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Scuba instructor finds message in a bottle

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What are the odds: Blue Water Divers & Watersports scuba instructor Phoebe Eggar stands with a message inside a bottle she found in the waters off Bermuda, which had been thrown overboard off Virginia in December 2022. Flanking Ms Eggar is Blue Water Divers captain Chris Gauntlett, left, and Justin Hendrix (Photograph supplied)

Phoebe Eggar has dreamt of finding a message in a bottle her whole life.

“I always imagined I would find one washed up on the beach with a treasure map in it,” said the scuba instructor with Blue Water Divers & Watersports. “It is a cool pirate thing to find a message in a bottle.”

However, when she finally spotted one last week gold doubloons were the last thing on her mind. In fact, she thought it was rubbish.

Out at Western Blue Cut, an hour offshore, she had just finished a dive and was waiting for her boss, Chris Gauntlett to surface.

“I was in the water, holding on to a dragline,” she said. “Out of the corner of my right eye I saw something float by. I thought it was a beer can.”

Passionate about the ocean, she let go of the line to chase down the object and bin it. “I swam over and grabbed it,” Ms Eggar said.

She was surprised to find, not an aluminium tin, but a thick glass bottle containing paper.

“I thought, ‘this is so cool’,” she said. “It was a message in a bottle. Then my main focus was getting back to the dragline because the current was really pulling me.”

Eighteen-month journey: this message was found in a bottle put into the Atlantic Ocean on December 23, 2022, by a researcher with the username BottletrackerVA, in Norfolk, Virginia (Photograph supplied)

Getting back to safety was a bit of a struggle. Not only was she tired from her earlier dive, but the seas had picked up since they anchored near the Constellation and Montana wrecks earlier that day.

When she reached the safety line again, she held on with one hand, while holding the bottle up triumphantly with the other.

With great excitement, she called out to a colleague on the boat: “I found a message in a bottle!”

Eighteen-month journey: this message was found in a bottle put into the Atlantic Ocean on December 23, 2022, by a researcher with the username BottletrackerVA, in Norfolk, Virginia (Photograph supplied)

Back on board, she and her colleagues discovered that the bottle had been deliberately sealed.

Inside, was a slightly damp piece of paper that read: “This bottle is part of a marine water currents project. Please send an e-mail with the date and location of where you found it. Next, please put this bottle back in the water and relaunch it.”

Included was a reference number comprising the date it was sent, and an e-mail with the username BottletrackerVA.

Since being tossed into the ocean off of Norfolk, Virginia, on December 23, 2022 it had floated 726 miles over the course of 18 months.

“It was obviously dropped for some kind of scientific project,” Mr Gauntlett said. “It is pretty cool to find a note in a bottle, no matter what is in the message.”

What was not in the letter was the name of the individual or organisation running the marine currents project.

A few days later, Mr Gauntlett e-mailed the address included in the letter, but has not yet received a response.

The letter inside the bottle was a little damp, so Mr Gauntlett and his team plan to retype it, update it with information about finding it in Bermuda, then send it back into the sea.

“We are going to put the letter in a plastic bag,” Mr Gauntlett said. “Hopefully, that will help to keep it dry if the bottle leaks. I will also put some stickers in there. Phoebe wants to put a photo of the crew in there also.”

He said one of the random things about a message in a bottle, is that there is no guarantee it will ever get anywhere.

“Being glass, it could break and be lost for ever,” he said. “It is very random. It could be floating for the next 100 years.”

However, he said whoever threw the bottle into the water was sensible to use a heavy bottle.

“As long as it is sealed up it is going to continue to float,” he said.

Ms Eggar said it could have been hit by anything including a cruise ship, or it could have washed up somewhere where it never would have been found.

“It is amazing that I spotted it,” she said. “It was also lucky that we were at a different dive site that day.”

She is originally from Britain, but started her dive instructing career in Cape Town, South Africa.

“It was a career I stumbled into with a big smile on my face,” she said. “Diving was something that I enjoyed. I was getting my dive master certification and someone said I would make a good teacher. Then they asked if I would like living on islands and not wearing shoes? I was like yeah, I will be a dive instructor.”

While working on the ocean off of South Africa, she often saw unusual things in the sea.

“Once, we saw a two-seater sweetheart sofa float by,” she said. “We tried to drag it back to shore, but it ended up sinking. We also found a mannequin. That was a pretty creepy thing to see in the water.”

Running Blue Water Divers, Mr Gauntlett has also found unusual jetsam.

“We have never found anything valuable,” he said. “When we see trash in the ocean, we do try to pick it up. The weirdest thing that I ever found was a really large styrofoam bald eagle.

“I think it was used to make a cement eagle that went on top of a gate post. That was my best guess.”

He has also found a fish aggregation device, consisting of floats, used to attract pelagic fish such as marlin, tuna and mahi-mahi.

“That fell under the category of ghost gear,” Mr Gauntlett said. “Ghost gear is discarded or lost fishing equipment that floats around, often doing damage.”

A few years ago, Mr Gauntlett went to Panama to take a seminar on how to deal with ghost gear.

“It told you what to do with the things you find,” he said. They hope to release the bottle back into the ocean this week.

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Published July 03, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated July 04, 2024 at 8:14 am)

Scuba instructor finds message in a bottle

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