You’ve probably already heard the story of Olivier Vandewalle, a Belgian who in 1977 at the age of 14 threw a message in a bottle into the sea while sailing off the south coast of England. Lorraine Yates found it 33 years later on a beach at Swanage, England. Figuring the address Olivier included was out of date, she tracked him down on Facebook.
While 33 years is an impressive time, it’s nowhere near the Guinness World Record for a bottle being at sea. The record holder was cast adrift in 1914 and recovered 92 years later in 2006.
A message in a bottle is a romantic way to call out to the world (just ask Sting) and a fun way to kill some time on the beach, but if you want your message to last, it’s best to follow some simple rules. Olivier used a wine bottle with a cork and his father insisted he seal it with “candle grease”, by which he probably means melted wax. This is important because a cork will decay much more quickly in salt water if it isn’t protected by a wax seal. One writer suggests using a bottle with a screw cap but it’s doubtful it would stay waterproof for long as it expands and contracts with temperature changes. A cork will absorb a tiny amount of moisture and expand in the neck of the bottle to make a snug fit, which is why they’re used in the first place.
Opinions differ on how to put the message inside. When I chucked my own bottle into the sea off the coast of South Carolina back in the early 80s, I wrote the message on the outside of the rolled-up paper. I included my address (now long out of date) and a request to write me and throw the bottle back into the sea. I hoped to get a whole series of responses. That hasn’t happened and I don’t think I’ll last long enough to break the world record. On further reflection I’m thinking that if my bottle is still floating out there, the sun shining through the glass has probably made my message fade away, so it’s best to put the message on the inside of the roll of paper. Sealing the message in a plastic bag is also a good idea.
One writer suggests using a clear bottle because the message be more noticeable. Wine bottles are best because they float well and have that classic look. Gadling blogger Jamie Rhein used a wine bottle for her message and got a response.
If you want to keep your message in a bottle, here are some tips on making it look old and weathered, just like it had been in the sea for years. Or if you want a bigger craft project, make a boat out of plastic bottles.