It’s a famed conceit: a sailor lost on an island or a lonely person at a beach writes a message on some paper, places it into a bottle, corks it, and casts the bottle out into the waves. In a time of hopelessness, it affords a little hope… perhaps of rescue, or merely that someone in the vast world will pay them some attention.
It’s been the subject of a short story by Edgar Allan Poe in 1833, and of a song by The Police in 1979. In 2006, one such bottle was found by a Scottish fisherman, Mark Anderson. He was a crewman aboard the trawler Copius when he hauled up his catch… and found himself holding the Guinness record for oldest message in a bottle ever found. Years after the bottle had been tossed into the sea, it had finally been recovered.
Bottle recovery is certainly unusual, but it’s hardly unique. Bottles are cast into the water every year by everyone from children with romantic ideas of adventure to scientists tracking ocean currents. In most cases the bottles are washed ashore or sink within days of their release.
In this instance, the bottle had floated for 92 years before it had been recovered.
Since that discovery, the record has been broken four times. The current title holder is a bottle found by an Australian couple in 2018, 131 years after its casting into the sea. Before that the record holder was a woman in Amrum, Germany; her bottle was set loose 108 years prior to its discovery in 2015. Prior to that, a 101 year old bottle had been discovered in 2013 by a German fisherman.
Of the four, it was the 2012 bottle which was most remarkable. That was the find which broke the 2006 record, and for a year was verified as the oldest recovered message in a bottle. The 2012 discovery was of a 98 year old message, and it was found by a fisherman named Andrew Leaper.
The message wasn’t particularly amazing; it was part of a decades-old effort to chart ocean currents, and promised a small reward to anyone returning it. The location of the discovery was what inspired Guinness officials to double and triple-check the veracity of the reported find before certifying it as a record.
Andrew Leaper, as with the prior recordholder, was a Scottish fisherman. More than that, however, he fished out of the same town as Mark Anderson.
More than that, he fished out of the same boat as Mark Anderson… who was again on board the Copius when Leaper pulled his own bottle out of the sea.
A BBC reporter interviewed Leaper afterward.
He said his friend Mark Anderson, who had set the previous record in 2006 on board the same vessel, was “very unhappy that I have topped his record”.
“He never stopped talking about it – and now I am the one who is immensely proud to be the finder of the world record message in a bottle.”BBC
Question of the night: What’s a friendly competition you enjoy?