He Catches Her Drift Across 8,000 Wet Miles

Times Staff Writer

When Rachel Daniels dropped her message-in-a-bottle off a cruise ship near Santa Catalina Island on Christmas Day, 1985, she had no idea where it would wind up. This week she found out.

According to an envelope postmarked on Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands, her note bobbed 8,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. At least, that’s what Rachel concluded when she opened the envelope Wednesday and found her note and a separate piece of paper with a name, address, date, and drawings of a bicycle and a radio.

“We guess this is what he wants, has or likes,” said the 9-year-old Irvine girl.

In December, 1985, Rachel and her family were aboard the S.S. Azure Seas cruise ship on a four-day excursion from Long Beach to Ensenada, Mexico, with stops at Catalina and San Diego.


‘Following Santa Claus’

According to Rachel’s mother, Gail Daniels, the children aboard were “all following Santa Claus around,” doing various group activities. Among those activities was a project in which the children filled out simple forms, stuffed them in bottles and tossed them overboard.

“I just threw the bottle off the ship because everyone else was (doing that),” Rachel said.

Wednesday, when Rachel, who is in the fourth grade at the Lady Queen of Angels school in Newport Beach, saw the envelope containing her note, she thought it was something from a friend.

Then “I said, ‘Who is this person?’ ” she said, “But then I remembered my letter.”

“Hi, I’m taking a cruise on the S.S. Azure Seas,” the note reads. “My name is Rachel.” The note also gave Rachel’s address and the date and ended, “Have a happy day.”

Joseph Reid, professor of Oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, a branch of UC San Diego, said Thursday that Rachel was lucky because most bottles thrown into the ocean sink after getting covered with marine growth.

Reid, who is a leading national expert on Pacific Ocean currents, described the route the bottle could have been expected to take if it survived the ocean muck:


8 to 10 Miles a Day

“First it would have drifted south from California along the coast to Baja California and then begun to turn southwest, well south of the Hawaiian Islands. Then, it might very well pass the Gilbert and Marshall islands, where someone picked it up.”

Reid noted that the average speed for the bottle along that route probably would be eight to 10 miles a day.

“The bottle should have taken 800 days, however--since a good part of the route is in the equatorial Pacific--it goes faster,” Reid said.

The return address given in the letter reads, “Tetanaki Teata, Mwakin Islands, Ripurice of Gilbert.” However, the cancellation stamp reads “Makin.” Atlases show there is an atoll in the Gilbert Islands called Makin.

The envelope, postmarked June 8, 1987, reached Rachel even though it was addressed “Envine, Calibonnia,” instead of Irvine, California.

“I’m just amazed it got here,” said Gail Daniels, 40, who is a homemaker and a “professional volunteer.”


“I never knew anybody who received a message-in-a-bottle back,” Daniels added.

Rachel and her mother plan to write to Teata this week. Rachel said she wants to tell her new-found pen pal that she received the letter and ask “if he wanted the bike and radio or if he has it already.”

Rachel has a brother, Morgan, 12, and a sister, Abigail, 10. Her father, Jim Daniels, is an attorney for Latham & Watkins in Costa Mesa.

Teata could not be reached for comment.