As American Brad Van Liew readied himself for the ultimate solo challenge of circling the globe under sail, his children had questions. Wyatt, 6, asked about the weather and the sharks. Tate, 8, wanted to know why he had to go. She also wondered about the oceans he would be crossing and what might happen at sea. The unpredictable environment worried her. Before Van Liew raced across the start line in France to conquer what would be his third globetrotting track of victory under sail, young Tate asked if he would take a moment at the equator to send off a message in a bottle from her, with the hopes that it might be found some day and she would know where it traveled.
A triumphant Brad Van Liew wins the Velux 5 Oceans
'I was off the coast of Brazil headed for Cape Town, South Africa,' said Van Liew. 'I had cleared the doldrums and the southeasterly trades were pushing me along at 15 knots. Despite the racing, Tate's message was a priority as I crossed the equator. I videotaped myself sending off the message in a bottle, knowing full well it may never reach another human and Tate's questions may go unanswered.'
Nine months later the delicate glass bottle had acquired some barnacles and seagrass before washing onto the small, secluded beach of Guana Bay on the island of St. Maarten in the Caribbean. Seven year old Michael Raczynski, a second grader and a karate enthusiast from the Warsaw suburbs of Poland, found the bottle and opened it to find Tate's message.
'I'm shocked,' said Van Liew. 'I would have expected it to maybe land on a beach in Brazil. Instead the bottle traveled more than 2,250 miles to arrive in St. Maarten. Just think, if it had travelled even further into the Caribbean it could have hooked into the Gulfstream and made it all the way to Europe.'
When the Van Liews received a letter at their home in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina with a return address that indicated a sender in Poland they assumed it was from the family of Zbigniew Gutowski, a fellow sailboat racer who had challenged Van Liew throughout the Velux 5 Oceans race. To their surprise inside was a letter addressed to Tate from Michael Raczynski, written with the help of his father. He explained that they regularly search the beach for 'pirate treasure' and found the bottle amongst the shells and rocks along the coast that faces the Atlantic Ocean. Enclosed were photos of the bottle, Van Liew's letter written for Tate and a photo of the beach landing sight and Michael. In an e-mail exchange since receiving the news of the message in a bottle, Zbigniew Raczynski noted, 'I said many times you never know whom you will meet and what will be tomorrow.'
The Van Liews intend to stay in touch with Michael and his family, but communications will likely include the postal service and email, as opposed to the first communication via bottle which took nine months and 2,250 miles of open ocean.
Le Pingouin Ocean Racing website