Susan Cordell and Amy Beth Heinkel were bored young junior high girls in 1975 when they wrote two notes, sealed them in a green wine bottle and tossed the bottle into the seawater off Port …
Susan Cordell and Amy Beth Heinkel were bored young junior high girls in 1975 when they wrote two notes, sealed them in a green wine bottle and tossed the bottle into the seawater off Port Townsend.
"If found please write" says one of the notes.
Some 40 years later, their request was answered.
Mikki Stazel was beachcombing along the Gulf of Alaska on April 4, 2015, looking for debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami, when she found the bottle.
The discovery has people from Port Townsend to Hawaii to Mountlake Terrace to Alaska talking and remembering and wondering how the bottle got from here to there.
Bonnie Roskin, Susan Cordell's mother, shared the adventure of the find, documented in a series of emails between her, Cordell, Stazel and Kevin Easley, who was with Stazel in Alaska where she found the bottle.
It all brought back memories for Roskin, who has lived in Port Townsend off and on since the 1970s.
“I have a vague recollection that we were down at the deli at the Town Tavern,” said Roskin last week. “I have a picture of us all sitting there and Amy joined us and then Amy and Susan went out with a bottle that they probably got from the deli at the Town Tavern.”
Roskin said Cordell would have been age 13 and Heinkel age 11.
Back then, the girls liked to make cookies on the weekend, she remembered. Roskin thinks the girls might have been hanging around making cookies on a drizzly summer day when they got bored and took a bottle “and decided to go out and try this romantic thing out of an old book.”
One of the notes in the bottle is nothing more than a receipt for the Port Townsend junior high magazine sales drive.
The other note, written on a deli receipt, says, "Howdy, me Susan Cordell & Amy Heinkel decided to put a note in this bottle. If found please write to 639 Port Townsend Wash 98368."
That's the address of what used to be the Town Tavern pub and eatery in the N.D. Hill Building at the corner of Water and Quincy streets downtown. The former tavern space is now home of Conservatory Coastal Home, while Water Street Hotel is upstairs.
The way Roskin tells it, the girls probably walked to a choice spot and threw the bottle in the water. “And then it floated to Japan and then Alaska and got buried in the sand,” Roskin said of one possible trip the bottle may have taken.
Kevin Easley and his girlfriend, Mikki Stazel, were looking for tsunami debris on Okalee Spit, a finger beach jutting out of the mainland, just north of Kayak Island earlier this month, Easley explained in an email. They arrived in an Alaska bush plane after a two-hour flight from Anchorage.
“This spring Alaska has had some amazing weather and Saturday we took advantage of it and headed that way to see what we could find. Okalee Spit wasn't our original destination (Kayak Island was), but we found a glass ball there in March and needed to put down to stretch my legs,” Easley wrote.
“Mikki and Surly, her dog, walked east and I walked west. When we met back in the plane she had the bottle. This is the first one I've actually ever seen. We were both really excited. So excited, that I didn't want to wait to bring it home and use tweezers to remove the message. We decided to break the bottle on the log right there and then,” Easley wrote.
And that's when they found the two pieces of paper.
Back home, Easley said he researched the Water Street address using a Google map and concluded it was an abandoned storefront. He found a Susan Cordell in Hawaii but no phone number, but did find a Lisa (Heinkel) Hart, whom he contacted; she said Amy was her sister.
He also thought the Susan Cordell he had found as a research ecologist with Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry in Hilo, Hawaii, would be a dead end. It wasn't.
The surprise email stirred Cordell's memory.
"It is so crazy that it is hard to believe – but when I saw the photo and the note I knew it was true," Cordell said in an email to Julia (Heinkel) Jones, one of Amy's sisters. "Crazy how the brain works but I can almost remember the experience. We were at Fort Worden I think – I must have been 14 years old or so?"
Roskin said when she saw a photo of the note, its author was obvious. "[Susan’s] handwriting at the time was very distinctive both due to her left handedness and her legibility, and I, as well as Sue's brother and sister, recognized her writing immediately."
One theory among those who have heard this story is that the bottle might have not gone from Port Townsend directly to Alaska but might have followed the Pacific Ocean currents clockwise and circled from Hawaii over to China and Russia and then toward Alaska.
In the meantime, Lisa Hart suggested to everyone in an email that it might be time to get together to make cookies again.
“I think we should make them deli cookies and send them up to AK for the 'reward.' It would be fun. I know it was a standard chocolate cookie recipe with ½ white and ½ wheat floor, they had oats and nuts in them. What do you say?”
Sounds like the way it all started – with kids baking cookies and deciding to do something else for a moment in time.