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Cape Town -
When one thinks of a word to describe the captain of a submarine warship, “romantic” is probably not one that springs to mind.
But Commodore Darren White of the SA Navy is the first to admit he is a romantic. Two years ago, somewhere in the mid Atlantic, he wrote a message, put it in a bottle and threw it overboard, letting his imagination take him to all sorts of exotic places regarding where the bottle could eventually end up.
Never in his wildest dreams, he says, did he imagine the bottle would follow his submarine home, taking two years and at least 1 600 nautical miles to do so. Not quite home, as the submarine SAS Charlotte Maxeke is berthed in the naval dockyard in Simon’s Town, but almost there.
The bottle ended up about 20 nautical miles away across False Bay, on the shores of Pringle Bay.
“It’s quite extraordinary. I’m still trying to get my head around it,” White said on Tuesday. The bottle’s trans-Atlantic voyage began on November 27, 2010, when White tossed it into the sea at 40º south and 8º west.
The submarine and other SA Navy warships had been doing exercises with South American navies and were on their way home. Argentina was the host country.
“Argentina is known for its wine and beef, and we made sure we tasted a lot of it. I kept a wine bottle from a function we had while alongside in Argentina. I typed out the message, put a picture of the crew with it and put it in a plastic sleeve in the bottle. Everyone had a good chuckle at me when I threw it overboard.”
Fast forward to last Saturday, when Heinz Modricky of Somerset West was walking with his son from Pringle Bay towards Cape Hangklip. There was the usual amount of flotsam and jetsam on the shoreline, but then Modricky noticed the wine bottle with a cork in it and something inside.
“I said to my son: ‘Hey look there’s a message in the bottle’. I took photographs and then took it out. At first I was a bit disappointed because I thought it was just from Simon’s Town, but then I read where it had been dropped off, in the middle of the Atlantic, and I was amazed. It took two years and two months to get here,” Modricky said.
The typed message said: “Hello to whoever finds this. I have never done this before so am not sure of the result. Hopefully this bottle remains intact and travels several thousand miles to distant shores. My name is Darren White. I am the captain of the South African Submarine “SAS CHARLOTTE MAXEKE”. We are in transit back to South Africa from exercises in Argentina and Uruguay. This bottle was ditched in position 40’00’S 008’55.7W.”
White had put an e-mail address, but the blue ink had faded away. Modricky decided to put a post on the 4x4 forum website: “I do not have a contact for Darren. I’m sure he would like his bottle back! Anyone with contacts in the navy?” Someone saw it, contacted the navy and by Saturday evening Modricky had White’s cellphone number.
“I’m in my 50s and I have never found a message in a bottle in my life, but when I was in East London in the 60s, I also threw bottles with messages into the sea. I think everyone has a romantic notion about doing that,” Modricky said.
White is chuffed that Modricky has agreed to return the bottle. He has photographs the crew took of him throwing the bottle overboard and Modricky’s photographs of the bottle. He plans to put these in the submarine’s linebook, which records the life and times of the vessel. “Anything could have happened to that bottle. It could have sunk, or been smashed. But it came all this way back. If I stand here at work, I can look across the bay to the spot where it washed up.” - Cape Times