Christopher Columbus’ “Message in a Bottle” is Still Waiting to be Discovered Somewhere on Planet Earth

Photo Courtesy: Brocken Inaglory
Photo Courtesy: Brocken Inaglory

Somewhere in the vast expanse of our planet’s ocean may be a floating barrel that is worth more than its weight in gold. The only problem is that there are approximately 139.7 million square miles of ocean and the tiny cask is probably no larger than a couple of square feet at the very most — further compounding the hunt is the fact that thanks to 500 years of ocean currents, the barrel could be anywhere by now, if it’s even still in existence.

The story dates back to the late-1400s, aboard the ship of a famous explorer of whom you undoubtedly learned as a child. Remember, “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred and ninety-two.”

Turns out, upon returning from his newly discovered world, our boy Christopher got fearful that God was going to kill him (sounds like the man had an unclean conscience, but that’s another story!), in which case, the world would never learn of his incredible discovery, thereby robbing him of becoming immortally celebrated.

These fears were exacerbated on February 14, 1493, when the crew found themselves at the mercy of a violent North Atlantic storm.

Historian Laurence Bergreen writes, “Columbus became convinced that ‘Our Lord wished him to perish.’ At the same time, he reminded himself of his mission and the news of his exploits that he was bringing to Ferdinnd and Isabella. The more important the news became in his mind, the more fearful he became that he would not be able to deliver it, and that all his discoveries and sacrifices would be for naught.”

In their book, The Worlds of Christopher Columbus, William & Carla Phillips detail the drastic measures Columbus took in order to preserve his legacy and ensure that the world would remember him and his discovery.

“In his desperation to claim the credit that was his due, Columbus wrote as much about the voyage as he could on a parchment addressed to Fernando and Isabel. He prepared the message secretly and then wrapped the parchment securely in a waxed cloth. Ordering a barrel brought to him, he placed the packet inside and had the barrel thrown into the sea. The crew assumed the packet and the barrel had something to do with an act of piety and were spared the alarm of knowing that the admiral doubted they would survive.”

Fortunately for the members of the Crew and for Columbus himself, they did survive and the famed explorer had the opportunity to brag about the incredible land he had discovered on the far side of the globe — making him go down in history as one of the most famous individuals of the past 1,000 years.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Columbus’ overboard barrel, as it was never discovered — or if was, the finders exercised wisdom and kept their mouths shut.

But where it is now is anybody’s guess and the world may never know the whereabouts of this incredible handwritten note sealed by Mr. Columbus himself.

Is there any chance that Columbus’ lost cask is still silently sitting somewhere, just waiting to be discovered?

Surprisingly, yes. Though the odds of this are very slim and the probability of you actually being the person to find this priceless historical discovery are even lower, but yes, it’s still possible.

I mean, afterall, the world’s most premier militaries and nations have been searching for a massive jet liner that crashed in the ocean for years now and no ones been able to locate it and the size difference between a tiny barrel and a Malaysian airliner are incomparable — the oceans are a massive, massive, massive, body and looking for something as small as a tiny cask may be harder than finding a needle in a hay stack.

Yet, due to the fact that the interior of the barrel was lined and sealed, many scientists believe that it is quite plausible to conceive that the cask has petrified or sealed to the point that the timeless contents hidden within may have been preserved.

In fact, the +500 year old wooden cask rotting is not nearly as great of a concern as the container being sunk to the bottom thanks to the weight of the numerous marine organisms.  These “marine organisms” probably attached themselves to the floating message in a bottle almost immediately upon being cast overboard, but the level of damage they may have caused by now is unknown.

The greatest hope of an individual ever finding Columbus’ secret message is that the tumbling cask made it to a shoreline sometime within the first eight to ten months of being tossed to the sea.  There, we can hope that erosion did its perfect work, sealing the timeless artifact beneath a sandy beach somewhere, only to be discovered at some distant date by workers preparing to lay the footers for the next big high rise condominium at a surfside resort.

Should Columbus’ message ever be discovered, in would shatter the current world record for duration of message in a bottle discovery: 151 years (a Pacific Islander cast a message in a bottle into the ocean in 1784 and the note was not discovered until the eve of World War II just off the coast of Japan in 1935.

On April 17, 2015, a bottle washed upon a German shore from George Parker Bidder, an English marine biologists. The note was dated, November 30, 1906, 108 years earlier.

Is it possible that Columbus’ note is still out there, just waiting to be discovered? You can bet your butt it is, but I wouldn’t quit my day job to go out searching for it, though you have to admit, it would be the adventure of a lifetime!

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