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Message in a Bottle

February 19, 2022

In our day, there are many ways to send messages. Before the telegraph, telephone, computers and e-mails, smartphones and text messages, and satellites beaming information through cyberspace, ancient people communicated by drums, smoke signals, carrier pigeons, and runners. I have long been fascinated by the idea of sending a message in a bottle. It always seemed so improbable that anyone would ever again see a written letter sealed in a bottle and pitched into the ocean.  

Sydney Pagewriting for The Washington Post, reported on January 24, 2022, the inspiring story of a message in a bottle. On January 5, 2021, an Irish couple, Ciaran Marron and Rita Simmonds walked along the beach in Donegal, Ireland. Half-buried in the sand, they found a bottle containing a message and two one-dollar bills. It had been thrown overboard from a fishing boat in the waters of Ocean City, Maryland, in 2019. Sasha Yonyak had nearly forgotten about the message in a bottle that he had tossed from a boat in the summer of 2019. The 14-year-old lad figured it was gone for good.

Husband and wife, Ciaran and Rita, who live in Belfast, were vacationing at the coast in northwestern Ireland a few weeks ago. They spotted a glass container washed up on the shore. They were intrigued when they saw that there was a message inside the bottle.

After letting the message dry out in the bottle by their fireplace, the couple opened the scroll. The letter had been penned by an 11-year-old boy named Sasha from Maryland.

“I love boogie boarding, fishing, and much more,” he wrote, adding, “I love riding bikes. I am a really active person.” He left a phone number and finished the letter with an earnest plea: “Please, please call.”

“His letter was simple but beautiful,” said Marron, 64.

The couple excitedly phoned the number. They were disappointed to learn it was no longer in service.

“We were determined to find him,” Simmonds said. “It was just such a magical thing to find his message. We knew he had to know it landed safely and so far away.”

 “This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” echoed her husband, who said that finding the bottle proves that “the world is a small place.”

They contacted an Ocean City newspaper, hoping someone might recognize the name. A local reporter happened to know Sasha’s parents. The Maryland family connected with the Irish couple on Facebook on January 14 of this year.

The message in the bottle had traveled more than 3200 miles across the Atlantic.

In May of 2008, Reid Pannill walked with his wife in the surf on Fripp Island, South Carolina. The glint of a bottle floating in the tide caught his eye. It was not litter. After prying off the rusted metal cap, the Pannills pulled out notes, handwritten on rolled slips of paper. The clear glass bottle had preserved the messages without damage.

One of the notes read, “I wish for courage to do the things I must do.” It was signed by Linda Goodnight. On March 11, 1995, she had written the note and pushed it inside the bottle on the last day of a spring break trip to Edisto Beach.

The Beaufort Gazette reported that the message in the bottle had made the 13-year journey along the South Carolina coast, bobbing across St. Helena Sound from Edisto Beach to Fripp Island.

Contacted by the newspaper, Goodnight, then retired, was surprised the message had been found. A middle-aged nursing student, when she wrote the note, Linda explained, “Life was changing….It takes a lot of courage when you’re past a certain point in life to step out there and go back to school and recreate yourself.”

Making a wish is only one of the reasons messages are set adrift at sea.

They are also used to study ocean currents.

Ancient Greeks released the first documented messages in bottles. The experiment showed that the Mediterranean Sea was formed by the Atlantic Ocean flowing through the Strait of Gibraltar.

In March 2008, Merle Brandell and his black Lab were beachcombing along the Bering Sea. Near his fishing village in Alaska, he spied a plastic bottle on the shore. An envelope was tucked inside with a message from an elementary school student in suburban Seattle.

“This letter is part of our science project to study ocean currents. I will tell you when and where the bottle was placed in the ocean. Please send the date and location of the bottle with your address. Your friend, Emily Hwang.”

Brandell, a bear-hunting guide, found the bottle twenty-one years and 1,735 miles later. Now a middle-aged Seattle accountant, Emily was in the fourth grade in 1987 when her message was launched.

Sailors in peril have thrown distress messages into the ocean.

After discovering the New World, Christopher Columbus’ ship encountered a severe storm on his journey back to Spain. Columbus sent a report of his discovery and a note instructing that it be passed on to the Queen of Spain. The desperate message, sealed in a wooden cask, was thrown into the sea. The cask was never found. Columbus survived.

A message in a bottle is often associated with people stranded on a deserted island, hoping to be rescued.

In May 2005, eighty-eight South American refugees, shipwrecked and stranded at sea, were rescued off the shore of Costa Rica. The 40 Peruvian and 48 Ecuadorean migrants drifted aboard a sinking boat for three days, waiting for help. They had crammed an SOS message into a bottle and tied it to one of the long lines of a passing fishing boat.

A message in a bottle may be the cry of a broken heart.

“Message in a Bottle” is the title of a 1979 song by a group called The Police and recently by Taylor Swift. The song is about a castaway on an island who sends out a message in a bottle to seek help. A year later, he has had no response. Then, he sees hundreds of bottles on the shore, from people all as lonely and isolated as he.

Micheal Larsen, a rapper known as Eyedea, sings a hip-hop song, “Bottle Dreams.” It is the story of an abused violinist who, in her despair, daily tosses a message in a bottle into a river. After her death, more than 500 of her bottled messages were found.

Nicholas Sparks’ novel, Message in a Bottle, evokes this same pathos. Garrett, a seaman, expresses his grief by tossing bottles containing messages overboard. One is found by Theresa, just three weeks after it begins its journey. She discovers the message during a seaside vacation.

The letter opens, “My Dearest Catherine, I miss you, my darling, as I always do, but today is particularly hard because the ocean has been singing to me, and the song is that of our life together.”

Enthralled by the mysterious romance, Theresa begins a search that takes her to Garrett’s coastal town. In1999, the book was made into a film starring Kevin Costner and Paul Newman.

A message in a bottle is a source of fascination. A glass bottle floating in ocean waves for years, enduring storms, surviving crashing surf seems improbable. A note scrawled on paper, preserved in glass, finally found in the sand, is intriguing.

In 1977, Robert Kraske wrote The Twelve Million Dollar Note: Strange But True Tales Of Messages Found In Seagoing Bottles. Though I have not yet read the book, I intend to do so.

When our family vacationed along the Carolina coast, I frequently took long walks beachcombing in the surf. In the first light of sunrise, I kept an eye out for bottles hoping to find one with a message. So far, I never have.

Finally, I decided to send a message myself. Perhaps inspired by the Biblical story of Jonah, who though he did not put a message in a bottle, became the messenger in a fish and ended up in landlocked Nineveh. Maybe it is the persistent mystery of how John, exiled on the prison Isle of Patmos, could transmit a message to seven churches twenty-eight miles away on the mainland.

One summer morning at the beach, I found a discarded empty wine bottle along the high tide line as I walked back to the beach house. I wrote a note on a piece of cardboard in permanent marker. I secured the message in a plastic bag, corked the bottle, and sealed the top with melted candle wax.

Later that week, I drove past a marina. Several boats were preparing to head out on fishing ventures. I approached one group of three men and engaged in conversation.

“Where are you fishing today?” I asked.

“’Bout eight miles out.” One responded.

“You’re just the folks I’m looking for,” I said.

“Without looking up, a man cutting mullet into thin strips,” quipped, “We ain’t gonna’ be catching no mermaids this trip. We ain’t got the right bait for nothing pretty.”

I laughed, “What kind of bait do you use for mermaids?”

He looked up, “We ain’t figured that out yet.”

The first man said, “What’s your business, captain?”

I explained that I was doing an experiment. I had a message sealed in a bottle that I wanted set drift as far out as they were going.

“Will you take it out for me?” I asked.

I handed him a ten-dollar bill.

He took the ten bucks. “I reckon we will,” he said.

I thanked them and took my leave.

As I walked back to my truck, I overheard the third man who had been silent to that point say, “Give me that ten spot, and I’ll get us a bottle with something worth having inside.”

I’ve had second thoughts about my experiment. Am I polluting the ocean with that bottle? What if some sea creature mistakes the bottle for something to eat? Tiger sharks have been called the garbage cans of the sea. Some large specimens caught off the coast of South Carolina have been found with automobile tires in their stomachs. Other findings have been license plates, a full suit of armor, rubber boots, unopened cans of fish, a fur coat, chickens, dogs and cats, deer with antlers, a chicken coop, a bag of money, several Barbie dolls, a video camera that was still filming, and yes, glass bottles.

I may never know what happened to my message in a bottle.

If you find it, let me know.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor.

He can be reached at

Over these past months, I have asked that each of us contribute to our local charitable agencies. Thank you for all you have done. I will continue making suggestions because I have learned that they are quickly forgotten unless these nonprofit organizations are called to mind. Please know that I respect your freedom to choose those that are meaningful to you. One way to measure the strength of our community is to observe how we respond to those in greatest need. Please continue with your kindness and generosity. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network, 899 S Pine Street, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29302 – (864) 597-0699.

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