From Kingston-Upon-Hull, England to Kaurö, a Swedish Island

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message no. 107 in my garden at home well before its dispatch

Do you remember happy mailbox days? I remember waiting for my parents to empty the letter box (only they were entitled to), and usually it only contained letters for them. – I was always envious. Even when my Dad explained with a sigh that they were mainly invoices, I still imagined how nice it would be when I am grown up and find an invoice in my mailbox every other day.
But as a child I did receive post occasionally: Letters from friends, postcards from grandparents, and I was subscriped to a children’s journal that reached me once a month.

When I moved out of my parents’ house to study, the internet of course existed (we are bang right in the 90’s here), but people at home accessing the internet was still not a very common thing. I got my first email address a year later, and I was able to check it when I logged in at a computer at the maths institute. I didn’t get a dial-in-modem to use at home for several years. Nevertheless, the mailbox remained empty on most days. I stayed in touch with friends from school over the phone; we also occasionally sent letters. – But not as many as one might think.

Nowadays I do receive mail on most days, but like for my parents back then, they are usually do not make me particularly happy. I am not regularly staying in touch with anyone via paper mail. And when I think of letterboxes, I think of being a child, holding my breath while watching my father turn the key.

I get a reminder of this feeling every time my computer tells me, that there’s mail in the mailbox labelled “flaschenpost”, and I catch myself holding my breath while opening the email.

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photo of the finder

And yesterday was a mail day:

Dear Hilke!
I have found your bottle mail, yesterday February 28, in position 58°02.447’N, 011°28.539’E. That is an island called Kaurö, off the Swedish west coast.
I am an old retired seaman, now spending my days with beach cleaning on our coast. We have a real problem here, with most of the debris and floatsam from the entire English Channel and North Sea area landing right here. Volunteers, council work groups and entrepreneurs like myself try to get rid of at least the worst, by simply picking it up by hand. We bag it and bring the bags to the recycling centre or to garbage combustion. Thousands and thousands of bags…
Of course it it sometimes a heavy and dirty work, and it is sometimes hard to keep the good spirits up, when just more and more plastic garbage is rolling in. But on the other hand, we have the privilige of working on beautiful islands, with good people who all help out.
And sometimes, our work days are brightened up by finding bottle mail from near and far. Many of them unfortunately unreadable, but some are quite clear – like yours. A good move to use a pencil and to include the piece of chalk.
Let me know where you launched the bottle!

What a happy mail on so many levels. Of course it is great to hear about any bottle being found, but when a finder is so specific about where and how they found a bottle I am especially grateful.

And of course it is good to hear that my message was readable. Unfortuntately the artwork inside didn’t seem to have survived the journey. I rather liked the look of my papermaché houses in bottles here at home. But apparently they are only good at soaking up moisture and keeping it away from the letter, and are a failure as a piece of artwork. It’s the second bottle now that met this fate, so that is the end of paper mache in bottles for me. But I got some endorsement for using pencils, so I’ll keep that up!

Let’s see where and how the bottle travelled:

map 1

In direct line the bottle travelled a distance of about 860km

This must be the bottle that travelled furthest and longest so far. Looking at the map, the distance between where it probably hit the waters (bottle no. 107 was launched from the ferry Pride of Rotterdam going from Hull to Rotterdam in August last year) and the island where it was found is about 860km. And from being launched until being found, it took roughtly 6 months.

The bottle can’t have travelled in direct line, though. Obviously, since it goes over land, scraping off a slice off Denmark. So how could it have travelled?

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North Sea Map derived from NASA satellite image. This image depicts the currents in the North Sea. Author SriMesh, distributed through Wikimedia with a CC license. – Thank you!

As you can see, mail (and debris) from Great Britan, travels in the North Sea roughly in a counter clockwise direction. So probably the bottle first followed the journey of the ferry approaching Dutch waters, and from there might have followed the coast, past Germany and Denmark. (My bottle no. 70 was found on Sylt just before crossing over to Denmark, obviously following the same path). From the top of Denmark, the bottle would then have been pushed by Atlantic waters to the island where it was found.

What is not so clear in the image is that many items will tour the North Sea maybe several times and go round and round the carousel until they land somewhere. I remember reading how long it takes to go round once, but I am not sure anymore how long it really was. I think it was something like 3 weeks, or was it 3 months? If someone reading this knows better, please do let me know.

Bottle no. 70 was found on Sylt after 3 months, bottle no. 107 a far bit further away after six months… Somehow I find it satisfying that these numbers seem to kind of match. Does this mean this bottle travelled past past England once more before landing? But if it takes three months to get to “the other side” of the North Sea, then it might be six month until it would be back at the English coast, and 9 month to return to Denmark and eventually Sweden? I am not sure. And then there also seems to be this mini-gyre between Sweden and Denmark… – As I said, if someone knows more, please enlighten me and us!
But in any case it could have gone there directly, of course, and then just wait there among the eye-popping amount of debris that gathers on that Island:

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photo of the finding site

We all have to be grateful for people like the finder who get up again and again and clean up this mess. Being relatively far from the coast, it just seems incredible. I admire the willpower these people have to tackle this work that must seem like Sisyphus’ labour on many days. It is my pleasure if I can brighten up the work a bit. And I am relieved when I hear that my project is seen as such, and not as contributing to the problem! I suppose, seeing the sheer mass of debris, a little bottle like mine is not that much of a contribution. And I do try to be conscious about what I pack into my bottles, being very aware, that many will crash and break and spill their contents.

Well, not this one. My thanks once more to the finder for contacting me, and for allowing me to use his photos. – Until next time! 🙂