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How to Make a Message in a Bottle (The Wrong Way)

I am often asked how to make a message in a bottle, and I never know quite what to say. See, I find them–I don’t make them. You might as well ask me how to make the bottle itself. (Ah, you melt some sand, see, and poke a metal straw into it and blow…). 

I’m not sure I can tell you how to make a message in a bottle, but I can definitely tell you how not to. That’s because I have found a TON of failed messages in bottles over the years. This is the first in a series of posts that will respond to the question “How do I make a message in a bottle?” by showing you what not to do.

(Have YOU made a message in a bottle? What are your tips and tricks? Share your ideas by commenting below!)

This first message in a bottle falls into a category I have coined: “mess in a bottle”. Just check out the carnage wrought upon this poor letter by the author and executioner:

How to Make a Message in a Bottle - Beer Bottle Mess 1

How NOT to Make a Message in a Bottle – shaved wine cork stuck into the neck of a beer bottle.

How to Make a Message in a Bottle - Beer Bottle Mess 2

The shaved wine cork stuck into the neck of this beer bottle caused sea water to leak into the bottle, soaking the paper. The paper ended up plastered to the glass in one big glop.

The paper looked like a hopeless glop. But I could just barely make out light blue lines (i.e., notebook paper), so I tried to recover the message. But how did it get this way?

How to Make a Message in a Bottle That Leaks Like a Sieve

The most striking feature of this bottled note (other than the mangled innards) is that it is a beer bottle sealed with a wine cork. The impulse is right. The bottle needs to be sealed, after all. But the execution of it here results in a mutant beer / wine Frankenbottle…How to Make a Message in a Bottle - Beer Bottle Mess 4

A monster is born: A beer bottle containing a message was sealed with a shaved, synthetic wine stopper.How to Make a Message in a Bottle - Beer Bottle Mess 5 How to Make a Message in a Bottle - Beer Bottle Mess 6 How to Make a Message in a Bottle - Beer Bottle Mess 7

The sender of this bottle (after several beers, I assume) decided to shave the cork and just kind of cram it in there and hope for the best (it was a man, guaranteed 😉 ) This would be bad enough if the cork were real cork, but this synthetic plastic cork nonsense doomed the bottle from the start. Real cork would at least absorb water and expand to try to fit the neck of the bottle, but this rubber garbage does no such thing.

The result? This message in a bottle leaked from the moment it splashed into the sea.

How to Make a Message in a Bottle Disappear

Despite the masochistic author’s attempts to kill this message in a bottle before it even had a chance, it actually managed to wash ashore with paper inside. So, being a dutiful messenger of the sea, I hauled it 2000 miles home where I could devote a day of my precious limited time on earth to taking it apart and trying to find the person behind the note.

The process you see below unfolded over the course of two full days.

It was a long shot to start with, but I was amazed by how much paper I got out of the bottle intact!

How to Make a Message in a Bottle - Paper Retrieved from Beer Bottle Mess

Paper retrieved from this mess in a bottle.

How to make a message in a bottle - Remains of ruined message in normal light

The striking feature of the paper is its blankness. I tried every trick I know to reveal something–anything–on this paper. Photography tricks, UV blacklight, etc. Nothing came of it.

How to make a message in a bottle - Remains of ruined message in black light 2 How to make a message in a bottle - Remains of ruined message in black light 1

This sender probably wrote their message in pen or something with a felt tip, since there aren’t even any indentations. Ball point pens usually leave indentations, whereas markers and felt pens generally do not.

But most importantly, this sender did not use pencil, which is by far the most reliable for surviving the harshness of the ocean, sun, etc., as discussed auf Deutsh by my friend Peter over at Driftline Flaschenposten.

(Click here to see a message that was begun in pencil, which is still visible, then switched to ballpoint pen, which was only readable because the ballpoint pen left impressions.)

It’s too bad that I will never meet the person who sent this message in a bottle. Based on their evident love of beer (they must have been a wee bit tipsy when they thought shaving the cork was a good idea) I bet we would have gotten along great!

How to Make a Message in a Bottle the Wrong Way, Summarized

Ye who wish to know how to make a message in a bottle, take into thy hearts the following commandments taught by the mess in a bottle above:

  1. Do not combine mismatched bottles and “sealing technology” (i.e., caps, corks, etc.), for verily I say unto thee–it is an abomination. That is: if you are sending a beer bottle as above, don’t seal it with a bloody wine cork. It’s…it’s just…wrooong!

    And if you do, for the love of God, don’t use a crappy rubber fake cork and then shave it. The only thing those rubber corks are good for is choking wildlife, so let’s not be sadistic, hey? If you insist on using a beer bottle with a wine cork, use real cork, and don’t shave it. Either make it fit or find a different way. Maybe go fetch that wine bottle you got the cork from, ya crazy drunk!

  2. Tattoo this on your forehead: DO NOT USE INK PENS. Generally, ballpoint ink doesn’t survive the bottle’s time at sea. As for markers: Permanent markers show promise, but as of now I would say avoid anything with a felt tip.

Stay tuned for more information on how to make a message in a bottle! Or at least more information on how NOT to make one 🙂

***If you liked this story, click here to find me on Facebook and like my page for more message in a bottle stories! You never know when YOU could be the one to solve a message in a bottle mysteryClick here to learn more about messages in bottles, and you can always contact me with questions, ideas, or stories.

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