TIGNISH – Harold Hackett's network of bottle-tracking associates stretches all around the Atlantic Ocean.
So when he was advised recently of an Icelandic newspaper reporting on one of his bottles being found on the shore way up there he was not surprised. He was already aware of four other bottles washing up on Iceland's beaches.
Bottles with messages from Harold Hackett, 58, from Tignish, have made it to France, Germany, the United States, even Africa.
Since launching his message-in-a-bottle hobby in 1996, Hackett has set 4,871 bottles adrift. The note inside asks finders to write back to him, telling when and where they found his bottle, and to include the launch date as written on his note.
So far he has received over 3,100 responses, a 63.6 per cent response rate.
"I got one (note) back with five different people finding it. They found it and let it go. It started in Cape Breton, went to Nova Scotia. It went to Newfoundland and then it went to St. Pierre-Miquelon and Florida, and then he wrote back to me," he said. "There were five letters in my letter when I got it."
A few bottles were chain-mailed two or three times.
Hackett cast a glass Pepsi bottle with a note inside overboard while fishing tuna off North Cape in 1995.
"I just wrote on it my name and address and said, 'whoever finds this, please write back to me.'"
That winter he received a letter from the Magdalen Islands. That was all it took for him to get his hobby going and the following May 250 messages were set adrift.
"I used to write all of those out by hand, the first four or five years," he said. "A lot of work writing."
Then he started getting his notes photocopied. He'd later enter the launch date with permanent marker.
"I still have a lot of writing," he said, explaining that he writes back to everyone who contacts him with information on a found bottle.
"Harold the bottle man" has become somewhat of a legend. He even has a display at Ripley's in Cavendish. That happened after the Ripley's owner found one of Hackett's bottles at his cottage in Florida. Some of the letters and souvenirs he received are included in the display.
Someone from eastern P.E.I. got in trouble with environment after letting 1,000 bottles go one night. They were all on the shore the next morning.
"He didn't know that the wind has to be west when you let them out."
Local fishermen are accustomed to seeing his bottles with neon paper and reflector tape bobbing in the water. "The minute they see it, they don't even have to look at it. They just say, 'that's Harold Hackett,' and they throw it back over."
Despite all the bottles he's heard back on, there's one bottle that still eludes him, bottle Number 1 from 1996. I've got a feeling this year (will be the one)," he said.
Of course, there's the possibility it has been found but isn't legible. The first few notes he dispatched were written with pen and the ink would have faded. He has been using permanent marker ever since.
One of his most productive years was 2007 when 575 responses were received.
"Every bottle has its own story."
Usually let a lot go on his birthday, Aug. 23 as well as on his father's birthday and his late mother's birthday.
Most are released from North Cape and some have been dispatched while out on fishing trips.
He recently got two responses from Newfoundland where letters arrived 12 and 13 years after being let go on sea ice.
"Waiting for the letters, to read them, and writing back," he said, gives him satisfaction. He includes a photo of himself in every reply.
Sometimes he puts inexpensive souvenirs in his bottles. Some respondents send him souvenirs and photos from their communities.
Bottle hobby costs plenty
4,875 juice bottles (four are numbered and ready to go)
Scrap reflector tape
680 rolls of black tape (for securing the bottle caps)
Four to five dozen permanent markers
More than 1,000 writing pads
Postage stamps for 3,100 reply letters