Most beachcombers don’t anticipate finding anything remarkable on a stroll along the ocean’s edge. If you’re lucky maybe some well-worn sea glass or an unusual seashell.
Steve Thurber of Courtenay, British Columbia, says he walks the beaches of Vancouver Island nearly every day, in hopes of finding something special. His found treasures had been somewhat mundane—old bottles, crab boats, and fishing floats—but all that changed on September 9th, 2013.
The 53-year-old man’s efforts were finally rewarded after he stumbled across a 107-year-old message in a bottle on a walk along Schooner Cove beach in Tofino on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
The small green bottle with a rusty cap was found nestled in a sand dune. Further inspection through the cloudy glass revealed that it contained an envelope, inscribed with the date September 29, 1906, and signed with the name Earl Willard, described to be a passenger of the Ship Rainier, which sailed from San Francisco to Bellingham, Washington, just south of the Canadian border. The envelope also contains a Bellingham address, where a railway museum stands today.
The contents of the letter remain a mystery, as Thurber has resisted temptations to break the seal of the bottle despite more than a little pressure from people on the internet.
Thurber’s find is the oldest message in a bottle on record, with the existing Guinness World Record holder being the find of a 97-year old bottle by a Scottish fisherman. That particular bottle had been part of an experiment by the Glasgow School of Navigation to map the undercurrents of the sea around Scotland, and was one of 1,890 bottles used in the experiment.
Thurber considers his find to be a little more rare, as it appears to be one of a kind (though no one can know for sure). He has not yet officially reported his findings to the Guinness World Record – since the find, his time has been consumed by the media.
Some question the authenticity of the bottle, claiming that 107 years at sea would result in a little more wear and tear on the bottle, or at least a few barnacles. These skeptics say that the fact that the glass of the bottle is clear enough to read through is a little fishy.
However, the area the bottle was found in was recently excavated as part of a Parks Canada restoration project. Could the bottle have washed ashore shortly after being cast to sea, and have been preserved in the sand for a century? Further, experts claim that seawater doesn’t necessarily damage glass bottles; it only discolors them, though bumping through rocks and sand could easily cause a bottle to break.
Nobody knows for sure at this point, but Thurber says that he might pass the bottle along to Parks Canada to preserve and share with visitors to the area.