In search of a message in a bottle

Wednesday May 16, 2018 Published in Letters to the Editor
An example of the type of bottle that was dropped in the ocean from the British yacht Debenhams in 1977 and supposedly found somewhere in the Cook Islands in 1999. 18051501 An example of the type of bottle that was dropped in the ocean from the British yacht Debenhams in 1977 and supposedly found somewhere in the Cook Islands in 1999. 18051501

Dear Editor,

In 1977-78, I was a member of the crew of the British yacht Debenhams, participating in the second Whitbread Round the World Race (these days called the Volvo Ocean Race), joining a fleet of 14 other participants. The yachts raced Portsmouth - Cape Town - Auckland - Cape Horn - Rio - Portsmouth.

One of Debenhams’ sponsors for the race was Fonseca Port, based in Portugal. Along the route, after polishing off a bottle of Fonseca Bin 27 port in the evening, the crew would write their latitude and longitude on a waxed message, place it in the bottle and drop it over the side. Finders were promised three gift bottles of Fonseca Bin 27!

I would like to mention at this point that I still sail, mostly in the gulf islands of British Columbia in the Pacific North West and these days I wouldn’t dream of dropping even a pull tab or cork over the side! I’m well aware of the terrible pollution problem in the Pacific and do regret our contribution to it 40 years ago! How our awareness of Mother Earth’s fragility has changed!

From the entire 30,000-mile voyage around the world, only one bottle was ever reported to Fonseca.

According to Metzenforff, the London-based British agent for the Portuguese Fonseca Company, Fonseca received either a letter or an email from someone in the Cook Islands describing the finding of the bottle in 1999.

According to a chart of South Pacific Ocean currents, for a bottle to be carried from Debenhams’ 1977-78 course between Auckland and Cape Horn, it would have circled almost the entire South Pacific before landing in the Cook Islands.

The record of that letter or email describing the find has unfortunately since been lost, but it has been recalled that the discovery of the bottle in the Cook Islands occurred around the time of the America’s Cup series in Auckland, during the period when the trials for the 2000 America’s Cup were held in late 1999.

This week on May 18, myself and six other members of the original Debenhams crew, including owner/skipper John Ridgway and his wife Marie-Christine, will convene in Inverness, Scotland, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our voyage.

I arranged this reunion from my home on Vancouver Island, Canada, and would love to be able to report on the fate of one of the many bottles we dropped overboard during our 30,000-mile circumnavigation 40 years ago. It would be a marvellous addition to our reunion celebration!

The only one I’ve heard of is the bottle that Fonseca recalls being reported from the Cook Islands in 1999.

If there is anyone in the Cook Islands who may have heard of a Fonseca Port bottle washing ashore in the islands, please contact me at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Thanking you in advance,

            Peter Brand

            Crew member

            Yacht Debenhams, 1977-78

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