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How to Make a Message in a Bottle The Wrong Way, Part Two: Making a Mess in a Bottle

Lesson Two in how not to make a message in a bottle is a reiteration and elaboration on the points in the first lesson, and is another example of what I call a “mess in a bottle”. A mess in a bottle is exactly what it sounds like: Chaos contained in a seafaring flask.

Today’s example captures pretty well what these nightmares look like:

You must be wondering: What are all those tiny white balls? Styrofoam?


That’s what is left of the message.

How did this happen?

How to Make a Mess in a Bottle

There are many ways to make a mess in a bottle, but the most popular is crappy “sealing technology”. Crappy sealing tech has been on the rise in recent decades. This is because we make crappier and crappier stuff over time–particularly when it comes to replacing great stuff like glass bottles with plastic, and other great stuff, like real cork, with synthetic material. So runs the world away…

Mess in a Bottle - Close up of synthetic cork.

This message in a bottle was sealed with a synthetic cork – not to be confused with recycled cork. This synthetic cork leaked badly, and turned the message into a mess in a bottle.

A Brief Rant About Plastic Pollution

Did you know that scientists have sent messages in bottles to study ocean currents since at least the mid-19th century? In fact, they do it to this day.

I have read a thousand stories about this kind of thing, and guess what? They never use plastic. Never. Only glass is used. And they certainly don’t use synthetic LDPE plastic corks. Because scientists understand that glass is sturdier than plastic, and has the great benefit of being basically inert if it is never found. Even if it breaks up and mixes into the environment, a glass bottle is just silica, after all. But plastic is…well, God knows what. Plastics makers do not have to disclose to you and me what additives they put into plastics, even if they are in contact with food. Things like flame retardants, pthalates, plastic softeners, etc., seep into our food every day.

So, why am I ranting about plastic, when this bottle is clearly glass? First, because I will rant about plastic every chance I get. The unchecked plastics industry might be remembered one day, by those of us two-headed mutants who survive the apocalypse and tell stories around trashcan tire fires each night, as the thing that brought down humanity by way of disintegrating the global ecosystem. Or maybe not. But maybe…

(Click here for a guide to plastic-free gift ideas for holidays, birthdays, etc.)

But, more to the point, the cork in this bottle? It’s synthetic. Some sort of rubbery, plasticky nonsense that is incapable of sealing a bottle as well as real cork. The material is called low-density polyethylene, if you’re keeping track.

Thanks to this crappy sealing technology, even though this message sender wisely chose a glass bottle, their efforts were undone by whatever vineyard originally chose to bottle their wine using an LDPE plastic cork.

Opening a Mess in a Bottle

I spent half a day coddling this mess in a bottle and coaxing bits of it out, but to no avail. Here’s all I was able to salvage:

It’s hard to tell, but the blue bits are a filmy material, and appear to be covered in imagery. My guess is that this was originally a postcard of a cruise ship or beach vacation spot, much like this other one I found:

How to Make a Message in a Bottle the Wrong Way - Mess in a Bottle - Post Card in a Bottle

I believe all the little white balls are the paper backing that came apart from the filmy / photo layer as the message soaked. Add a few months or years of wave action, and voila! You’ve got a stellar mess in a bottle.

Message in a Bottle Commandments, Continued

Hear ye, hear ye, makers of bottled messages…

  1. Crappy sealing technology is thy enemy, and thou shalt shun it at every turn. For it is only the wicked among you who wish to drive the finder of your bottled message mad with impotent desire by creating a message in a bottle that will disintegrate while at sea, leaving just enough paper inside to inspire vain hope, so that they cart it thousands of miles home and spend hours obsessively trying to piece it back together like a lunatic. Truly, this is a transgression. Above all things remember this: Avoid plastic corks. And whensoever thou feelest a question in thy heart about a cork, or cap, or any piece of sealing technology, trust thy gut. Does it feel cheap? It probably is. Does it feel flimsy? It probably is. Avoid.
  2. If ye seek to be pure of heart and bask in the reward of human connection, ye must not desecrate yer message in a bottle with an ink pen, for ink is sure to fade like a highschool friendship, and again drive the finder mad. Ink fades, and felt-tipped pens and markers usually do not leave indentations, so that even if there are large enough pieces of paper left that writing should be visible, the paper will likely appear totally blank, as in the previous example. (Click here to see part one of how to make a message in a bottle / how NOT to). Pencil, however, does not appear to fade even after a long time at sea…

***If you liked this story, like my Facebook 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.