From Montauk to France in Nine Years

A message in a bottle crosses the Atlantic
The message in a bottle cast out to sea in 2008 by Eric Perez, then a Montauk student, washed up on the shores of Normandy, France, in late August. Courtesy of La Presse de la Manche 9

The French newspaper La Presse de La Manche in Normandy recently ran this headline: “Une bouteille a la mer retrouvée a Glatigny: le message envoyé des Etats-Unis date de 2008!”

Even if one does not speak French, the exclamation point at the end expresses the wonder of the story: A bottle was found along a beach in the Normandy region in northwestern France containing a message that had been sent from the United States in 2008. 

A 13-year-old girl, enjoying a seafront stroll with her father at the end of August, spotted the bottle. According to the newspaper report, the neck of the bottle was covered in barnacles but the girl could see that there was a scroll of paper inside.  

Carefully extracting the note, the family found a still-intact and legible message, typed in English by a 10-year-old named Eric, who identified himself as a fifth grader at the Montauk School and the date as Dec. 23, 2008. Casting the bottle to sea was part of a science lesson on ocean currents, Eric wrote. The note included the email address of his teacher, Sue Nicoletti, should the bottle ever be found.

Unfortunately, young Eric had added an extra letter to his teacher’s email address and the French family’s attempts to contact her were unsuccessful. They first took the bottle to the tourism office in the seaside town of Portbail, where they were vacationing and then contacted the local newspaper. Chrismael Marchand, a reporter, eventually tracked down the Montauk teacher.

Ms. Nicoletti retired in 2012 after 28 years at the Montauk School and currently works with the Wellness Foundation, teaching at the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center in East Hampton and other schools about making healthy choices with food. Shortly after the school year began in September, Ms. Nicoletti said she was surprised and thrilled to receive an email from the French newspaper, with the published story. Although it was in French, she said she was able to piece together the facts, especially that the bottle had journeyed approximately 3,350 miles.

During a phone call, Ms. Nicoletti recalled the day in 2008 when her fifth graders wrote notes and sealed each bottle with wax. “There were about 20 students in class,” she said, “and we gave all the bottles to the captain of Nolan’s Sea Capture, a fishing boat in Montauk. He took them about 100 or 120 miles out to sea and dropped them into the Gulf Stream.” A few years ago, said Ms. Nicoletti, another of her students from the same class had her bottle discovered in Ireland, though there appears to be no news coverage about it. In addition, over 15 years ago, she remembered that another message in a bottle was discovered in France, also sent by a Montauk student. “It’s all about the Gulf Stream,” said the teacher. “If we cast them off the beach, they simply float right back.”

Eric Perez, an East Hampton High School graduate in 2016, was the author of the 2008 note found in Normandy. Today, he is a sophomore at the State University at Oswego, studying wellness management and athletic coaching, and competes on the university’s track team. On the phone, Eric said he had completely forgotten about the science experiment but the details of writing the letter and sealing the bottle all came back after he heard that it had been found in France. He remembers how hopeful he was that day that someone, somewhere would find his message.