From the Hills: Route of the Friendly Floatees


I’ve been remembering my investigation of bath toys recently. I first studied them ten years ago; March is my annual celebration.

Friendly Floatees are manufactured in China and shipped from Hong Kong in 40-foot shipping containers. Each holds 28,800 red beavers, green frogs, blue turtles, and yellow ducks. Why is this important? Thirty years ago this month there was an impressive escape.

On a cargo ship destined for Tacoma, a storm in the North Pacific Ocean blew 12 containers overboard, including one with Friendly Floatees. At some point it opened, freeing its occupants. Although each toy was mounted in a plastic housing attached to a backing card, sea water degraded the wrapping. Since the toys have no holes, they floated quite well, which is good. After all, that’s the point of putting them in bath water.

Seattle oceanographers tracked their journey and noted the beaches where some made landfall. They traveled past Japan, up to Alaska and drifted down the Bering Strait. Beavers, frogs, turtles, and ducks were frozen in ice for four years as they crossed the Arctic Ocean. 

After passing the entire length of Greenland the ice melted and freed them in the North Atlantic. Some were found along the east coast of Canada and the United States. Others headed straight for Southwest England.

The Friendly Floatees survived storms that would have taken down ships. They passed over the Titanic’s watery grave. They survived temperature fluctuations, icebergs, and rocky shores. Faded by sun and salt water, they floated to their various destinations covered with bites and barnacles. However, permanent plastic smiles suggested smug pride as if to say, “See! The smallest vessels on the tumultuous seas are not necessarily the most vulnerable.”

Most of us can identify with the Floatees' plight.

For a year, we’ve bobbed in a cold and uncharted ocean while trying to keep our heads above water. We’ve been tossed against the rocks of despair and disappointment. The currents of fear and doubt propelled us further than we wanted to go. Our relative fragility was sometimes overwhelmed by the unpredictability of our journey.

“Maybe if I was bigger, had been better made, had taken more time to plan…”

We forget that vulnerability is often misunderstood.

There exists no starker image of fragility that that of Jesus nailed to a cross. He challenges our discomfort with His brokenness; he transforms our perception of weak and strong. Watching him in our mind’s eye, we see the evidence that God deliberately chose vulnerability. Our personal discomforts diminish a little.

God used the weak to shame the strong, a suffering Son to prove the Father’s love, a cruciform journey to demonstrate eternal strength.

Jesus is not an escape from the rough seas nor a freighter ready to pluck us out of the difficult realities of life. Instead, He is waiting for each one of us in the cold, unforgiving ocean the moment we fall in. His life, death, and resurrection assure us that every vessel is important to the one who made the oceans, the currents, and the distant shores.

Our lives share similarities with red beavers, green frogs, blue turtles, and yellow ducks. God assures us that He is present regardless of our circumstances. He created us to float and we will survive. 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”  (Matt. 11:28-30)


Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and an author. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at She is the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


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