By Helen Riddell
A TEACHER at a US school was thrilled to be told recently that a message in a bottle, sent by one of her pupils thirteen years ago, had finally found land.
Despite the 3,500km of Atlantic Ocean separating Castletownbere in West Cork and Beaufort in North Carolina, the two coastal towns recently became unexpectedly linked.
Castletownbere siblings Sinead, Juileann and Fionn Murphy found a message in a bottle which had been placed in the sea by pupils from Beaufort Middle School in North Carolina, thirteen years ago.
After the discovery, the Southern Star contacted the school in the US to let them know their bottle had finally found a destination – well over a decade later.
And Janet McLendon, a now-retired Instructional Technology Facilitator at Beaufort Middle School told how, in 2003, twenty pupils from Rastrick High School, in Brighouse, Yorkshire, travelled to Beaufort Middle School with their teacher Peta Godfrey, as part of a school exchange trip.
Speaking to the Southern Star last week, Janet recalled the positive effect the exchange programme had on her students. ‘Of the twenty students we first took to England, all but two had never flown before, most had never been out of North Carolina, and all but one had never been out of the USA. Since their trip, several have travelled abroad, so it was a real life-changing experience.”
Beaufort pupils had been studying the effects of the Gulf Stream and when the students from Yorkshire came to visit, they all placed messages in bottles, releasing them into the ocean to see how far they would travel.
When they didn’t hear from anyone, they placed another set of bottles in the ocean during a further exchange visit from Rastrick High School in 2007, which again didn’t elicit a response.
With the project virtually forgotten about, both Janet and school principal Cathy Tomon were amazed to hear last week about the Castletownbere children’s discovery. ‘This is so exciting for me as school principal, and our school, that this has been found after all these years,’ said Janet.
The similarities between the two towns – now linked by this sea-worthy bottle – are, at times, startling.
Founded in 1709, and located on North Carolina’s inner banks region, Beaufort is one of the oldest towns in North Carolina. Originally called Fishtowne, it was inhabited mainly by fishermen and whalers. However, the town was also plagued by pirates, and a shipwreck belonging to the infamous pirate Blackbeard, lies on a sandbar near Beaufort. Though once heavily dependent on the fishing industry, the industry is now in decline. Janet remembers the town the way it was when she was young: ‘Our water front would be full of fishing vessels, four or five abreast. There are now so many regulations, that it has put most of our small fisherman out of business. Beaufort was pretty much untouched until the 1970s. All of a sudden visitors started buying waterfront property, now the fishing vessels have been replaced with large yachts, and the old net houses with large homes.”
Although all of the Beaufort students involved in the project in 2003 have now graduated from high school, with most going onto college afterwards, Janet plans to contact them to tell them their message in a bottle has finally been found – 3.500km away in a small fishing town, called Castletownbere.