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Message in a Bottle Day 2017

Like any family, my family has some strange holiday traditions. But the strangest has got to be Message in a Bottle Day.

Buffington messages in bottles waiting to be opened

Buffington family messages in bottles, waiting to be opened.

We all have jobs and responsibilities, so when we find messages in bottles, we can’t always open them right away. They are, after all, irreplaceable and fragile, and usually require a lot of time and care during the opening and preserving process. We’d rather wait and be safe than get in a hurry and ruin our chances.

So, we look for these little windows of time when we can all get together help each other out.

And that’s how Message in a Bottle Day was born.

Message in a Bottle Day is one of those holidays that is never on the same day twice–it might be two days before Thanksgiving one year, but the day after Christmas the next. Sometimes, it happens in spring. If we are very lucky, it can happen twice in a  single year. There’s just no telling.

Evan, Bob, and Clint with messages in bottles from Message in a Bottle Day 2017

The cool thing about Message in a Bottle Day is that we each have special skills that help us solve message in a bottle mysteries much better when we’re together than apart. We’re like message in a bottle Power Rangers, or Transformers or something. Each of us has a skill to contribute–but put us all together and we become a…we become…something bigger…what is it called when the Power Rangers combine? *looks it up* Megazord. With our message in a bottle detective skills combined, we become a Message in a Bottle Megazord. Hell yes!

For example: My dad has all this magnifying and lighting gear from his days as a graphic designer and photographer; My brother realized that a dremel tool was the best thing for cutting the bottles open safely; I always make sure we have a UV blacklight on hand in case hidden writing glows; Some of us have second languages, including German and Spanish; and everybody notices different details when examining the messages, which are almost always damaged or faded to invisibility. Every. Little. Detail. Matters.

Well, Thanksgiving 2017 came with a Message in a Bottle Day attached–an epic Message in a Bottle Day that called on all of our special powers.

One Day, Three Messages in Bottles

Two days after turkey day, we all found ourselves shivering in the garage with dad’s magnifying glasses, my brother Evan’s dremel tool, my black light, my sister Ryan’s fluent German, and all of our beady little eyes hungrily examining a few bottles.

First, this bottle my dad found earlier in 2017. We were terrified of its obvious fragility. We guessed it was sent in the late 1980s or early 1990s:

Dad with ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle Watermarked 2 Message in a Bottle Day 2017

Bob Buffington's ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle Alone for Message in a Bottle Day 2017Dad's ARC Gloria Message Close Up of Bottom of Bottle Dad's ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle Close Up Horizontal

Even more terrifying was this next message in a bottle my brother found back in 2015. Obviously, we wanted to open it sooner, but look at how bewilderingly fragile this thing is. We actually talked about hiring a professional paper conservator to open it… You only get one shot. With a message this fragile, we simply had to wait.Evan Buffington's Hamburg Message in a Bottle 1 for Message in a Bottle Day 2017Evan Buffington's Hamburg Message in a Bottle 2 Evan Buffington's Hamburg Message in a Bottle 3 Evan Buffington's Hamburg Message in a Bottle 3Finally, there was the message I found and planned to open. This one didn’t look very old, but the crazy thing was that I found it totally buried in the sand, with just the neck sticking up. No kidding–this is what it looked like–I only picked it up because there was a cork in the bottle…

Clint Buffington's Message in a Bottle from Lily of Fort Lauderdale as found on beach

Clint Buffington with message in a bottle from Lily of Fort Lauderdale for Message in a Bottle Day 2017

I hadn’t been able to open this one just because I hadn’t had time. This is why we created Message in a Bottle Day–to make time for the maddening, painstakingly careful process of opening messages in bottles without damaging them. Well, that, and to give ourselves a good excuse to hang out in the garage and drink beer and play with power tools…

Message in a Bottle #1

Dad went first, and it was every bit as suspenseful as we expected. First, he carefully ground the glass with Evan’s trusty Dremel tool…

Bob Buffington cutting open ARC Gloria message in a bottle with dremel tool 1

Bob Buffington cutting open ARC Gloria message in a bottle with dremel tool 2

Then he used a screwdriver to crack open the bottle like an egg…

Dad cracking open ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle

Bob Buffington cracking open ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle 2Bob Buffington cracking open ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle 3 Bob Buffington cracking open ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle 4

Man, I was sooooo glad we waited to do this carefully and slowly. Dad’s message was on the daintiest paper imaginable. Like receipt paper, but thinner. Incredibly, there was still enough moisture in the bottle that the paper was just supple enough to be laid out flat. Once it dried, it became so brittle that just resting something on it–say, a book–would likely crush it into a million pieces. Anyway, here’s the message–I’m showing three images at different stages of drying and lighting to give you an idea of how much a message like this can “change” in a a matter of hours or days, and how different conditions affect how easy or hard it is to read. Also, note the crispy upper right corner that crunched right off. I’m telling you: This thing is fragile!

Bob Buffington's ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle Close Up 1Bob Buffington's ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle Close Up 2 Bob Buffington's ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle Close Up Bob Buffington's ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle Close Up 3

We thought it seemed just about hopeless, at first (i.e., the first picture above). But like other messages in bottles that start out damp (this one, for example), it became more legible as it dried out. My nephew Jacob was all over this message, using the blacklight to help see hidden details…

Jacob examing ARC Gloria Message in a Bottle

Really, it just looked to us like a couple of Greek Delta symbols for a while. But then, it doesn’t take a lot to confuse a Buffington in my experience…

My nephew, Jacob, figured out a few letters at a time, until he realized it was written in Spanish, and made out the word “Colombia”. Sadly, my wife who speaks Spanish was at work, so we turned to Google translate, and tried to piece it all together.

Next, Jacob made out “mi direccion”–Spanish for “my address”. But the name and address were completely obliterated except “Colombia”. WHYYYY????!!! Why is the name always missing? Gah!

At the top of the note, the Greek Deltas and whatnot began to resolve into recognizable letters. Jacob first thought it said “cuela” which Google translates as “sneak”. Hm, a sneaky message, we wondered? Then Jacob noticed an “s” before the c. So: scuela, which Google translates as “squelch”. Well…I love a good squelch as much as the next guy, but that word just didn’t make any sense in this context. Finally, as the message dried out even more, and our eyes adjusted to the crazy black light, we noticed an “E” before the s, making it “Escuela,” or “school”! Now THAT would make sense! School kids send messages in bottles all the time.

We didn’t find a name, and the closest thing we had to a name was in the bottom right corner. We couldn’t find any real meaning for “Tico Polo” online, and since it was in quotations, it seemed like maybe, if we were lucky, it was a nickname.

But the crucial thing we figured out is that the message was thrown from the A.R.C. Gloria, a Colombian military training ship. Man, when I found this ship online, I was blown away. It is just stunning. Also, those are sailors standing on the yardarms!

Sailors standing on ARC Gloria's rigging in London. Photo: Daily Mail / PA.

Sailors standing on ARC Gloria’s yardarms in London. Photo: Daily Mail / PA.

Colombia's ARC Gloria sailing under Tower Bridge in London, with sailors standing in the rigging. Photo: Daily Mail / Reuters.

Colombia’s ARC Gloria sailing under Tower Bridge in London, with sailors standing on the yardarms. Photo: Daily Mail / Reuters.

So, this post begins our search for someone who might have been nicknamed “Tico Polo” and who trained on ARC Gloria. Or maybe Tico Polo isn’t actually a nickname, but is just a significant phrase that someone might recognize… Click here for the full story, which you can help solve by sharing–especially among friends in Colombia!

Message in a Bottle #2

Next up was my brother Evan’s heart-attack-inducingly crispy message in a bottle. This thing was fried in the decades it must have spent at sea. Evan thought it was from the 70s, I guessed the 80s…

Evan Buffington with German Message in a Bottle

Evan also used the Dremel tool to open his bottle…

Evan picking Dremel tool to open German message in a bottle

I freaked him out about getting silicosis from breathing all that glass dust, so he improvised a surprisingly spooky mask 🙂

Evan Buffington using Dremel tool to open German message in a bottle, wearing a creepy mask

This whole process was terrifying. At any minute, the slightest false move could destroy this fragile, old message. I am always amazed when this turns out fine, as it did this time.

Here’s what was inside!

Evan Buffington with opened German message in a bottle

Evan Buffington's German message in a bottle from Gerda close up

Turns out the message was from 1994! So 23 years old–a pretty darn respectable length of time for a piece of friggin’ paper in a bottle to survive the same ocean that sunk the Titanic, wouldn’t you agree?

As you can see, the message is in German. My sister and I figured out parts of it quickly, but other parts–like the damaged ship’s name–more slowly. At the top, the German word for “message in a bottle” appears. “Flaschenpost” simply means “bottle mail”. Isn’t that great?

Below that is a cruise ship’s name: Fedor Dostojewskij–the famous Russian author known in English as Fyodor Dostoyevsky. At the bottom, in German, it says that the “bottle mail” was dropped in the water between Tenerife and Cape Verde on December 28th, 1994.

