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Alaska For Real Author Tara Neilson Shares Her “Twilight Zone” Message in a Bottle

Tara Neilson writes the blog Alaska For Real from her floathouse home in Southeastern Alaska that she built herself, living right on the famed Inside Passage. She welcomes comments from readers and can be reached at alaskaforreal.tara@gmail.com or through her blog. A version of her story, “Through the Twilight Zone,” was first published in Capital City Weekly, April 15, 2017.

THROUGH THE TWILIGHT ZONE: An Alaskan Message in a Bottle

Twilight Zone Message in a Bottle as Found

My message in a bottle as it was found.

“Message in a bottle.” That was the subject tag on the email I received on March 27, 2017.

I’ve always been fascinated by messages in bottles. One story that sticks in mind is about a steamer named Saxilby that left Ireland in November 1933. It disappeared, but two and half years later a message in a bottle washed ashore at Aberayon, Wales. It said: “S.S. Saxilby sinking off Irish coast. Love to sisters, brothers, and Dina. Joe Okane.”

What’s Twilight Zone eerie about this particular message in a bottle is that it washed ashore less than a mile from the people to whom Joe Okane sent his last message.

Alaska For Real Message in a Bottle Example

An improved version of a message in a bottle. Note the use of glass instead of plastic 🙂

*An even more remarkable story is the one about Chunosuke Matsuyama, a Japanese seaman who, along with forty-three companions, went searching for buried treasure on a Pacific Island in the year 1784.

They were caught in a terrific storm and the ship was wrecked on a coral reef. Matsuyama and the other crew members made it ashore, only to find that the island had little to offer in the way of food or drinking water. Matsuyama was the last survivor. In the wreckage from the ship he found a bottle and carved a message about what had happened into thinly sliced bark from a storm-downed coconut tree. He put it in the bottle and flung it into the ocean.

In 1935 the bottle, with the coconut bark message inside it, washed ashore on the beach below Hiraturemura, Japan, where Chunosuke Matsuyama had been born more than a century and a half before. Hmm. Is that The Twilight Zone’s theme I’m hearing?

My brother Robin, when he was a teenager, found a message in a bottle while he was hunting on the islands across from where we live. It turned out to be part of a meteorological experiment, but it was still an exciting find.

My message in a bottle–nicely aged!

As I wrote it and thought about the stories of shipwrecked sailors sending out messages in bottles, I started thinking about being on unpredictable Clarence Strait at a time when there wasn’t much boat or plane traffic. What if we were in a boating accident with no way to communicate except by a message in a bottle? How long would it take before someone found it, and where would it end up?

On April 21, 2016, during a happily uneventful trip crossing Clarence Strait, returning from a grocery and fuel trip to Thorne Bay, I put a message in a bottle, tied a red buoy to it for greater visibility, and dropped it overboard at the halfway mark.

Against All Odds, My Message in a Bottle Was Found

Nearly a year later, I received an email with a subject line that read: “Message in a Bottle.”

The email was brief: “I found your message you set adrift on 4-21-16. Found it on Saturday. It stayed in Clarence Strait as I found it on Bushy Island next to Zarembo Island.”

My Maine coon Katya decides to get in on things as I mark the spot where the bottle was found.

I responded right away, asking for more details, and the finder wrote:

“Well, that morning was a pretty decent morning so my friend and I decided to go out on the boat. The water was calm for a while until we got farther north. It was at that point it began raining and hailing. We were getting pelted pretty good so we decided to stop on the closest beach to make a fire and have lunch.

“By the time we finished lunch the weather went back to being okay. We figured that since we were already on the beach we might as well do some beachcombing. While I was moving around some logs, I spotted a plastic bottle that had a rope tied around it. Normally, I would never think twice about picking up something like that, but curiosity got the best of me.

“I gave the bottle a good yank and out from under the log it came along with the buoy. It was then that I saw a Ziploc bag inside which made me realize it was a message in a bottle! I had always wanted to find one of those so that was definitely the highlight of my day.”

Brandon Robinson in front of Thorne Bay Market. Photo by Laura Jennings.

I had my answer: If I was in a boating accident in the middle of Clarence Strait, it would take nearly a year before anyone knew about it from a message in a bottle. (It traveled at least forty miles, not counting possible side trips, from where I dropped it to where it was found.)

A Message in a Bottle with a Twilight Zone Twist

Interestingly, the bottle that I put the message in was from a soft drink that I’d purchased in Thorne Bay. The man who found it, twenty-eight-year-old Brandon Robinson, works in the very store in Thorne Bay where I bought the bottle.

Do I hear music from The Twilight Zone?

Post Script: I actually sent out two bottles with messages in them in the same month. Exactly one year after the one above was found the other one showed up…on a beach about a five minute walk from my house. Who knows where it traveled and what sights it saw before it came back home?

*MIAB Hunter’s Note: Although the very Twilight Zone-y story of Chunosuke Matsuyama circulates widely on the web, it is more legend than reality. To date, no one has produced any historical evidence that anyone with this name ever existed in Japan. In fact, his alleged hometown does not appear to exist, either. Furthermore, no physical trace of the message survives, even though it was allegedly prized and cherished when found. Most outlets, including Wikipedia, cite Robert Kraske’s children’s book as their source, if they cite anyone at all. But Kraske’s book presents as fact multiple stories now known to be myths, such as this one, and this one. Still, the Chunosuke Matsuyama legend is intriguing, even if it is a myth, because it speaks to the power of message-in-a-bottle-stories.

More About Messages in Bottles

***If you liked this story, like Message in a Bottle Hunter on Facebook for more message in a bottle stories! You never know when YOU could be the one to solve a message in a bottle mystery! While you’re here, you can learn more about messages in bottles, and you can always contact me with questions, ideas, or stories.