World’s oldest message in bottle found by trawler “Copious” off the coast of Shetland Isles


Andrew Leaper and the bottle

A small glass bottle, spotted sticking out of the net of a trawler alongside a catch of cod, haddock and monkfish, has set a remarkable world record in the annals of maritime history.

The eight-inch “message in bottle” had been adrift in the stormy waters of the northern North Sea off the coast of Shetland for 97 years and 309 days.

The new world record for discovering the oldest message in a bottle is held by Andrew Leaper, who was skipper of the Lerwick-registered Copious when he made the amazing find in April.

Coincidentally, his friend Mark Anderson set the previous record in 2006 when he was skippering the same boat. Both bottles that made the record books are from a batch of 1,890 scientific research “drift bottles” released in various parts of the North Sea in June 1914 by experts from the Glasgow School of Navigation as part of a study to map the currents of the seas around Scotland…

The bottle is now one of the prized exhibits in the Interpretative Centre on the Shetland island of Fetlar, where Mr Leaper was born and raised.

Richard Lochhead, the Scottish environment secretary, said: “The story of scientific drift bottles is a fascinating one and harks back to an area when we were only beginning to understand the complexities of the seas.

It’s amazing that nearly 98 years on bottles are still being returned to the marine laboratory – and in such fantastic condition. With many bottles still unreturned, there is always the chance in the coming years that a Scottish drift bottle will once again break the record.”

What a delightful find.

My closest friend, Clyde, and I were part-time beachcombers for years back in New England. Never found anything of this historic value. Though we did turn out some gorgeous woodwork from driftwood.

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