Message in a bottle that drifted at sea for 97 years

Shetland skipper Andrew Leaper discovered the record-breaking bottle
Shetland skipper Andrew Leaper discovered the record-breaking bottle
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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 bottle contained a postcard with instructions

The bottle contained a postcard with instructions

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 drifted for 97 years

The bottle drifted for 97 years

Each of the drift bottles contains a postcard, promising a reward of sixpence to the finder. The April find has only now been confirmed as a new record by Guinness World Records.

A spokesman has revealed that the drifting bottle had been recovered less than ten miles from the spot where it was originally thrown into the North Sea.

Mr Leaper, 43, who is now on the crew of the Valhalla, said yesterday that his find had been a remarkable double for the


“It’s like winning the Lottery twice,” he said. “I was working the winch to lift the net aboard and I spotted the neck of the bottle sticking out of the cod end, along with the cod, haddock and monkfish we had caught. I quickly grabbed it before it fell back in the sea.

“I knew right away what I had found,” he said. “And it was an amazing coincidence that the same Shetland fishing boat that found the previous record-breaking bottle six years ago also found this one.

“There wasn’t a mark on the bottle. There wasn’t even any growth on it and it was completely clean. The cork took a bit of getting out and then I ended up having to use a bent welding rod and a pair of pliers to get the postcard out.

“There was no date on the postcard inside – just a number – so I got in touch with the marine lab in Aberdeen. They wanted the bottle, but I wanted to keep it, so I sent them pictures of the bottle and the postcard. I was pretty chuffed when I heard how long it had been in the sea.”

He added: “We were about 45 miles east of Shetland when we picked up the bottle. I was told we had recovered it less than ten miles from the spot where it originally entered the sea all these years ago. But we probably towed it around for ten or 12 miles before we hauled in our nets, and it might never have moved at all.”

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.”