A different kind of social networking

Eric McCarthy
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Harold Hackett, 58, from Tignish displays some of the bottles with messages inside that are ready to be set adrift, and letters from some of the 3,100 people who have found his notes.

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

500 pens



Postage stamps for 3,100 reply letters

Geographic location: TIGNISH, Atlantic Ocean, Newfoundland Florida Iceland North Cape France Germany United States Africa Cape Breton Nova Scotia Magdalen Islands Cavendish Eastern P.E.I.

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Recent comments

  • Jo Boehm
    October 07, 2013 - 21:06

    Lovely story. The bottles will make a lot of people happy. Jo

    October 18, 2011 - 18:12

    "GM" - a few things you might like to know. 1) Prince Edwaed Island is not part of the US. 2) Whales tend to siffon their food through their teeth... a bottle would not be likely to make it through. Maybe he is polluting the ocean, but being a skeptic and a killjoy is pollution to society and it makes me sad that you live inside such an angry mind.

  • Helen
    October 18, 2011 - 18:06

    I love this! Unfortunatly I live in land-locked Alberta, Canada, but I would like to help Harold with his bottle adventures by sending him some supplies (markers, tape, stamps, etc). If someone could help get my email address to him, that would be wonderful! (helentrip@hotmail.com). Thanks!

    • Bridget Larsen
      October 15, 2015 - 20:11

      Helen I just sent my own message in a bottle to Harold addressed : Harold Hackett Message in a bottle Tignish Prince Edward Island I am hoping he has it as everyone would know him on that island now. Curious to know if he got it yet addressed as it it, was sent in September

  • Carol, Santa Fe, NM
    September 27, 2011 - 18:09

    Mr. Hackett is a poet at heart! What delight you must bring to those who find your bottles. Pay no heed to the posturing of the sanctimonious killjoys.

  • Patchogue, NY USA
    September 27, 2011 - 16:30

    Do 2 wrongs make a right?

  • Adam
    September 27, 2011 - 16:04

    Peter, Harold has released 4,800 bottles in 15 years, that doesn't equate to one a day. The rubbish you put in to your bin everyday will all end up on a landfill site and will add up to be more harmful to the environment than these bottles. After all, 3,100 of these bottles have been found, perhaps more (but not replied), so these people could have recycled these bottles. Anyways, it's his ocean too. Harold, your hobby is very heart warming and I wish you all the best.

    • L shofler
      September 27, 2011 - 23:14

      Please Carry on Harold, your story made my night on the colorado farm land, wish I could find a bottle, Glad you found your passion, Lee

  • Bicylist Kingston Ontario
    September 27, 2011 - 15:35

    I love it. Mr. Hackett is practicing an age-old tradition that must date back to the creation of glass bottles. It's akin to the "summit box" found on many mountain peaks; they contain names of hikers, dates, weather conditions and amusing anecdotes. Some people might consider both practices to be forms of pollution but they are records of human activity done in a modest and interesting (to me at least) manner. Keep it up Mr. Hackett; I'd love to find one of you bottles but they will have a hard time drifting up the St. Lawrence River.

  • Peter from Australia
    September 26, 2011 - 08:21

    So this irresponsible gentlemen not only polluted OUR ocean with 4800 plastic bottles but over 1500 are still missing? Nothing at all to be proud of.

    • Gail
      September 26, 2011 - 14:07

      probably less pollution than the Carbon footprint by our personal computers, the internet routing, and the central servers of twitter, facebook, google required for modern social networking

    • GM
      October 18, 2011 - 12:33

      "Peter From Australia", I totally agree. We have enough plastic in the ocean as it is and he's just adding to it. So, when a whale accidentally swallows one, that's OK, Carol in Santa Fe? No wonder the U.S. is polluted, with that kind of attitude. And Gail, yeah, so because we already have a problem with carbon footprints, that makes it OK for him to make things worse? Unbelievable, the human race has a long way to go if that is the attitude we should take about our planet.