Ocracoke School message in a bottle found its way two years later onto a beach in Portugal. Photo posted on Facebook by Elena Bretan

By Connie Leinbach

For the last several years, Charles Temple, Ocracoke high school’s English teacher, has awaited the discovery of one of many bottles he has cast into the ocean on behalf of graduating seniors.

This year his wait was rewarded when a “message in a bottle” from one of the 2020 Ocracoke School seniors washed up on a beach in Portugal – more than 3,000 mile away.

Elena Bretan posted on her Facebook page on Dec. 20 that the bottle was found in Portugal, Setúbal, Tróia, on Dec.17.

“The message came in a bottle all the way from the Gulf Stream. Good luck everyone,” she wrote.

In response to Ocracoke School’s appreciative post, Bretan wrote: “We were also very glad to have found this message across the Atlantic Ocean … and we enjoyed sharing this experience with the managers of this event!! Wonder!!! Thank you!!!”

Temple explained that every year he does this for the seniors. They typically aren’t that excited about it, he said, because it’s the end of the school year.

“They’ve basically checked out,” he said. “So, I put together a model for each senior and write a little note about who the student is and send it on out there.”

Temple never expected anyone to find one of his bottles.

“I thought it was possible, but I certainly didn’t count on it,” he said.

But just in case, he included instructions how to get in touch with him in English, French and Portuguese.

“The three places (a bottle is) likely to wash up is on the southern shore in the UK or Ireland, the western shore of France or Portugal,” he said. “Those are where the currents tend to find land.”

Ernie Doshier, captain of the fishing charter “The Gecko,” during a fishing trip drops them into the Gulf Stream.

Ironically, the note Bretan found was the one Temple did for Doshier’s son Alan.

He usually doesn’t log it but he knows exactly where he threw this batch.

“One hundred fathoms, three miles southeast of Ocracoke in 630 feet of water,” Doshier said.

Dropping bottles in the Gulf Stream gives them a chance of going somewhere.

“We’d just find them up in Hatteras if we threw them off beach here,” Temple said.

Typically, the event occurs on graduation day, but not always.

“It’s sort of a nice send-off, even if the kids don’t realize it, or if I tell them and they don’t listen,” he said. “It’s a nice little coda to their senior year.”

He was talking to the Class of 2023 about this before Christmas break.

“I hope there’ll be more excitement now that this has popped up,” he said about the find.

However, he said research shows that, if it will happen at all, it takes about two years for a bottle thrown in the Gulf Stream here to wash up on a European shore.

“So, there’s no instant gratification,” he said. “It just takes as long as it takes.”

While he recognizes that he’s littering in the ocean, he hopes his project is somewhat “green.”

“To my thinking, what I’m throwing in there is a little bit of cork, which is natural and will eventually biodegrade, a little bit of paper, which will meltaway should it get broken and some glass that will eventually grind back into sand,” he said. “So, we’re not throwing any plastic over, keeping it fairly ocean consumable, I guess, so I palliate my conscience that way.”

Temple uses wine bottles with corks and then he melts some candle wax to seal the cork to keep the note dry.

This is proof of concept, he noted about the condition of the note.

“This one getting there dry was proof that that worked — at least once,” he said. “I was delighted to see it didn’t seem like it had been damaged over the years.”

Of course, there could be one sitting up on a piece of beach somewhere that somebody found and just chucked in the trash.

“That’s kind of the fun thing about it,” he said. “I do my own part sending it out there, but then it’s kind of up to the rest of the world and send it back.”

To read a story about a message in a bottle found on Ocracoke beach in 2021, click here.

A Google map shows where Troia, Portugal, is located.
A graphic depiction of the ocean currents, by Dana Savidge, courtesy of the Coastal Studies Institute in Wanchese, Dare County.
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  1. We did this years ago at Ocracoke School with Murray Fulcher putting the bottles over for us, I think.
    As I recall the bottle that was found, also in Portugal, was written and sealed by Charles O’Neal,
    David Senseney

  2. Very much like his students, these little bottles are hatchlings making their own way through the currents of life………

  3. What a wonderful story!! The beginning of a novel for those 8 seniors about where the current will carry them. And that it was the 2020 graduating class makes this epic.

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