A journey from Maine to the Bahamas

When Cecelia and Jim Bock went on vacation in the Bahamas, they hardly expected to find a message sealed in a glass bottle by some fourth-graders at a little school in Castine, Maine.

But one day in April, when they went jet skiing in Nassau, that's just what happened. And Mrs. Bock called the principal at the school – me – as soon as she got home to Maryland. Then she wrote an e-mail to Alex, Meredith, Paul, and Jasper – the students who had sent the bottle to sea.

"Finding your bottle," she said, "was the best surprise of our vacation!"

Perhaps you remember reading about fourth- and fifth-graders from my school writing messages and sealing them in bottles along with local artifacts, weather reports,baseball cards, and Adams School postcards. (See "We sent our bottles of adventure off to sea," July 14, 2005, www.csmonitor. com/2005/0714/p18s02-hfes.html.)

Then we launched them: some from the town dock; some from the Maine Maritime Academy's training vessel, the State of Maine; and some from the Argo, a research vessel owned by Randy Flood, the parent of a first-grader.

That was more than a year ago. Three bottles have now been found: one by a lobsterman in New Hampshire, "2.5 miles east of Hampton"; one on Great Spruce HeadIsland in Penobscot Bay, off the coast of Maine; and now this Nassau bottle, which gets the distance prize so far.

"While we were riding our jet skis near Cable Beach," wrote the Bocks, "we saw your bottle and pulled it from the water. When we got back to our hotel room, we broke open the bottle very carefully and were very excited to see your letters all the way from Maine!"

Their digital photo even showed a couple of clams adhered to the glass.

We were all curious as to which route the bottle might have taken to Nassau. The Bocks asked, "Could you please tell us how far your bottle traveled in the year it was in the Atlantic Ocean? Where exactly was the bottle put into the water? Just think of all the things your bottle went through."

We're thinking, we're thinking! It is most romantic to assume that the bottle took the Gulf Stream to England, France, Spain, and then across the equator to the Bahamas.It might also have been dropped from the State of Maine when it was en route to Aruba on its training voyage last year. If only that bottle could talk.

I e-mailed Captain Wade, who was on the training vesselthis year in the mid-Atlantic, and he e-mailed the Bocks. They're probably a little surprised at the collateral messages they're receiving as follow-up to their bottle discovery, since Captain Wade sent his greetings to them from 38 degrees, 13 minutes, 30 seconds north latitude; 36 degrees, 28 minutes, 36 seconds west longitude (west of the Azores).

We learned a few things from our bottles: Marine epoxy works: After a year in the ocean, the contents of our bottle were dry and identifiable. Bottles are reliable – if slow and unpredictable – forms of "snail mail." And bottles have a romance and fascination that makes them exciting vacation finds.

"We hope you are as excited about your bottle being found as we were in finding it!" wrote the Bocks. We are. And Channel 5 News shared our excitement.

TV reporter Susan Farley did a follow-up report, interviewing the students on the playground.

Mr. Flood had inspired our original bottle launch and told us his bottle story as we stood on the dock last March: After 10 years, he had had a bottle he dropped in Muscongus Bay (midcoast Maine) returned to him from Galveston, Texas.

And he's got a new project: a small satellite-linked buoy that can be tracked online.The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration has hired Flood to drop drifting buoys with satellite uplinks from the Argo. Our bottles strapped to the buoy would mean that the bottles would talk to us and "tell us" where they've been. But I must admit,it would take some of the imagination out of our romantic floating messages.

But look at all of the messaging involved in this story: floating bottles, e-mail, television, global positioning system. We still have more thana dozen extant bottles to hear from – decades' worth of potential return mail. Clearly, we're in this for the long haul.

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