This post is named inaccurately. See, this was actually the first mystery message I solved–not the seventh!
It was 2007, and I had just found my very first messages in bottles. I couldn’t believe it was happening–this thing I’d dreamed of for years (finding a message in a bottle) had suddenly become a reality. Crazy!
Then, one day, I stepped out onto a beach where I couldn’t see another human in either direction for miles. I looked down, and bam–there it was. Like magic. It has always freaked me out how this happened. I mean, I just walked out onto the beach, and there it was, like it had been waiting for me. Sadly, I didn’t take a picture of the bottle where it lay. This is the first photo I took with it:
Since the bottle was clear and the paper loosely rolled, I could see right away that there was no writing visible. I don’t know what made me even keep it–at the time, I had no idea about hidden writing, or making the invisible visible with lighting tricks or photography tricks. What can I say? I’m a sentimental person. It was too cool of a thing! I just couldn’t bring myself to pitch it.
So I carted it home. One day, gathered with my family, we opened the bottle. A million tiny bits of paper that had once made up the missing piece tumbled out like the pieces of an impossible jigsaw puzzle. There was no hope of putting them back together.
And after that, what was left? Pretty much what you see here:
In the upper left corner, you see the word “To”. After that, nothing.
I decided to let the paper lie when I took it out of the bottle. I couldn’t read it, but I couldn’t throw it away. I guess there’s some truth to my mom’s accusation that I am a pack rat.
When I came back to the message later in the day, it had dried out quite a bit. Amazingly, I could see some impressions in the paper! It was in that moment that I realized there would be hope for this message and any message like it: As long as the sender pressed hard enough, I would be able to read the impressions left by the pen even if the ink was gone.
Here’s what I was able to decipher (with contact info starred out):
To whom it may concern (Halt.)
I have been taken prisoner by a grumpy old man. My position is N40____By S W 042deg.39.037 Don’t know if I can escape next port.
Please try to contact my mom at area code = ********** or **********
Or write Craig ********
This was an important moment for me. As the years went by and I found more and more messages in bottles, I realized that, in fact, the majority of MIBs have faded to the point of invisibility. Only a small percentage arrive on shore with all writing intact. So the discovery that some simple, home-made forensics could reveal hidden writing and connect me with MIB senders was huge!
Even though I was able to read some of the writing, some was really hard to see–including the contact info. The sender’s name, I found, was Craig. But the only phone number I could read lead nowhere. The second phone number was simply too faded for me to see.
That is, I couldn’t see it at the time.
Four years later, in 2011, I got the message out again. In those four years, I had learned a lot about how to reveal even more hidden writing, and how to extrapolate from the info on hand to “fill in the gaps”.
This time, I was able to see the second phone number. I called it, and it was Craig’s mom!
She told me Craig had indeed sailed with his dad a while back, though the part about being taken prisoner was a joke 🙂
Craig and his dad sailed from Virginia Beach to Bermuda, and then from Bermuda to the Azores. Along the way, they got caught in a hurricane for six days. She gave me Craig’s phone number, and that was that.
Later, I called Craig and we got to chat for a few minutes, but he had to go since he was on a job. He was working in construction at the time.
As I write this, it is now five years after I got to chat with Craig on the phone, and almost ten years since I found his bottle.
I still hope we get to talk more one day, and maybe even meet. He struck me as an interesting guy with interesting stories.
Some people may have been bummed to find an “invisible” message with the writing all faded. But I was stoked! I wish I could tell Craig how important his message is to me. I wish I could tell him how much I learned from it about deciphering “mystery messages”. As I see it, Craig’s faded message was not a burden–it was a gift.
Whether I ever hear from Craig again or not, whether he ever sees this post or not, I will always be grateful for our brief connection. Whether out of loneliness or boredom or something else, Craig reached out across the void to see what would happen, to see who was out there, and that’s the only reason we ever connected.
Of course, we all cherish the deep, meaningful, long lasting relationships in our lives the most. But in an age when humanity is more fragmented than ever, lonelier than ever, I find myself cherishing every little fleeting connection, however brief. I’ll take what I can get! You see, I have this theory that every time you acknowledge another person’s humanity, every time a stranger becomes real to you and you understand that they have goals and regrets and brothers and sisters and love and sadness as deep as your own–every time that happens, your heart gets a little bigger. At least, that’s my hope. It’s what I feel.
I got to experience this with Craig only because of his faded, crumbled note in a bottle. And man, am I grateful.
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Hardesty family said:
Sometime in 2010, after the death of our son, our other son and his children sent a message in a bottle from Oregon Inlet in the outer banks. If you come across this message, please let us know. His name was Shane.
I am the ” grumpy old man” in question ! Unfortunately, no-one came forth with the ransom so I had to take Craig all the way to England with me. You will be pleased to learn that he has since escaped ! Congratulations on deciphering the message.
Message in a Bottle Hunter said:
No way! That’s fantastic! Thanks for writing in! I confess I had a small heart attack when I first was deciphering the note. You see, it didn’t all become visible at once. So, as I deciphered and transcribed, there was a point when I could read “I have been taken prisoner by a grumpy old man” and really wasn’t sure whether it was a joke or not! I am glad everyone survived the trip. I would sure love to hear more about it sometime. If you’re up for sharing the story, I hope you’ll write me here: https://messageinabottlehunter.com/contact/
Incredible. I feel like this story has been kind of “up in the air” for almost 10 years, and it’s finally coming together now! Thanks a million for sharing even this much 🙂 Happy sailing!
Love your stories. I threw several messages in bottles 30+ years ago off Kiawah Island SC. To the best of my knowledge none were ever found. Keep up the great work and writing about it. – Linda, Cincinnati OH
Claire P. said:
My favorite post of yours yet! Consider my heart warmed.
Meg McDonough said:
Clint – Your own travels and travails to decipher the hidden messages you have found in bottles all these years since we first connected through your adventurous blogs @ 2007 has never lessened in my humbled appreciation for all that you do and continue to pursue. You have sustained a wealth of new and old connections, and now with my Father having passed away in April 2012 – the end of his story about his own MIB which was composed as he and Mother sailed on a cruise trip off Patagonia on their 60th wedding anniversary. (They had 69 wedding anniversaries.) I wrote to you about this occasion when I first came across your blog. My parent’s bottle was found 4 years later and had traversed over 8,000 nautical miles away, landing on a rocky beach on Kangaroo Island by local resident Penny Moon. The bottle she found was still sealed, heavily barnacled and opened at their local newspaper office and filmed. The contents instructed the finder to contact my Father at their residence where they lived here in Sarasota, FL near me. The story was then carried by our local Sarasota Herald Tribune and subsequently reached other news media. This event became a wonderful memory-maker as both my parents and Mrs. Penny Moon thereafter became pen pals. When I wrote Dad’s obituary, I referenced that moment, reflecting that special event in his life. I continue to enjoy following your blogs and appreciate your time, patience and acts of kindness to locate your MIB senders, wherever they may be. I wish you continued success and opening the circle of friends that much wider, where humanity shows its best in your educated research and pursuits.
Meg (Gianelloni) McDonough – Sarasota, FL USA
Look forward to tuna melting with you in October.
Sent from my iPhone