"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!
Tara Neilson (ADOW)