Building ships from beach junk: The lure of Lake Erie

“Not bad,” says David Mull, examining a beat-up piece of green plastic on a private beach. “We’ll find a use for it.”

Mull finds the beach junk first and a use for it later. His winterized cottage in Madison Township is stuffed with just about anything discarded or washed up on the Lake Erie shore.

He constructs ships from driftwood, rocks, twisted metal and bits of plastic: a handle to a kid’s bucket, a broken bubble blower, a Lego mini-figure, an old fishing lure.

He uses a glue gun to attach all the pieces and parts. And then he looks for more.

David Mull made this scepter with kids toys, a comb and plastic utensils, but he’s not sure he’s happy with it.

Today he’s looking for rope or string, something he can craft rigging out of for his latest ship, which takes up most of his kitchen island.

“It’s a whimsical combination,” said Mull, 48, who works as a house painter when he can. “I hope it inspires other people to go down to the beaches and collect trash. You create something neat and clean the beach at the same time. How can you beat that?”

Mull has always lived near Lake Erie. His dad took him out fishing as soon as he was old enough. Now his dad has passed away, and Mull lives in rents a winterized cottage, sprinkled among look-alike cottages. They all share a private rocky beach, where Mull walks each day. He also paddles an inner tube and swims, when it’s warm enough. He swam up until November, without a wetsuit. He likes the challenge of the waves, he said.

What calls him to Lake Erie?

“It’s the size of it, the freedom of it,” he said. “Nobody’s knocking on your door; nobody’s calling on the phone.”

He’ll stay out of the water until spring, but he’ll keep walking the beach, just adding more layers.

He’ll keep building his ships, too. For the last two decades, he’s drawn on rocks. No specific pattern, no meaning, just whatever looks cool. One rock has taken him as long as three months.

This junk ship takes up most of Mull’s kitchen island.

The ships are a new thing. He’s made four in the last month or so, and he hopes to sell them.

“I think it’d look really cool in some big back windows in the back of a lake house.”

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