BROCKPORT, N.Y. (WROC) — What started as a 4th-grade class project in 2010, has now connected people across the world.
More than a decade ago, students at Hill Elementary School in Brockport decided they wanted to do a class project; write letters, put them in bottles, and ship them off to sea.
Teacher Christopher Albrecht said the project came about after a student did a report on a bottle that was found in the North Sea 25 years after it was launched from a cruise ship.
“All I could think is, ‘OK, we’re in Rochester, New York — how do you put bottles in the ocean?’” Albrecht said.
But that didn’t stop them.
After the students wrote their letters and Wegmans donated dozens of bottles, Albrecht’s late mother came to the rescue. She was living in the Outer Banks in North Carolina at the time and contacted a fishing boat captain.
“He was able to take them in March out into the Gulf Stream,” Albrecht said. “We realized through research in the classroom that if we just threw the bottles off a pier, they’re just going to wash back up on shore.”
In March of 2011, the fishing boat captain took the bottles out into the ocean and Albrecht’s students were able to watch from afar.
“We had our smart board in the classroom and we actually got to see his son throwing these bottles into the ocean live, which was really cool,” Albrecht said.
In total, 43 bottles were thrown into the sea that day, all with handwritten letters inside. In the following year, five of them would be found.
“About three months later up in Nova Scotia, a bottle was found, so about 900 miles away,” Albrecht said.
Nine months later, a bottle washed up in the Azores, a region in Portugal. Then another appeared in France, followed by one in Southern England and the final one in Portugal.
“The last one was found I think in December of 2012, so I figured it was over at that point,” Albrecht said.
But then, just weeks ago, he learned that another bottle had been found by a woman who was on vacation in the Bahamas. Her name was Kathy Dahn and she was from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“I had just gotten in and got to my little apartment and put my stuff away and went out for dinner,” Dahn said. “The tide was perfect for me to walk on the beach, so I went for a nice walk to a little area called Twin Cove.”
It was there Dahn saw a bottle laying on the shore. She didn’t think much of it at the time because the area can have a lot of trash.
“As I got closer, I was like, ‘It’s actually got a cork in it. Oh! There’s actually something in it,’” Dahn said.
She brought the bottle to her apartment, but she couldn’t get the papers out of the bottle. The next day, she ended up breaking it.
Inside the bottle was a letter from a former 4th grade Brockport student and contact information for Albrecht.
“I went after Chris first because he had all his information in that letter,” Dahn said. “I thought, what’s the chance of him still working at that school? And sure enough, he was still listed on the school thing.”
Upon hearing from Dahn, Albrecht was rightfully excited. He decided he would reach out to the student who wrote the letter: Jared Hardies.
When he received Albrecht’s call, Hardies was studying for his finals at Penn State. He is getting his undergrad in meteorology and had completely forgotten about the message until then.
“I always thought it was a really cool idea,” Hardies said. He recalled writing about activities and things that he enjoyed, like sports and video games.
“It was also a project designed for how to write a letter. So you had the greeting and the closing,” Hardies said. “But other than that, it was just like, ‘What are your hobbies? Who do you live with at home? That type of thing.”
Hardies said it was a pleasant surprise to hear his bottle was found and it meant a lot to him that Dahn reached out to him with a very thorough message.
“The way that she sounded, sounded like she really needed it, sounded like she used that as kind of a way of saying like, ‘Oh, the world is still good. There’s still some hope,’” Hardies said.
Albrecht said a bottle can travel 9 miles per day in the Gulf Stream, meaning this specific bottle could have traveled more than 60,000 miles in 11 years.
“I’m hopeful, this would be the coolest thing, that it went all the way across the Atlantic to Africa, and then made its way back down south, all the way up and around clockwise towards the Bahamas,” Hardies said, after doing his own research.
But no matter where the bottle went, or the route it took, those involved say it has made a difference.
“A bottle waiting 11 years is such … an almost refreshing, deep breath, good-feeling story,” Albrecht said. “It’s so different than the world we live in right now. It’s kind of got that iconic feel of yesteryear that we don’t necessarily have as much anymore.”
The project has now connected multiple people from all different walks and areas of life. In fact, Dahn has already invited both Hardies and Albrecht to visit her home in Nova Scotia.
“These little moments in life… I feel like I want to cry right now, just because it was so cool to make this connection with these people. I just almost feel like they’re just sort of a part of my world now,” she said.
The six letters found so far have all been written by former male students. However, all of them have been found by females.
There are possibly still 37 bottles still out there, waiting to be found, and ready to connect people from across the world.