Secrets of the Sea: Messages in Bottles

Letter-writing in any form is something of a lost art these days. That’s regrettable for a lot of people, but when it comes to messages in bottles there’s an extra dose of whimsy.

A lot of messages have been written with an eye to tracking ocean currents. In these cases the message asks whoever finds it to note exactly when and where they make this discovery, and then send their reply to a supplied address.

Using messages in bottles to understand the sea makes sense, but it doesn’t really live up to the romantic notions that we all hold in our heads about what the letters should say. Happily, there are also plenty of thrilling and personal tales about these floating missives, with the people involved counting themselves as lucky as if they’d won an equally-elusive jackpot at an online casino!

Interesting Stories of Messages in Bottles

Let’s start off with a new record holder: a recently-discovered 101 year-old bottled message is now the official missive of this kind that we know about. Written by a 20-year-old named Richard Platz in 1913, it was tossed into the Baltic Sea while Platz was on a nature appreciation hike. The letter was also ultimately found in the Baltic Sea, by a fisherman named Konrad Fischer, and returned to Platz’s granddaughter.

Another story of a message in a bottle being a connection to a lost grandparent comes to us from Down Under. Geoff Flood was walking on New Zealand’s Ninety Mile Beach when he found a bottle containing a note that said “At sea. Would the finder of this bottle kindly forward this note, where found, date, to undermentioned address” and was dated 17 March, 1936.

Through a little investigation Flood learned that H.E. Hillbrick, who had written the letter, had passed away just a few years after he dropped it over the side of his boat. However, his grandson Peter was around to receive the item. He said that it was the only connection that he now had to his grandfather, which really shows the power these messages can have.

Speaking of the power of letters in bottles, Dorothy and John Peckham experienced this first-hand in 1983. The couple wrote notes saying whoever found them should make contact, then put them in empty champagne bottles and threw them overboard while on a cruise to Hawaii in 1979. Four years later they received a letter from Hoa Van Nguyen, who lived in Thailand’s Songkla Province.

Van Nguyen was trying to escape Vietnam’s oppressive communist regime, and after he’d been exchanging letters with the Peckhams for a while he asked if they could help him. The couple worked with immigration services to facilitate the relocation of Van Nguyen and his family to the United States.

Another story about family, but without such a happy ending, is that of Maurice, a 13-year-old French boy who died. We don’t know how but we do know that his mother was using her 2002 trip across the English Channel as a bit of a catharsis and to get some closure. Sioux Peto found the bottle on a beach in Kent a few weeks after it had been thrown into the water, and got her author friend Karen Liebreich to translate it.

The heart-breaking words included the beautiful phrases “Forgive me for not having known how to protect you from death. Forgive me for not having been able to find the words at that terrible moment when you slipped through my fingers”.

Liebreich made attempts to find the mother over the next few years but had no luck. She wrote about the story in her book The Letter in the Bottle, and a few years after its release, Maurice’s mother finally got hold of her. Once again, these personal messages in bottles can connect people in the most extraordinary ways.

A Passion for Letter-Bearing Bottles

While you might consider it truly incredible to find a message in a bottle, and it is, you might not immediately think of establishing an online community of enthusiasts – but that, after all, is the beauty of the Internet!

The World Wide Web has allowed us to connect with others who are interested in the same things no matter where we are in the world, and with missives in bottles appearing everywhere this works really well. You can feed your interest in these snapshots of days gone by, and may even have a story of your own to post one day.