Evan Buffington's German message in a bottle from Gerda - Date Sent

As for the handwritten part–that was a bit tricky to decipher, too! The writing became legible as the message dried out, but we had trouble with certain elements of the handwriting. For example, the first name… Is it Gerda? Or Gevda? Or Geuda? To me, that third letter looked like a “v” or a “u”. See what I mean?

Close up of Evan Buffington's German message in a bottle from Gerda

Ryan pointed out that Gevda and Geuda didn’t seem likely to be first names, so we agreed it probably said “Gerda”. Probably. But who knows? Maybe it says something else entirely?

And as for the address–Hamburg is clear enough. But the street… Was it Peter-Beeuck Strasse? The first word looks like “Peteu” to me, but common sense suggests “Peter,” and if that “u” is a “r”, then the one above, in Gerda, must be a “r,” too.

But what is the second word in the photo below? Is it “Bieeuck”? I’ve never seen such a word in German… Maybe there’s no “i” after the “B’. Maybe it’s just “Beeuck”? But that 4th letter is a “u” right? I mean, what else could it be?

Close up of address on Evan Buffington's German message in a bottle from Gerda

Well, for the time being, we decided it was “Peter-Beeuck Strasse,” despite the fact that no such street could be found on Google maps. Of course, Google maps once sent me to a dude ranch via deeply rutted mud roads when I was actually looking for a restaurant…in a town…with paved roads…so, what do they know?

A couple months later (i.e., last week), I got the bright idea to search the postal code. Whatever Google maps’ shortcomings, one cool thing is that if you type in a postal code, it will highlight the whole area. So, all I had to do was search within that area for the street.

Well, I got super lucky and found the street in just a minute or two of searching–but it is not Peter Beeuck Strasse–it is Peter Beenck Strasse. Now, look at this again, and tell me honestly if you could discern, in a million years, that the 4th letter in the second word is a “n”.

No. Way. It is clearly a “u”!

Close up of address on Evan Buffington's German message in a bottle from Gerda

I’m just pointing this out to highlight the difficulty of deciphering a stranger’s handwriting, which, honestly, is part of the fun 🙂

So, we know the street where “Gerda” lived 23 years ago, but the chances of her still being there, in my experience, are very small. And since it takes mail so long to travel between America and Germany–and since, if Gerda is gone, the person who lives there now is unlikely to write us back–we are going to look for Gerda online, with your help! Click here for the full story, which you can help solve by sharing–especially among friends in Germany.

Message in a Bottle #3

Finally, it was my turn to open a bottle, but for once, I didn’t need the Dremel tool. And although I had painstakingly photographed, filmed, and documented my family’s adventures in opening their messages in bottles, no one seems to have gotten a photo of me opening mine. Isn’t that amazing?

My message was inside a plastic bag within the bottle, as you can see…

I was able to pinch the bag with some tweezers and pull the whole thing out. Here’s what I found:

A message in a bottle from a little girl! Well, either Lily has the best handwriting and spelling of any 5 year old ever, or her parents helped her write the message 🙂

Oh, as a side note, Lily sent her message from Ft. Lauderdale. But somehow, it ended up on a deserted Caribbean island where I found it. I am mystified by how this could have happened, because my knowledge of currents–which is admittedly not deep–does not allow me to understand how something dropped in the water at Ft. Lauderdale could find its way south and east to where I found it. But then, that’s messages in bottles for you–surprising and magic at every turn!

As I mentioned in my individual post about this find, I wrote Lily a letter in early December, and now, over a month later, I haven’t heard back. So, I’m taking my appeal online. Click here for the full story, which you can help solve by sharing–especially among friends in southern Florida, and Fort Lauderdale in particular.

Message in a Bottle Day 2017 Ends; Search for Message in a Bottle Senders Begins

So, that was Message in a Bottle Day, 2017.

I have to remind myself how weird this scene really is: My whole family hanging out in our garage “with” three total strangers: A little girl from Florida, a sailor in the Colombian navy, and a German cruise ship passenger. I would give anything to have been able to teleport them all there instantly. Can you imagine the conversation?

Evan actually opened a couple more messages (one of which he is holding in the photo of the three of us at the beginning of this post), but those are stories for another time. This post is plenty long already…

For now, we are looking for thee people:

Lily from Ft. Lauderdale (7 or 8 years old today)

“Tico Polo” from the Colombian ship ARC Gloria, possibly a sailor in the Colombian Navy / veteran…

Gerda, a German-speaking passenger of the cruise ship Fedor Dostojewskij, who apparently lived in Hamburg’s Peter-Beenk Strasse as of 1994.

***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 mystery, regardless of where you are from! Click here to learn more about messages in bottles, and you can always contact me with questions, ideas, or stories.

 

 

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