Little Torch couple find note in a bottle

By Steve Estes

A warm Sunday in the Florida Keys. North of Big Pine Key, the waters leading to Content Keys were flat calm, visibility was extraordinary.

Gary and Jennifer Cox of Little Torch Key were taking advantage of the beautiful conditions, motoring out to the Contents and going for a dip in the crystal clear, still-warm waters.

Nearly 27 years before this typical Florida Keys weekend day, a supertanker plied the waters of the Caribbean Sea between Jamaica and Cuba. During that transit, 1,106 bottles were launched into the sea as part of a science experiment for then 11-year-old Brian Akers of Beaumont, Tex.

Akers had spent months gathering the glass soda bottles from the sides of roads around Beaumont. He inserted a numbered, two-sided note in each bottle explaining what the process was and giving potential “finders” information on how to contact him should they find one of his bottles.

With the notes securely inside, Akers sealed the bottles using paraffin under the caps to ensure they would remain watertight.

He then sent the bottles to sea with a neighbor who was the first mate on an oil tanker. The neighbor recorded the date, the bottle number and the latitude and longitude when he chucked each bottle over the side.

Ocean currents and tides took over from there.

The exact path bottle #529 took may never be known, but where it finished its trek was on the deck of the Cox’s boat on its trip back in to Little Torch.

“My wife always takes a plastic trash bag with her when we go out on the boat just in case we find someone else’s trash floating in the water,” said Gary. “She saw the bottle and we scooped it up, and there inside was this note from 27 years ago.”

The note was written in several languages, because who knew for sure where they would end up, but each one had Akers’ contact information.

Cox said they called the number on the note with little hope that anything would come of it and left a message.

“To our surprise he called back. He now lives in Missouri with his wife and two daughters. He actually works for the US government on mapping projects. He said this project began his love for geography,” said Jennifer.

According to an email from Akers, who is now 38, to Cox this particular bottle was launched on De. 12, 1986 about halfway between Cuba and Jamaica.

“Looking at the history of other bottles found (launched at about the same time and location) I think I can piece together a history of 529,” wrote Akers.

Akers surmises that the bottle most likely traveled on ocean currents west-northwest between Yucatan and western Cuba. From there the bottle probably turned north for as hort period and then northeast to the Florida Keys.

“However, this trip would probably take much less time than the nearly 27 years it has been in the water. To account for the years in the water, I think in the weeks and months after the bottle was launched, it took a similar path as already described, but then entered the Gulf Stream,” wrote Akers.

He said it may have followed that current toward western Europe, went south to the waters off northwest Africa, crossed the Atlantic again and made its way into the Caribbean.

Akers told Cox that he had no idea how long a trip of that magnitude might take for a floating bottle affected only by wind and tide, but “make me wonder if it was possible that the bottle made more than one circuit of the north Atlantic.”

Of course, the wanderings of bottle 529 may not have been quite so profound, wrote Akers.

It’s possible, he also suggested, that bottle 529 washed ashore somewhere in the Yucatan or Mexico and remained undiscovered for decades before some natural event dislodged from its secure location and sent it adrift again onto the ocean currents that eventually swept it out to the Content Keys north of Big Pine.

Cox said they sent Akers pictures of the bottle and the location where it was found.

He responded with an email: “Thank you for sending the picture from what I’m assuming is the Content Keys area. What a beautiful place the Keys are. If I were a bottle I’d want to end up there.”

Cox said that Akers told them stories of other bottles that have been found over the years, Palm Beach County, Fla., Canada, and even Louisiana. Bottles have been reported coming back from Puerto Rico and about a year ago a bottle was found in Alaska.

“Akers has kept a record of every bottle found over the years,and each one has a story to tell, We are blessed to be part of the latest one,” said Cox.

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