Message in a bottle lands in Shishmaref after 50 years afloat
When Tyler Ivanoff of Shishmaref came upon a bottle while looking for firewood he was surprised to see a note inside it. The stopper was a plastic cork and it was hard to open. “I had to pull really hard,” said Ivanoff. “I used my teeth to really work it out.” There were grooves on the plastic to make it airtight. “It was still dry on the inside and still smelled like wine or whatever, old alcohol. The note was dry.” The handwriting on the scrap of paper was clear and legible.
“I took Russian in high school and recognized it as Russian,” Ivanoff said. “I could read the dates and numbers but couldn’t decipher it.” He had friends on Facebook who speak Russian so he turned to them for help. The note, in strong Russian cursive handwriting, read: “Sincere greetings! From the Russian Far East Fleet mother ship VRXF Sulak. I greet you who finds the bottle and request that you respond to the address Vladivostok -43 BRXF Sulak to the whole crew. We wish you good health and long years of life and happy sailing. 20 June 1969.”
The bottle had been “sailing” the oceans for 50 years.
Ivanoff is a teacher’s aide at the school and also coach of the Northern Lights basketball team, which finished third at state last year. He grew up in Elim and moved to Shishmaref four years ago. He estimated he was 20 miles west the village, looking for firewood when he spotted the bottle. “A lot of stuff washes up here up and down the coast,” he said. The bottle was pristine, no barnacles attached. “Like it was still new,” he described.
With the recent storm surge the water was four to six feet higher than normal and Ivanoff theorized the bottle might have come in on that. The area is popular with berry pickers so he guessed they would have spotted it earlier if it had been deposited there a long time ago. “My kids were pretty excited. They thought it was a treasure map from a pirate ship.”
Ivanoff posted a photo of the bottle and the note with the story on Facebook and the next day KTUU television called. They ran the story and then a day later Russian TV channel Rossiya 1 contacted him via Facebook messenger. The Russians sent a crew to the Vladivostok address found in the note. They rang the doorbell and the woman who answered said with much energy “That guy moved out 40 years ago!” But she was able to tell them his name. Thanks to the internet, the TV station’s crew managed to track him down at his home in Sevastopol. He is captain Anatoly Botsanenko. He welcomed the TV crew dressed in his captain’s uniform and showed them photos of the Sulak and of himself as a young man with his shipmates. He teared up as he displayed the photos to the reporter. Looking at a photo of the note on the reporter’s iPhone he said at first “That’s not my handwriting.” But then he decided it was his note. The news story ends with the Russian reporter writing his own “message to the future,” stuffing into a bottle, and throwing it into the sea.