Found after 19 years
A US couple will have a dream honeymoon in the Cayman Islands later this month courtesy of a message in a bottle thrown into the Caribbean Sea nearly 20 years ago.
Back in June, 1987 Robert Hamaty of Tortuga Rum Co., Mike Adam of Cayman Airways and Adrien Briggs of Sunset House set the ball rolling when 12 rum bottles were tossed in the ocean off Cayman shores. They each contained a voucher for a one-way Cayman Airways ticket to Cayman to claim a case of Tortuga Rum, with a stay at Sunset House.
This was a special promotion being tried out by the companies who threw the bottles overboard courtesy of boats provided by Mr. Attlee Bodden and Mr. Briggs.
Four people had claimed their prizes within 18 months, with the bottles found at South Padre Island in Texas, and it was assumed the other bottles were lost at sea.
But, incredibly, another one was discovered in April 2003 by Texas police officer John Reed while fishing near Conn Brown Harbor in Aransas Pass, Texas.
John explained to the Caymanian Compass that at the time he did not even know if the companies the vouchers represented would be still in business. However, he told his brother, Aron, about it, and as a reporter for the Taylor Daily Press in Texas, he called up Mr. Hamaty, interviewed him and did a story on it.
But although John now knew the vouchers were bona fide, he was not in any position to take a vacation at that time.
He offered up the bottle and vouchers to his parents, Bob and Judy, thinking it a nice 36th wedding anniversary present for them, but they were also not in a position to take a vacation and put it in a place for safe keeping.
Recently, while John and his fiancée Stephanie Smith were planning their wedding on a very tight budget, his parents suggested them using the message in the bottle. His dad got in touch with Mr. Hamaty and was told that the vouchers would still be honoured.
Twenty-six-year-old John is to wed 21-year-old Stephanie, a nurse’s assistant, in Texas on Friday, 21 July.
Stephanie had even taken a second job to help pay for the wedding.
The couple is now anxiously awaiting its grand prize.
”We can’t wait. We’re so excited we can hardly think about anything else,’ said John.
‘We’ve never been anywhere as beautiful as we heard it is there,’ he said over the phone from Texas.
Commenting on the outcome of this particular find, Mr. Hamaty said, ‘I think it’s fantastic, especially when destination weddings and honeymoons are such a big thing here now. I’m delighted because the Department of Tourism will get a big plug out of this in the wedding press,’ he said.
Cayman Airways has now upgraded the prize to two roundtrip tickets and Sunset House has extended the stay from three to five nights.
The couple will travel to Grand Cayman from Houston on Saturday 22 July. Transportation to and from the airport will be provided by the Department of Tourism, along with a special horse-drawn carriage ride, also courtesy of DoT, to Grand Old House for dinner (courtesy of the restaurant).
Other treats in store for the couple include dinner at Café Med (from Mr. Hamaty) and a DoT gift basket containing local products and crafts, which will be in their hotel room on arrival.
Reflecting on his wonderful find, John said, ‘I’ve never been a very lucky person. I’m not the kind who even wins money on scratch lottery cards, so it was just extremely lucky and I was truly blessed to find it’.
The bottles that were cast into the sea had been coated with liquid plastic and sealed with a special epoxy glue to safeguard the vouchers inside. Each contained a message typed on the Tortuga Rum Company’s letter head: ’12 Tortuga bottles were released today, Saturday 13 June, 1987, off the shores of Grand Cayman Island, British West Indies at exact position latitude N1920.5 longitude W8127.5 by the personnel of Cayman Airways, Sunset House Hotel, and Tortuga Rum Company. Best wishes to the finders from all of us!
‘Please return your bottle and state date and location found to claim your prize . . .’
Because Tortuga Rums were introduced into the US market for the first time this spring (and are now available in 20 states there), the importer, Majestic Distilling is arranging for a personal delivery to John in Texas. Another irony is that Mr. Hamaty’s son, Basil, is a First Officer for Cayman Airways and may be flying the Houston to Grand Cayman route that the Reeds will be taking on 22 July when they leave for their honeymoon.
Mr. Hamaty admits that when he was called in 2003 by Mr. Reed’s brother, he had almost forgotten about the bottles.
Of course, there are still seven out there somewhere. Who knows when and, if ever, the other prizes will be claimed.
‘If this one has survived after all this time, they were obviously very well sealed, and if not sunk or broken the others could turn up too,’ said Mr. Hamaty.
Just recently, a message in a bottle sent from Grand Cayman waters over two years ago was found 3,000 miles away across the Atlantic Ocean. It was found by a couple in Devon, England and was dropped in the sea off the coast of Cayman by a couple getting married here in May 2004.