Message in a bottle mystery: From Long Beach to Florida in 24 days

Four days before Mother's Day, college student Brittany Wood, accompanied by her younger sister, tossed a bottle containing a message into the waters off Long Beach.

Wood, 20, gave it a couple of shots "to get it past the current," said her mother, MaryJoy Springman, 42, of East Meadow.

On Saturday -- 24 days later -- Wood got a call from Russ Weseman, who said he and his wife had been picking up seashells on the beach and came across the bottle.

Wood's sister, Kaylin, 15, said her reaction was, "Oh my God, someone found the bottle -- where?" thinking it was on Jones Beach or maybe the Jersey Shore.

Turns out it was Sanibel Island off Florida's west coast where Weseman, 41, and his wife were vacationing.

And therein lies the mystery. Just how did a bottle get from Long Beach to Sanibel, roughly 1,300 nautical miles away?

Don't look to ocean currents, which would have been "impossible" in that time frame, said Charles N. Flagg, research professor in Stony Brook University's school of marine and atmospheric sciences. Indeed, the natural route would have taken it across the Atlantic and back in a time frame that he estimates would be around 3 to 8 years.

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The sisters and Weseman, perfect strangers up to this point, say they are baffled.

Weseman, a photographer with KMSP FOX 9 in Minneapolis-St. Paul, said that on reading the message, which included a rhyme and Wood's contact information, his first thought was that the Long Islander must have tossed the bottle into the ocean while on a vacation in Florida. As for theories he might have on the bottle's speedy trip south, he said, "I really don't" have any.

"Something definitely happened in between," said Kaylin Wood, when told that the ocean current route had pretty much been ruled out. As for any options, she said, "I have no idea." She's the one who, on a trip to Savannah, Ga., picked the bottle out as a souvenir gift for her sister.

"We didn't think it was going to go anywhere" other than perhaps sinking or washing back to shore, Kaylin said. "This isn't a movie. It's not a book," and "it really is kind of mind-blowing" to think it wound up in Florida.

As for Flagg, he said his take for the most likely answer is that "it got on a plane," meaning that "most probably someone was having fun" and gave the bottle a lift south.

Indeed, some well-intentioned person could have found the bottle on Long Island and decided "to help it on its way" by some other transportation means, which is a tradition among beachcombers, said Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer based in Seattle. In most cases, bottles wash right back to the shores from which they're tossed, said Ebbesmeyer, co-author of "Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man's Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science."

The scenario is "so mysterious and so fun," said Wood, a psychology major at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Regardless of the mystery, the bottle has been sent on its way, as Weseman said that after conferring with Wood he added his own note with his name and contact information and tossed the bottle right back into the waters off Sanibel.

Both he and the sisters say they look forward to hearing from the person who finds it next, wherever that may be. (And, however it gets there.)

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