50-year-old '˜message in a bottle' traced to Edinburgh sailor

The search for Scottish 'donkeyman' who threw a hand-written message in a bottle into the North Sea gained world-wide attention after the note was found nearly 50 years later on a German beach.

Now it can be revealed that Jimmy Robertson, who worked in the boiler room on the MV Gosport, which had recently sailed from Leith, was a homesick sailor 
who put the message in an empty bottle of lemonade made at a factory near his home in Edinburgh, which he had brought onboard for himself.

The search was sparked in January this year by Clint Buffington, a writer based in the US who writes the “Message in a Bottle Hunter” blog which aims to reunite people who throw messages in bottles out to sea, with those who find them.

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Mr Robertson, 75, had written the message “this bottle was thrown over by ‘Donkeyman’ James Robertson, 72 Sleigh Drive, Edinburgh on 16-9-70” and put it in a bottle made by the Edinburgh soft drinks firm JAS Dunbar.

“Donkeyman” is the job title of someone who maintains ship boilers, often nicknamed “donkey boilers”.

The bottle was eventually found by Bernd Igwerks, a pensioner, on Norderney, one of the tiny East Frisian islands located off Germany’s North Sea coast.

Mr Robertson, who now lives in Larbert, Falkirk, said he was reading his newspaper when he suddenly realised the story was about himself.

“I saw my name but it was the word ‘Donkeyman’ that caught my eye,” he said.

Recalling the moments before he threw the bottle overboard, Mr Robertson, who had just finished a shift below decks in the ship’s engine room, said: “I was feeling pretty down. We had been sailing for a few days but I was missing home.

“I decided to stick a note in the bottle and fling it over the side. After that, I forgot all about it.

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“It’s been almost 50 years – I never once thought I’d get a reply.”

Mr Robertson, whose first ship was the Queen Mary, had taken a few bottles of lemonade aboard ship as he was not keen on the drinking water provided for sailors. He now hopes to contact the finder of the bottle, Mr Igwerks.

Mr Buffington said that when Mr Robertson e-mailed him last month he discovered Mr Robertson had once been contacted by a Dutch woman who had found another bottle he had thrown overboard.

“He told me ‘I once had a reply from a woman in Amsterdam. I went to her home while I was docked there but unfortunately she wasn’t in and I never pursued it further’.”

Mr Buffington, from Utah, also said while trying to track down Mr Robertson he had received many inquires about the bottle itself.

“I was even contacted by Rona Dunbar Parry, descendent of James Dunbar, whose company made this very bottle,” he said.

“She made a tribute site for her great-great-grandfather’s company, complete with pictures of bottles they made.”

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