The Longest Journey

A school girl’s ocean-going message in a bottle arrives in Tullytown on the Delaware River tide.

The distance between Garwood near the coast of northern New Jersey and Bucks County is 60 miles. Driving time is about 90 minutes. For 8-year-old Kimberly Castro, the journey took years. What she did is something I dreamed of as a child: Put a message in a bottle, toss it in the ocean and hope someone finds it and gets in touch. I thought how neat it would be to tell Kim, now 30, that her bottle has been found.

Leroy Blum with the bottle with a message he found in Tullytown Cove on the Delaware River.

You can imagine the look on Leroy Blum’s face when he retrieved the sealed root beer bottle resting on the tidal flat of Tullytown Cove, a small boat harbor of the Delaware River estuary. Leroy was on his morning constitutional with his collie Kramer before opening his auto repair shop. Unsnapping the bottle’s cap, Leroy nudged free a note written by young Kimberly, dated Sept. 27, 1995:

“Kimberly Castro. Lincoln-Franklin School, 2nd Ave., Garwood, NJ 07027

“I have a dog and a rabbit. I am 8 years old. My birthday is September 30. I have a brother! My hobby is collecting Pogs.

“This is me. (sketch) This is my friend. (sketch of another girl)

“PS, if you find this, please write me.”

Leroy’s first instinct was to alert local media with the “right credentials” to reach out to Kim. No one, however, expressed interest though the bottle had been afloat for five years. So Leroy placed it with its note on a curio shelf in his garage where it sat for the next 17 years. Rich Hart, former Tullytown tax collector, was at the shop recently and noticed the bottle. Rich and wife Bernadette caught up to me at Café Ferraro in Fairless Hills and passed it to me. Intrigued, I talked to Leroy, then set out to find Kimberly – if I could.
I contacted Darlene Lipsett, administrative assistant at Lincoln-Franklin. She confirmed Kim attended the school near Staten Island but had moved away. Darlene said she’d try to find her.

In the meantime, I wondered how Kim’s bottle could have bobbed for 5 years heading south in the Atlantic when the prevailing Gulf Stream is north. For instance, a bottle with a message launched from Sandy Hook, N.J. in May ended up on the coast of Newfoundland in October. Is it possible Kim’s bottle bobbed south 150 miles to the Delaware River, then floated on the tide 120 miles upriver to Tullytown?

Kate Schmidt, communications specialist for the Delaware River Basin Commission, told me it was scientifically plausible “given the length of time and the bottle being at the mercy of tides and currents, freshwater flows (when in the estuary) and storm surge.”

Kimberly as she appeared at the time she launched her bottle in the Atlantic Ocean.

A week after Kim set her bottle adrift the remnants of Category 4 Hurricane Opal hit North Jersey, perhaps redirecting her message. Also the strongest Nor’easter of the 20th Century clobbered the Jersey coast two months later. Nevertheless, strong ocean currents normally rule. A bottle containing a note to a lover set adrift in 1985 from Nova Scotia crossed the Atlantic on the Gulf Stream, entered the Mediterranean and washed up on a beach in Croatia having traveled 4,000 miles in 18 years. Sometimes, as in Kim’s case, bottles linger in the neighborhood. For instance, British private Thomas Hughes in 1914 sealed a message to his wife and year-old daughter in a ginger bottle and tossed it into the English Channel from his troop transport in World War I. Two days later he died in France. Steve Gowan found the bottle in 1999 while fishing on the Channel coast. He was able to track Hughes’ wife to New Zealand and delivered the note to the soldier’s then 84-year-old daughter Emily Crowhurst: “Dear Wife, I am writing this note on this boat and dropping it into the sea just to see if it will reach you. . . . look after it well. Ta ta sweet, for the present. Your Hubby.”

For me, there will be no need to float this column on the worldwide web in hopes of finding Kimberly Castro. Darlene located her last week, noting she’s “very excited.” Kim subsequently called me from her home in East Brunswick, N.J. “It’s amazing,” she said. “I still can’t believe someone found my letter. It’s brought back so many childhood memories. I was on a class trip and had read about a message in a bottle in a book or seen it in a movie. I believe we were at Sandy Hook. I think it was there I wrote the message with the sketch of me and my friend Megan. I put it in the bottle, sealed it and tossed it in the ocean. I was hoping another little girl would find it and we would be pen pals. Maybe even meet in person one day.”

Kim never dreamed 22 years would pass. In that time, she graduated from high school, attended college in North Carolina, gotten married and now works as senior representative for New York Life Insurance Company in Edison, N.J. As for Leroy, he’s ecstatic to learn the news. He’s now preparing a FedX delivery of the message in its bottle to complete its incredible voyage back to where it all began. Amazing!

Sources include “Message in a bottle: 10 famous floating note discoveries” by Gina McKeon published on April 29, 2014 by ABC Australia.