"Message in a bottle." That was the subject tag on the email I received on March 27, 2017.
I've always been fascinated by messages in bottles. One story that sticks in mind is about a steamer named Saxilby that left Ireland in November 1933. It disappeared, but two and half years later a message in a bottle washed ashore at Aberayon, Wales. It said: "S.S. Saxilby sinking off Irish coast. Love to sisters, brothers, and Dina. Joe Okane."
What's Twilight Zone eerie about this particular message in a bottle is that it washed ashore less than a mile from the people to whom Joe Okane sent his last message.
An even more remarkable story is the one about Chunosuke Matsuyama, a Japanese seaman who, along with forty-three companions, went searching for buried treasure on a Pacific Island in the year 1784.
They were caught in a terrific storm and the ship was wrecked on a coral reef. Matsuyama and the other crew members made it ashore, only to find that the island had little to offer in the way of food or drinking water. Matsuyama was the last survivor. In the wreckage from the ship he found a bottle and carved a message about what had happened into thinly sliced bark from a storm-downed coconut tree. He put it in the bottle and flung it into the ocean.
In 1935 the bottle, with the coconut bark message inside it, washed ashore on the beach below Hiraturemura, Japan, where Chunosuke Matsuyama had been born more than a century and a half before. Hmm. Is that The Twilight Zone's theme I'm hearing?
My brother Robin, when he was a teenager, found a message in a bottle while he was hunting on the islands across from where we live. It turned out to be part of a meteorological experiment, but it was still an exciting find. I wrote about it in this blog last year. (Click on "Communication" under Categories.)
As I wrote it and thought about the stories of shipwrecked sailors sending out messages in bottles, I started thinking about being on unpredictable Clarence Strait at a time when there wasn't much boat or plane traffic. What if we were in a boating accident with no way to communicate except by a message in a bottle? How long would it take before someone found it, and where would it end up?
On April 21, 2016, during a happily uneventful trip crossing Clarence Strait, returning from a grocery and fuel trip to Thorne Bay, I put a message in a bottle, tied a red buoy to it for greater visibility, and dropped it overboard at the halfway mark.
Nearly a year later, I received an email with a subject line that read: "Message in a Bottle."
The email was brief: "I found your message you set adrift on 4-21-16. Found it on Saturday. It stayed in Clarence Strait as I found it on Bushy Island next to Zarembo Island."
I responded right away, asking for more details, and the finder wrote:
"Well, that morning was a pretty decent morning so my friend and I decided to go out on the boat. The water was calm for a while until we got farther north. It was at that point it began raining and hailing. We were getting pelted pretty good so we decided to stop on the closest beach to make a fire and have lunch.
"By the time we finished lunch the weather went back to being okay. We figured that since we were already on the beach we might as well do some beachcombing. While I was moving around some logs, I spotted a plastic bottle that had a rope tied around it. Normally, I would never think twice about picking up something like that, but curiosity got the best of me.
"I gave the bottle a good yank and out from under the log it came along with the buoy. It was then that I saw a Ziploc bag inside which made me realize it was a message in a bottle! I had always wanted to find one of those so that was definitely the highlight of my day."
I had my answer: If I was in a boating accident in the middle of Clarence Strait, it would take nearly a year before anyone knew about it from a message in a bottle. (It traveled at least forty miles, not counting possible side trips, from where I dropped it to where it was found.)
Interestingly, the bottle that I put the message in was from a soft drink that I'd purchased in Thorne Bay. The man who found it, twenty-eight-year-old Brandon Robinson, works in the very store in Thorne Bay where I bought the bottle.
Do I hear music from The Twilight Zone?
NOTE: A version of this blog post was first published in Capital City Weekly, April 15, 2017.
A special thank you to Terry for the Twilight Zone DVDs!
My sister is having issues with internet service, such is the "Bush Life", but as soon as she can get back on she will be posting more frequently and answering all e-mails, thank you so much for understanding!
My dad just came back from a day waiting around at the dock for the mail plane to come in, and said he spent the time chatting with pretty much every person in the village.
The dock has always been the gathering place for the locals as far back as I can remember. People go there to wait for planes, school kids to wait for their skiff ride home (chopping up kelp and throwing it at each other in the interim), hang out, exchange tall fishing tales, gossip, tender sympathy.... It's seen everything from wedding parties, to graduation parties, to end of the fishing season parties. If there's a party going, the spot to hold it is at the dock. More than one person has been thrown off the dock, or bumped into the bay while music was pounding and spirits, of more than one variety, were high and flowing.
When we first arrived in Myers Chuck, as it was spelled then, there was a sturdy, central dock made of wood that everyone called "the state dock" since it was built with state funds. Along the wide, warped-plank causeway that led away from land and to the ramp down to the float system, local boys had laboriously carved current events and opinions into the wooden rail. Most of it involved the village's prettiest teenage girls and the local boys' territorial stake to one or the other of them, their admiration for both, and their unfriendly advice to and libel against competitors for the girls' affections.
I loved the dock as a child. It was the most alive, happening place in the world. I could go down the dock, the fishing boats rafted alongside each other two or three deep, and get treats as I went from one barbecue and dock party to the next. Who could say no to a pig-tailed blonde girl in a life vest bouncing on a pogo stick?
The men would gather in groups talking fishing, cards, and politics while someone's rock music blared in the background. The women were busy at barbecues, coming and going from their cramped galley kitchens, chatting about "Chuck Doings," the boats swaying and squeaking against the bumper buoys. The scent of saltwater and low tide mixed with beer, cooking chicken, burgers, and franks.
Some of my school friends lived down at the dock on boats. Two sisters had their own boat that was towed behind their parents' fishing boat wherever they traveled. I loved going aboard and seeing their tidy, cozy floating bedroom.
The dock was moored in place by a series of tall, barnacle-encrusted pilings that sea gulls stood atop, flat-footed, making raucous, melodramatic remarks and looking for handouts.
Could there be a better place to go pogo-sticking?
My cousin Mark has his own dock story:
August 16, 1977
As the only summer residents of the Back Chuck, along with our mom, during our first summer in remote Myers Chuck, my brother Alex and I often ate a quick breakfast and headed for the Front Chuck for some human interaction.
Myers Chuck was tiny, but its population jumped in the summer as boat captains sought refuge or came in to offload their fish at the tiny fish-buying/fuel station attached to the post office and general store. The store had the only land-line telephone in Myers Chuck, allowing us to collect call our father in Atlanta to say hello and check in on the world.
This particular day when I called my dad he told me that Greenie, my pet paraketet, had met his maker. I was devastated. Later, I'd find out the truth about Greenie's demise (an uncle's cat), but for now I just knew I was sad that I'd lost my close companion.
I went to the state dock to have a good cry and found that a grizzled old captain was having a cry of his own. He couldn't possibly have heard about Greenie, but at 9, I asked with all the innocence in the world if that was why he was crying.
He replied, "No, son. Elvis Presley has died."
I knew of Elvis from one of my dad's three 8-track tapes. Dad wasn't a big music guy, but we had The Beach Boys, Elvis, and The Outlaws. Not bad for a non-music guy!
Me crying for Greenie, and the old captain crying for the loss of Elvis, along with the rest of the world, is a day I'll always remember. Only in 1977 remote Myers Chuck could a 65-year-old weathered fishing captain console a city boy out of place about a rock 'n' roll star and a little green parakeet.