Clint Buffington discovered the bottle in 2011, when it was nestled in the sand.
It was an overcast day in the Turks and Caicos, Buffington recalled. The ground was dotted with trash — “just a zillion empty bottles,” Buffington wrote in an email — and the glass bottle was flat on its side, partially buried in the dunes.
“I’m kind of surprised I even saw it,” Buffington said in an interview.
But he did. And Buffington took a closer look. That, he says, is when he noticed what was written on the note inside the bottle: “Look inside.”
“That was when my heart started racing I guess,” he said.
Buffington eventually broke the bottle open, revealing the note, which had been scratched out in pencil and contained a few clues: an address (419 Ocean); a name (Tina); a … the name of something? (Beachcomber, spelled incorrectly). Was it a place? Was it an object? The words “Return” and “reward” eventually became more clear, too, Buffington noted in an email.
Here, take a gander. In an email, Buffington said it basically reads: “Return to . . . at 419 Ocean Boulevard and resieve a reward of $150 from Tina owner of Beachcomer.”
Using the information on the note, Buffington worked to figure out who sent the bottle adrift in the Atlantic Ocean decades ago. And, he succeeded — tracing it to a woman whose family owned a New Hampshire motel called the Beachcomber.
Now, years after his initial discovery, the note Buffington found in that bottle has been returned to the family of the man who cast it into the waters.
“This is special because it brings back a piece of him, a piece of her, a piece of my childhood, a piece of the Beachcomber,” Paula Pierce, whose father sent out the bottle, told WMUR. “All of these things are very hard to lose.”
This is not the only message in a bottle that Buffington has unearthed. Actually, this is kind of his thing. Buffington has a website about it, and, he noted in an email, dreams about maybe turning his hobby into something more — a book, a show, whatever. The point is, he’s an experienced message-in-a-bottle hunter, so he knows how to do this.
That does not mean it was particularly easy.
Buffington started his search the same way everyone does, probably. On the Internet.
“I started Googling around,” he said. “And 419 Ocean Boulevard popped up in like, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Washington state, Oregon, California. Everybody has one.”
So he tossed the word “Beachcomber” into the search. That led him to New Hampshire, where a Beachcomber Motel appeared to be located in the town of Hampton. It wasn’t a particularly conclusive search, though, so Buffington said he made a call to the local Chamber of Commerce.
“I told them the whole story, they patiently listened to it,” he said.
Then, he said, the Chamber of Commerce sent him to the County Clerk’s office.
. . . Which sent him to the Tax Assessor’s office.
. . . Which directed him to a website, where Buffington could search property deeds. And that website led him to the names of Tina and Paul, Paula Pierce’s parents.
“And that was when I knew I was on to something,” he said.
(See? This was not easy.)
Buffington connected with Paula Pierce years ago, but never actually got to return the note. He didn’t want to mail it, he said, in case catastrophe struck.
“Just imagine that was your parents that had been gone for 20, 30 years, and some guy, some stranger, shows up and says, ‘you thought you were never going to hear from your parents again but here they are, and I’ve got their last letter that anyone’s going to have, and yeah, I’m just going to drop that in the mail and we’ll see what happens,’ ” Buffington said. “Can you imagine? Absolutely not.”
He kept the glass shards from the bottle in a box in his home and framed the note. Then, this month, he finally met Pierce and returned her father’s message.
“It was everything I hoped it would be and a lot more, to be honest,” he said. “What I hoped for going into that meeting, I think, is what I always hope for, which is to make a lifelong friend. And I think that’s exactly what happened.”
Pierce in 2011 told CBS Boston that the note was “like being contacted from the past.”
The station reported:
Paula’s parents passed away years ago. She misses them terribly and thinks there may be a bigger reason the bottle finally surfaced now.
“That gave me chills today. I actually started to cry,” she said. “I feel like they’re sending me a message somehow.”
According to the station, the message was written sometime between 1960 and 1980. The Beachcomber, the motel mentioned in the note, has since been sold, reported WMUR, an ABC affiliate.
The note, which Pierce reportedly believes was written by her father as a joke, offered a reward for the person who returned it — $150, which Pierce did give to Buffington. He has some big plans for that money, he said. He’s going to spend it to treat his new pal, Paula.
“I don’t want to live in a world full of strangers,” Buffington said, when asked what he hoped people took away from the story of the message. “It’s so easy, because of how busy life is, and because of how many of us there are, it’s so easy to just not care about what’s going on around us. It’s easy to let people be strangers and to let them not matter.
“I’ve been really lucky that I have this thing that allows me to open the door and connect with people that I would never have any reason or right to connect with otherwise. That’s been really lucky for me.”