Currents: how strange they are. How mysteriously they are formed. A wind comes with its own will. An earthquake shifts the sea floor beneath our world. A volcano pushes up a fire from the deep. And then we are tossed into the waves and caught in the clutch of the currents these events have created.

Lust, pride, ambition, greed, ego; these break the precious cord that binds men to their ship, to their captain, to their manifesto; and in a moment they are washed overboard. Alone. Caught in the current. Floating free.

It is amazing to see where currents will take flotsam. In most cases it is it is impossible to predict where it will end up. There are just too many unknowns. A slight nuance somewhere forever alters the course. Someone carried too close to the edge is powerlessly swept into another current and another and another until lost on a sea with no possibility of getting back to the original intention, the original purpose. Lost. A human Moby-Duck – floating, floating,
a source of interest, a fantastic story; but never reaching the right port.

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