Shishmaref, Alaska, a tiny island in the Bering Strait and home to fewer than 600 people, is closer to mainland Russia than San Francisco, California. Still, it took almost 50 years to the day for a Russian sea captain’s message to find land there. On August 5, 2019, Shishmaref School employee Tyler Ivanoff posted to Facebook, “I found a message in a bottle today. Any friends that are Russian translators out there?” After the post was shared more than 1,500 times, and with a little help from Russia-1 reporters, the note’s author, a Soviet-era sea captain, got the reply he was waiting for.
Watch the video for yourself! Note that the English translation occurs a few minutes in.
Cold War Climate
The Pacific Ocean has long been filled with military, fishing and shipping traffic. Though sent at the height of the Cold War, Captain Anatoliy Prokofievich Botsanenko’s greeting was a friendly one:
“Sincere greetings! From the Russian Far East Fleet mother ship VRXF Sulak. I greet you who finds the bottle and request that you respond to the address Vladivostok -43 BRXF. Sulak to the whole crew. We wish you good health and long years of life and happy sailing.”
Since it had been so long since he sealed up the bottle, the 83-year-old Botsanenko, now living in Sevastopol, was unsure he was the author. Once reporters showed him his own handwriting from June 20, 1969, he cried tears of disbelief that his message was found half a world away. Botsanenko was not only captain of the vessel, but oversaw its construction. He explained to Russian media that it was a tradition for sea captains to launch bottled notes upon the commission of a new ship.
According to Time, at 33, Botsanenko was once the youngest sea captain in the Pacific, from 1966 to 1970 when he manned the Sulak. The Soviet sailor wept when Russia-1 reporters explained that the Sulak had been sold for scrap metal decades ago. The Sulak, part of a fishing fleet, was home to many good memories for Botsanenko, including nights filled with singing, camaraderie, and Japanese wine.
The Ivanoff family was collecting firewood and picking berries when they found the green glass artifact along the shore. The seal on the bottle was airtight, preserving the parchment and ink perfectly, and Ivanoff had to use his teeth to loosen the cap. Once he did, as he told the Associated Press, he smelled the distinct aroma of old wine. Ivanoff’s children were excited that there might be a treasure map inside.
Though Ivanoff has been excited by the amount of attention his discovery has generated, he is not sure he will craft his own message in a bottle. The reach and speed of the Internet makes such gestures almost obsolete. Still, Ivanoff may encourage his children to send their own messages and see where they end up.
For Botsanenko, he has been heartened by the response to his transmission and relishes the memories it has brought up. While he remembers his time with his fellow sailors, the attention has also made him think of his late wife, who was not always fond of his collections from his time on the high seas. Coincidentally, Russia-1 reporters reached out to him on his late wife’s birthday.
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