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Marine Resource 2016

Message in a bottle - found but unread because he won't open it

by Sail-World Cruising Round-up on 29 Sep 2013
Message in a bottle - a long history Jack Binder
'Messages in a bottle' have long been associated with sailors who fear their lives may be lost and wish to get a message to the world or to a loved one. Even Christopher Columbus, caught in a storm, is known to have tossed a bottle into the water to tell news of the 'new world' he had discovered. But now there's a beach comber who has found what could be the world's oldest 'message in a bottle' and won't open it.

CTV News first reported that the bottle was discovered earlier in September by a British Columbian man as he explored a beach on Vancouver Island’s west coast.

'I was just walking along and here's this bottle lying in the sand,' Steve Thurber told CTV. 'I thought it looked pretty neat and I picked it up and it had a message in it.'

According to the Vancouver Sun, Thurber said he was able to discern cursive lettering on the outside of the message without opening the bottle, even identifying an apparent signature by Earl Willard, dated Sept. 29, 1906. The outside of the envelope also noted the bottle was thrown overboard 76 hours into an ocean trip from San Francisco to Bellingham, Wash.

While thrilled by the possible historical significance of his find, Thurber maintains he will not be opening the green-grey bottle any time soon.

'It's been like that for 107 years and I'm not gonna just bust it open because I think there might be something else in there,' Thurber told CTV.

If authentic, Willard's note could be the world's oldest known message in a bottle. According to Guinness World Records, the oldest message in a bottle on record was found after 97 years and 309 days at sea. That bottle was thrown into the ocean by a Captain Brown and discovered last April by a fisherman in the United Kingdom.

However, there are extraordinary tales which exceed this record. According to Wikipedia, in 1784 Chunosuke Matsuyama sent a message detailing his and 43 shipmates' shipwrecking in a bottle that washed ashore and was found by a Japanese seaweed collector in 1935, in the village of Hiraturemura, the birthplace of Chunosuke Matsuyama.

Thurber is continuing to research Earl Willard in the hopes of finding any information about the origins of his rare discovery.

'Maybe there was only one [bottle] that the guy sent out and I found it. It is like one in a billion chances,' Thurber told the Global News. 'I guess it is a chance thing that you find something that somebody sent out into the water. I mean, even if it was a year later or ten years later, but a hundred years later is just unreal.'

For now, Thurber said he is trying to keep the bottle safe in a cool, dry place. As for opening it up, he told the media his friends haven't yet given up hope of a big reveal.

'People have had dreams that I went on national television and opened it up on the air,' Thurbed said. 'You never know.'

Footnote for readers in the Caribbean - this may be your chance:
On the 13th of March this year the world’s largest message in a bottle weighing 2.5 tons and measuring 30 by 8 feet was towed 200 nautical miles off the coast of Tenerife where it was released to the ocean currents. The bottle was registered as a boat and equipped with AIS and radar reflector and navigation lights. It was constructed by one Bård Eker. Every eight hours it was uploading photos to its personal twitter account live via satellite. People were invited to follow the journey online via a gps in the bottle - and make a guess of where it would end up. However in August it was announced that they had lost satellite contact with the bottle and an appeal was made to Caribbean media in order to inspire locals to keep a look-out. Can you help?

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