Message in a bottle
A few nautical miles off the Canary Islands, ten-year-old Léjanne Jansen tossed a letter into the sea.
Four years later, she got a reply.
She had forgotten all about it. The bottle had floated upstream for three years before washing ashore in Bermuda in 2004 and into the arms of beachcomber Bob Patterson.
This month, he and his wife Helle welcomed their “honorary granddaughter” to Bermuda, meeting her in person for the first time.
“I was sailing with my father and mother close to the Canary Islands,” Ms Jansen recalled.
“I don’t know who thought it up, but [we decided] it would be a nice idea if I threw a bottle with a message in the sea. I wrote one on the computer and I threw it off the back of the ship. That moment I forgot about it and then, three years later, I got a letter with Bermudian stamps.”
Mr Patterson found the washed-up wine bottle at Whale Bone Bay in St George’s, and sent a response to the enclosed Netherlands address. Ms Jansen was 14 when she received it.
“At first, I thought it was a letter from my father that had gotten lost in the mail because he used to sail on the [container ship] Bermuda Islander as a chief engineer, but it wasn’t. It was from Bob, a 72-year-old retired teacher.”
She replied to Mr Patterson and her local paper, Dagblad Van Het Noorden, wrote about their exchange.
“She asked us to keep in touch because she wanted to improve her written English, which was already really good,” Mrs Patterson said.
“So we kept in correspondence — me largely, because after the first one Bob leaves things to me.”
E-mail and Facebook followed. Ms Jansen arrived two weeks ago with her boyfriend Kevin Kooi to celebrate Mrs Patterson’s 79th birthday.
“I was very nervous,” the 26-year-old said. “We were standing at the baggage claim and Kevin said, ‘Relax’. I said, ‘I can’t’.”
Mrs Patterson added: “It was very exciting for Bob and me too. His face lit up. We’ve looked on her as an honorary granddaughter.”
She took them to Shelly Bay Beach that first afternoon and taught them to snorkel, an activity they continued almost daily.
“My family says that I have seawater in my veins,” said Ms Jansen, who is from Zeewolde.
“My grandfather was a captain and my father was sailing together with him when they came to the port of Rotterdam. My mother lived there and she came to visit my grandfather and that is how she met my father.
“I learnt to sail from my father and I used to go on sailing camps when I was a child. I really like it. I find it relaxing, the sound of the waves.”
Another sound perked up the ears of the Dutch native — Bermuda’s tree frogs.
“I heard them the first night and I said, ‘What is that sound? Is that birds?’” Ms Jansen remembered, touching a pair of silver tree frog studs in her ears.
“They explained to me what they are and then the next day Bob, me and Kevin went out to find one. They’re so cute. Afterwards we saw these in Dockyard and Helle bought them for me.”
Mr Patterson gave her necklaces made of his beach-found treasures. The caretaker for people with mental and physical disabilities insists she is “going to keep them for the rest of my life”.
“Now he has difficulty moving because of arthritis, but he’s always been a beachcomber,” Mrs Patterson said.
“He brings home whatever he finds. His shed is beautifully organised with jars of sea beans, seashells, various grains of sand, et cetera.”
Ms Jansen’s wasn’t the only message in a bottle Mr Patterson found. He discovered six between 1999 and 2005.
He and his wife wrote to each but one — a person who chucked a bottle off a Club Med cruise without giving a name or address.
“The first one, Carey Fitzpatrick, was sailing with her husband on their boat which they kept near where our daughter was living,” Mrs Patterson recalled.
“They got together for dinner with our daughter and her family.
“The Portuguese fisherman’s one was the most difficult. I had to find someone to translate the writing, which was already faded.
“Maxine Paetro was an interesting one because she was recovering from heartbreak. She drank a bottle every night and threw it into the ocean with a message. Bob found the last one ten years after she tossed it in.
“Quite a few of hers had been found. She was going between Central America and Spain. She wrote an article about it published in a New York magazine.
“[It] had faded so much with the wine left in the bottle that it needed our daughter’s scientific skills to work out enough of it to get online and find the New York addresses. That was quite a bit of detective work.”
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