Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Story and a Snippet for the Message in a Bottle Prompt

I traveled at least once a year when I was young, mostly by ship. Although somewhat shy by nature, when I overhear an intriguing conversation I usually follow up. One evening on the S.S. Independence, an officer told someone he kept a scrapbook of letters he'd received when the bottles he'd thrown overboard washed up on shore. I snagged him later and asked if I might read it.

"My watch begins at 4:00am. I'll bring it to the lounge," he told me. I don't know who was more surprised when I showed up on time, the officer or me.

I read the book from cover to cover. His career at sea had been a long one so his knowledge and interest in tides and currents was extensive. He'd thrown over more than seven hundred bottles in the twenty years he'd been sailing before he'd stopped counting. He'd gotten over two hundred replies; some had taken five or six years before they'd washed ashore and been found.

Mostly he'd done the North Atlantic run, so a good portion of his "mail" came from Ireland and the British Isles, many from Holland and Scandinavia. Like a stamp collector he was delighted to show off his collection and a single letter from Russia, which he treasured.

He sailed the South Pacific for a while and had letters from Australia and New Zealand. I asked about his message and, truth be told, was a bit disappointed--it was a form giving longitude, latitude and the date and asking the finder for the same information. The paper was thin and weighed next to nothing.

If the form was boring, the answers weren't. The ones I could read, (not all were in English) were thrilled by the adventure! Yes, he'd actually become friends with some of the readers, been invited to visit a few. He always wrote back to thank them and the scrapbook was his prize possession. He invited me and my parents to sign our names on three slips and then toss the bottles overboard. Evidently they never made it to shore, but it was great fun.


I told this story to a crew member on The Santa Maria, a Grace Line passenger-freighter that sailed through the Panama Canal and down the west coast of South America and he told me one in return. A seaman he'd known was fond of throwing bottles overboard, too, but had never gotten a reply. One day, as a joke, someone put one of his bottles in a bucket of water and it immediately sank to the bottom. The crew had roared in merriment. Lesson learned? Coca Cola bottles don't float.


At 2:38 AM, Blogger Heather Blakey said...

Now this is a fascinating tale about bottles overboard. What a great start to a tale - the scrapbook and the stories it would reveal.

At 4:22 AM, Blogger gret's place said...

Yes, I agree with Heather, wonderful magical tale, lovely to read. Thank you for sharing.

At 4:29 AM, Blogger Imogen Crest said...

Loved this story. Thanks for the tip about coca cola bottles!

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Believer said...

Oh, darn, Heather. Everything I write wants to be a book and now you've gone and set the wheels turning.


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