On a beautiful June evening in 1982, James White of Fairfax County was aboard his 40-foot sloop Cricket, sailing between Annapolis and Bermuda. Having just shared some rum with the crew, White tossed the empty Mount Gay bottle over the rail, with a message stashed inside.
The message, scrawled on a piece of spiral notebook paper, gave the Cricket's exact location, about 500 miles due east of Cape Hatteras, or about a day's sail from Bermuda:
"Yacht Cricket. Bermuda Ocean Race 1982. 33-degrees, 29-minutes, 45-seconds; 66-degrees, 39-minutes, 90-seconds. For $50 reward, mail this and location found to Cricket, 8651 Black Forest Circle, Fairfax, Va."
Over the years, White, a 48-year-old advertising executive and veteran ocean racer, had thrown lots of bottles into the ocean.
"I always thought 'Maybe someday, one of these things will turn up,' " White said. But, none ever did.
Until last week.
"I received a note from the post office that they had a registered letter for the Cricket," White said.
"At first, I thought it was a friend who had sailed on the Cricket because, well, I've had a lot of crew over the years," White explained.
"But it was an air mail letter, with stamps and cancellations all over it. It was obviously from a foreign country. And, then, in big letters that looked rather childlike, was the name 'Cricket' across the front.
"As soon as I saw that, it hit me -- it had to be one of my bottles from somewhere."
The letter was in Spanish, printed on a blue-lined school tablet:
"I, Fernando Aristides Ortiz, was fishing off Salina Chica Beach, Montecristi, Republica Dominica, when I encountered a crystal bottle containing the paper and message, and I had it translated into Spanish.
"The message that I would be compensated if I returned it in your direction. I'm very happy I have found you. With affection for you -- Aristides Ortiz."
Accompanying the letter was White's original message, now faded and ragged, as well as a note saying Ortiz had found the bottle on Feb. 3, 1985.
As near as White can figure, the Mount Gay bottle, capped with its original red plastic top, must have floated more than 1,250 miles to reach the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, near the Haitian border, where Fernando Aristides Ortiz found it.
Perhaps, White said, it was the red top that caught the eye of the person who found it.
Kevin Leaman of the University of Miami's Dorothy H. and Lewis Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, said yesterday that such an incident would not be considered rare -- especially given the prevailing current.
The currents are "quite weak off Bermuda, but if there is any dominant direction, it tends towards the southwest," he said.
As for why the bottle took so long to reach Ortiz, Leaman said that it might have become trapped off Bermuda in the lazy, circular currents of the Sargasso Sea, which is known for its abundance of brown seaweed.
Still, White is surprised the bottle never broke. "It's incredible that the thing would bound around in the Atlantic for 2 1/2 years, then suddenly surface. It really took me aback, especially when I saw the letter."
Wednesday afternoon, as promised, James White of the ocean racing sloop Cricket sent Fernando Aristides Ortiz of Montecristi, Dominican Republic, a registered check for $50.