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Message in a bottle

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A message in a bottle was found at Pelican Beach this week, and returned to continue its trip to the unknown. The Pilot/Arwyn Rice

I’ve never seen an actual “message in a bottle” before, so when a Curry Coastal Pilot reader came into the office this week with a wax-sealed bottle containing a rolled piece of paper I was more than a bit curious.

She said she found it on Pelican Beach, at Crissey Field State Park near the California border.

I admit, I was excited.

Was it from China? Japan? Alaska? What little I could see through the bottle looked like Chinese writing.

After a mad scramble to find a bottle opener we discovered it’s harder than expected to get a rolled piece of paper out of a bottle. After  employing a combination of fingers, pencil erasers and good-old-fashioned shaking, a set of tweezers finally did the job.

With several curious onlookers, I unrolled the paper  to find it was written in three languages – English, Chinese and Russian – by a Brookings girl and tossed to the sea less than a week earlier.

Yes, I was disappointed. I also felt for the young girl who hoped to get a reply from somewhere far away. Her bottle didn’t make it far.

But where could a bottle go from Brookings? Could it end up in China or Russia?

So, I looked up Pacific Ocean currents.

Yes, China is possible. From Brookings, the bottle would probably be caught in the California Current, transfering to the western flow of the North Equatorial Current off of the Mexico border, then borne north along the Chinese and Japanese coasts by the Kuroshio Current.

It can even come home. The Kuroshio Current ends at the east-flowing North Pacific Current, which splits. Part goes north, to Alaska and Russia, and part heads south and becomes the California Current.

Theoretically the bottle could make a full circuit of the North Pacific Ocean and come back to Brookings.

Such a trip could take years.

The bottle, sitting on my desk, looked disappointed to be denied such a trip.

The original sender’s message said she wanted to do something she had never done before, and asked that the person who finds the bottle also try something new.

I’ve never helped a message in a bottle move on.

So I became a bottle enabler. I took the bottle home, replaced the cap (which was destroyed in the process of opening it) and dipped the top in hot candle wax.

I had no idea how many wax dippings it takes to seal a bottle. I counted 15 dips before it looked reasonably waterproof.

Then on to the Coast Guard Chetco River Station to talk to a Coast Guardsman, whom I assumed would be reasonably knowledgeable about sea currents.

I was in luck. Not only did Coast Guard Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Bryan Davies know about currents, he also had a history with messages in bottles.

Pelican Bay (the bay, not the prison) in summer is nearly a closed system.

The bay features a circular current that takes three to four days to complete, Davies said.

Most near-shore flotsam travels north until it gets caught on a jetty or beach, he said.

It takes a storm with a strong surge to break the current and take floating items out to sea.

“You need to go out at least 3 miles to get out of it,” Davies said.

The Coast Guard has received at least 10 messages in bottles since Davies arrived in Brookings four years ago, he said.

A few of the bottles were of local origin, he said, but most of them were from a distance.

One of those found was written in a foreign language. The Coast Guard was able to determine that it came from a ship at sea, but no one could read the message.

Another contained an emergency message, claiming to be from a boat adrift at sea, he said.

After some consternation, since the message was fairly old, it was tracked to the source.

“It was a joke,” Davies said.

So Chinese and Russian translations are not a bad idea. The bottle could make the long trip – if it could get out to the main current.

My next stop was the docks. Fishing boats leave the Port of Brookings Harbor every day. I was in luck, and found the crew of the Little Joe preparing for a trip. They agreed to drop the bottle in the middle of the current, and even offered to send me the coordinates of the drop site.

I began to wish I had the budget for a GPS tracking device to follow the bottle’s journey.

Back at the office, a quick search of Pilot archives revealed two bottle events in the last 10 years.

In 2004 16-year-old Dustin Ledford received a letter from a family in Japan. They had found a message in a wine bottle that Ledford, as part of an Azalea Middle School class assignment, had sent to sea in 2000.

In 2007 Kenneth Skipworth found a bottle on Sporthaven Beach that had been sent by 12-year-old Jaimme Foster in July 2005.

It was not clear where Jaimme Foster released the bottle, or where she was from.

I have no idea where this bottle will end up, or even if it will ever be found, but it’s clear some messages do find a recipient.

Good luck little bottle.

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