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Bottle washed up in Bermuda prompts poignant meeting for visiting sailor

Reunited: Peter Wood is reunited with a memorial to his friend Fred Rothwell - discovered on a Bermuda beach by Gina Ingham after two years at sea (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

The close friend of a young sailor who loved Bermuda is taking a tribute in his memory back to his family, after a memorial in a bottle made an unlikely journey to the island.

Peter Wood, third engineer aboard The Pearl – the world’s biggest sailing boat – was reunited at the weekend with a message in memory of his late friend Fred Rothwell.

Gina Ingham found the bottle while walking her dogs along the shore at Tucker’s Town. She handed the memorial back to Mr Wood almost four years after he cast a picture of his friend into the sea on the other side of the Atlantic.

“Of all the places it could have washed up, it was here,” Mr Wood said, as he was presented with the document also bearing the e-mail addresses of Fred’s friends.

“Fred has been here. He spent quite a while here and he loved it. That’s why it’s so cool to see it wash up in Bermuda. His sister loves the story.”

Fred and Peter forged a tight bond along with Harry Adams and Andrew Hill when the four trained together for their yachtmaster certificate at the United Kingdom Sailing Academy on the Isle of Wight.

“We all qualified together,” Mr Wood said. “Weirdly enough, we all got a job together on the same boat.”

The four young men shipped out on the yacht of Sir James Dyson, the inventor of the vacuum cleaner that bears his name.

“The four of us got so close, we did everything together,” Mr Wood said. “We never left each other alone. We were best mates.”

Fred, from Bristol, was an outgoing and mischievous character who stood out in a crowd, he said.

“He lived every day to the full. Everyone loved him – we could go into a restaurant and he would get the whole place listening to his stories.”

But Mr Wood said the loneliness of the sailing life could also take its toll – and that Fred, plagued by depression, would ultimately take his own life when he was 22.

“No one knew he was suffering from depression,” Mr Wood said. “That’s why it was such a shock when we found out.”

Mr Wood was heading out from Barcelona at the time and had the idea of putting a memorial to his friend into the sea.

“We were sailing to the Caribbean. My girlfriend at the time said it was never going to wash up.”

Mr Wood recalled seeing a sea burial in progress at Gibraltar and “a huge storm on the horizon”.

“I said, we have to put a message out. Everyone agreed.”

The tribute to Fred went overboard near the Canary Islands in November 2019.

Two years later, Ms Ingham and her husband were walking their labradors on Windsor Beach.

She recalled: “I looked down and there it was – this bottle with a message.”

Unable to get the note out, they eventually broke the bottle and found the short tribute with the contact information for Fred’s three shipmates.

Mr Wood said he was sailing in the Mediterranean off the Balearic Islands when Ms Ingham’s message arrived.

“It was a very special moment,” he added.

Ms Ingham got an e-mail this month that the creator of the tribute would be arriving soon for his first visit to Bermuda.

Mr Wood described The Pearl as “like a little city”, with a crew of 26, whose captain was moved to tears on the bridge at the story of the message getting returned.

Ms Ingham said: “We have to stay in touch. It’s crazy that this is bringing us together.”

She said she planned to speak with Harry and Andrew and hoped one day to meet them all in Bermuda.

She called the meeting on Sunday “heart-warming and so amazingly bittersweet at the same time”.

Both marvelled that Fred’s memorial arrived on the island so well-preserved.

“It’s come about 3,000 miles,” Ms Ingham said.

Mr Wood received the tribute to his friend the day before The Pearl headed back out to sea.

“I have to come back some day with the other two guys,” he said. “Now this is going back to Fred’s sister.”

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Published March 29, 2023 at 6:26 am (Updated March 30, 2023 at 9:12 am)

Bottle washed up in Bermuda prompts poignant meeting for visiting sailor

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