Back in the 1960s, Mark Atwood, a 16-yr-old boy from America sailed to England with his father who was stationed at RAF Ruislip. For a bit of fun, Mark decided to write a note, secure it in a bottle with a postcard and throw it overboard.
Twenty years later, a local Solent fishing company dredged up the bottle. A family-run business, they took it home and it went off with a bang as it hit the table and out popped the note and a postcard. Back then it was not easy to locate people, but fast-forward to now and the next generation has taken the matter in hand. Their daughter, Johanna Ash, has located Mark, now 71-yrs-old.
Here are some excerpts from their correspondence:
JOHANNA – “Let me introduce myself. My name is Johanna Ash and I live in a little town called Lee-on-Solent. I have lived here most of my life. I am hoping this story would bring a smile to people and hold some history.
We posted your note on a website called ‘Home Base’ and I subsequently received a Facebook message from your brother who put me in touch with yourself.
I was so excited to find out that you were still alive. I and many other people would love to hear your story of the journey that brought you to the UK and the thought behind the message in a bottle.
I look forward to hearing from you.”
MARK – “Where do I start? I must say that yesterday was a day of disbelief! My little note in the bottle that was tossed overboard on a whim has come back to jog my memory. OMG to say the least. I am smiling as I type this letter to you. Who would have thought…?
When my dad was relocated to England in the 1960s, my Mom had a fear of flying. Consequently, we always came to and from England via a ship. The first 4 trips were by military small ships and seasickness was the norm for the 5–6-day trip across the Atlantic to Southampton. The SS United States was pure luxury. Being a military family, we were designated as regular passengers compared to the first-class passengers in the upper decks. My brother and I managed to befriend a couple of the ships stewards who allowed us to pass through the gates that separated us and we had the run of the ship as long as we didn’t get into mischief. I guess writing messages, securing them in a watertight bottle and tossing them overboard is as old as sailing. Heck, when you are trapped on a ship, what better way to have some fun? You never know where the bottle might end up. I was such a dreamer back then. Now I realize that there is too much bottle weight for the small area in the bottle to be kept buoyant. The end result… a quick dive to the bottom where years later your dad dredged it up. AMAZING!
The letter and postcard are yours to keep. Finders’ keepers as they. Treasure it. Share the story as I am doing on this side of the Atlantic.”
JOHANNA – “My parents used to have their own fishing boat and dredge for oysters just outside the shipping lanes just off the Fawley power station. I was working at my first job when they found the bottle and hated going out on the boat because it was boring and there was no toilet!”
MARK – “You asked what to do with the message in the bottle. Maybe you could donate it to the S.S. United States Conservancy? The ship is moored in a berth on the Delaware River in Philadelphia…just 60 miles South of Nazareth. The intention is to restore the ship to its past grandeur and convert it to a museum. It would be the perfect place for the message and postcard to be displayed. I wrote it on a whim, your father found it quite by chance, you are the current caretaker. It is definitely a piece of the ship’s history. Together the two of us could donate and share it for future generations of people to read and ponder what happened to the bottle under the Solent for all those years before being recovered.”