If you’ve ever tossed a message in a bottle into the ocean from anywhere in Northern Europe, it’s likely it ended up on Texel Island. Located off the North Coast of the Netherlands, Texel is at the intersection of several major currents, and close to several shipping routes. For the last 400 years, Texel residents have survived, in part, by scavenging items that have been lost at sea.
According to documentarian Sam Walkerdine in a piece for The Mirror, the practice has faded as other economic opportunities have opened up, but many residents still scour the beaches for lost items. One professional beachcomber, Cor Ellen, claims to have found over 500 bottles with letters inside—and has even answered some of them.
Ellen is one of the subjects of Flotsam and Jetsam (2012), Walkerdine’s 13-minute documentary on the Texel Island beachcombers (you can watch it above). In the film, a handful of Texel Islanders show off their best finds, and share their stories and strange observations. Ellen, for example, brags about scavenging crates of food, fur coats, powdered milk (“I didn’t have to go to the milkman for one year”), and even umbrella handles from passing cargo ships. Another beachcomber reminisces about finding something more personal: the collected photos and memorabilia of an English couple who had broken up and tossed their memories into the sea.
One of the weirder observations comes from Piet Van Leerson, whose family has been beachcombing for at least five generations: he claims that only left shoes wash up on Texel’s shores. The right shoes, meanwhile, end up in England and Scotland. (The shapes cause them to go in different directions.)
Beachcombing is such a big part of life on Texel, they’ve even opened several museums to show off their weirdest, funniest, and most interesting finds.
If you do decide to try and get a bottle with a letter in it to Texel, the residents have a few suggestions for you: drop the bottle somewhere off the coast of England, weigh it down with pebbles so it doesn’t get caught by the wind, and of course, remember to include a return address.