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Five days after I found Kelvin’s message in a bottle, I was hiking with my brother on an uninhabited island when I found what looked like a calendar in a bottle with writing on the inside. Check out how rocky the shore is! Can you spot the bottle?Chris and John Message in a Bottle 2011 2

The calendar was for 2004, which would make it 7 years old when I found it in May 2011.

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I couldn’t believe that it survived 7 years, AND washed up on this very rocky shore without shattering! The bottle felt powerful, muscular, like the glass was radiating protective energy.

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This bottle survived 7 years getting battered at sea, and then was swept over coral reefs toward land where it was heaved onto a rocky shore…and it didn’t break! Glass is strong. Glass is mighty! Conversely, I constantly see plastic bottles breaking apart on the beach. For my money, glass wins every time. And the best part? Glass is made of silica, so if glass bottles break, they at least wear down (slowly) back to the sand from which they came. Plastic, however, is toxic and harmful to ocean life at every stage of decay. If you know about the albatross of Midway, you know what I mean.

What a beautiful message in a bottle! Right?! It’s a piece of artwork, framed by its own bottle.

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I could see into the rolled up scroll in this bottle enough that I could read some writing. It said:

“‘Message in a Bottle.’

You are the finder!

Message was sent on it’s way from sailing yacht Sara II just south of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland on her Atlantic west to east crossing…. Where are you? Please send an email to [email address]”

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Now the email address was perfectly visible through the glass–but the writing was a bit smudgy there. This would be tricky. Little parts of letters had faded, making it impossible to tell the difference between certain letters or numbers.

But I knew what to do! You see, sometimes, with a faded message, it’s very, very hard to tell the difference between a “c” and an “e”, or between an “h” or a “k” or the letter O vs. the number 0, and so on. In this particular case, there was a letter that had to be either a “c” or an “e” or an “o”and another that had to be either an “a” or an “o”. All I had to do was write out all the possible combinations of these letters in the email address and send a message to each one. No big deal! Besides, I wasn’t going to let this throw me off the trail. The message was beautiful! It survived crashing ashore on rocks! It lived 7 years at sea! It would be crazy to give up because of a difficult email address!

But one thing nagged at me–would this person still have the same email address? I mean, throughout the 2000s, people were trying and changing email providers all the time. AOL is the big one. Man, it breaks my heart when I find MIBs from the 2000s that provide an AOL email address. NO WAY am I going to get a response, since AOL’s user numbers plummeted in the 2000s from something like 25 million to about 2.5 million (and falling) today. There is a less than 10% chance that those people are still using their AOL accounts. Thankfully, this address was with Hotmail, and Hotmail is a different story, but still–email providers from those days often create headaches for folks like me trying to find someone with only an email address (remember, this message did not include names, only an email address).

My attempts to email different versions of the address on the message all bounced back. And I mean I tried every combination I could think of. What else could I do?

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The bottle sat on my mantle. I could read all the writing inside so there was no point breaking it open. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. I wondered at the bottle whenever it caught my eye. How will I solve you? I thought as I gazed at the bottle from across the room, or caught it out of the corner of my eye before I sprinted out the door to teach. What secrets do you hold? And what clue have you given me that I have been to dumb to solve?

I would not solve the mystery of the message in a bottle from Sara II for over three years–and it only happened by the slimmest chance.

Click here to read part two of this story!

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