Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Casting Hopes And Dreams To Sea In A Bottle

Capt. Sean Bercaw has thrown hundreds of messages in bottles into the ocean, and received dozens of responses. It started when he was just a child.

"I was born into a family with this crazy dream of sailing around the world," he tells NPR's Neal Conan. At age 10, he and his family set off on a three-and-a-half-year voyage around the world. It was on that trip that he got the idea to put notes in bottles.

"It was a little challenging because neither of my parents drinks," says Bercaw. So he'd sleuth around the backs of bars to find suitable vessels for his sea-bound missives, then cast them into the ocean. He estimates he sent off about 40 bottles during that voyage, and heard back from two people who found them.

The first one floated in the Atlantic Ocean for several months before winding up in the hands of a young boy in Central America. And the second floated to Grenada. "A young woman found it, and her response ... was funny because I was only 13 at the time, and her response [was] almost in the form of a love letter. ... She described herself, and her height and I like to dance and so on. So it's quite amusing."

Later in life, Bercaw joined the Navy and kept his messages-in-bottles experiment alive, throwing more than 250 into the ocean. His notes became a bit more formal, mentioning that he was working on a school ship and conducting an experiment, and promising a reward to anyone who responded.

Once, on two consecutive days in the Atlantic, Bercaw released bottles less than 50 miles apart. A year-and-a-half later, one made its way ashore in France. The second took more than 10 years, but also landed in France. "That's one of the things I really enjoy about the project," says Bercaw. "The ocean is very fickle at times."

Tell us: Have you ever released a message in a bottle, or found one?

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit