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Time in a Bottle

Man in green kuspuk holds green bottle while standing on beach on cloudy day

When Tyler Ivanoff and a few friends strolled along the shore near Shishmaref on August 5, they were looking for firewood and picking berries. What Ivanoff found, instead, was a half-century-old message in a bottle that had washed up after a long, long journey from the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean.

The green bottle was well-sealed, its contents well-preserved. “I could see inside the bottle there was a note,” Ivanoff told KNOM listeners. “My kids were pretty excited. They were wondering if it was a pirate’s note or treasure.”

Old letter written in Russian
The message Tyler Ivanoff found inside the bottle. Photo: courtesy Tyler Ivanoff, used with permission.

Ivanoff recognized the handwritten note was Russian, but translating it was beyond his expertise. He posted about his lucky find on social media, where it soon “went viral,” shared more than 1,000 times. The cursive Cyrillic script was roughly translated, with the recipient invited to respond:

“A heartfelt hello from the Russian far-eastern fleet of Vladivostok. Greetings to you. Whoever finds this bottle is asked to inform this address: city of Vladivostok — 43 ВДХФ п/б Сулак. Attention all hands, I wish everyone good health, longevity, and happy sailing.”

The letter was dated June 20, 1969, one month before the Apollo 11 moon landing; Ivanoff found it 50 years, six weeks, and 4 days after its author had put pen to paper. Vladivostok is 2,775 miles from Shishmaref. It’s a coastal city in southeastern Russia, nestled on the Sea of Japan just a few miles from borders with China and North Korea.

Ivanoff’s social media post soon caught the attention of network Russia 1, whose reporters tracked down the identity of its author: Anatoliy Botsanenko. He now lives in the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, on the Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea, on the other side of the world from Vladivostok. But in 1969, Botsanenko was a captain in the Russian navy in his mid-thirties. He supervised construction of the Sulak and then sailed on it till 1970.

In a meeting with Russian reporters, Botsanenko, now in his eighties, confirmed the letter to be his own. “Yes!”, he said, amid joyful tears, “I always wrote like that.” He also said that, at the time, he was the youngest captain sailing in the Pacific, at the age of only 33.

Back in Shishmaref, Ivanoff says he isn’t sure if he’ll follow Botsanenko’s 50-year-old request to respond with a letter of his own. “But,” Ivanoff adds, “that’s something I could probably do with my kids in the future. Just send a message in a bottle out there and see where it goes…”

Images above: Tyler Ivanoff, holding the bottle he found on the shore near Shishmaref on August 5; the letter itself. Images courtesy Tyler Ivanoff.

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