Special to the Star & Wave
It was not quite an SOS to the world, but a simple message in a bottle.
A lyric from “Message in a Bottle” by The Police came true for Isidro García of Galicia, Spain, when a message in a bottle washed ashore on the beach in Con Cerrado, all the way from Cape May Point.
Inside of the wine bottle was a plastic bag that contained a note with the sender’s contact information, a $1 bill and a lottery ticket from David Kembel, who had thrown the bottle in the Delaware Bay.
For 20 months, the bottle made its way across the Atlantic Ocean, finally washing ashore on the small island of Illa de Arousa in March.
Kembel and his family have been vacationing in Cape May for more than 25 years. They started throwing bottles into the ocean with messages enclosed as a fun thing for his kids to do when they were younger.
“I never expected a bottle to go as far as Europe,” Kembel said. “I was really surprised to hear from someone so far away.”
He said he gets replies to his bottle messages every three years or so.
“Who knows where the rest of the bottles are floating since this one took almost two years to get to Spain,” Kembel said. “Other bottles have ended up in Cape May, the Villas and Delaware. Some hit the beaches two miles down in just a few days. The Villas takes longer because the currents in the Bay are pretty crazy.”
Kembel heard from someone who found a bottle this past week in Townbank, just a few days after sending it off.
“One year a lifeguard found a bottle in the ocean while paddling on his surfboard, it only traveled about three jetties,” Kembel said. “Last year a guy found one in Cape May and he was a talk show host. He called me for his show on the radio. To hear him talk about it and be so excited was worth it.”
Kembel said he enjoys hearing the excitement of those who find his bottles.
“The first reaction of my father when he and his friend found the bottle in the sand was to ignore it, they thought it came from a nearby village,” Cris García Santiago, García’s daughter, said. “It was my father’s friend, Juan ‘Chicho’ Manuel, who took the bottle and it was impossible to open, so they crashed it against a stone to see what was inside.”
Cris Santiago, 19, is studying translation and interpretation in college and acts as a translator between her father and Kembel.
“We have the lottery ticket and David’s letter yet,” Cris Santiago said. “It was barely readable after deteriorating in the sea. It was an awesome experience. To be honest, we did not have much hope when we contacted David because his email was nearly impossible to decipher, but we had good luck.”
The Santiagos’ lottery ticket was not a winning one. It would have been $1,000 a week for life.
“No one has won the lottery yet, by the way,” Kembel said.
The local media in Galicia picked up the Santiagos’ story and shared it over the radio, television and local newspapers.
“Keeping in touch with the finders fades over time,” Kembel said. “One year a school teacher found one and we emailed back and forth with the class for a good six or eight months. It’s usually one to two notes, a Christmas card or two and that’s it. It’s fun to see where they come from and where they come up.”
Kembel is a retired healthcare lawyer and lives in Montana.
“Even though we are in Montana, we have to come back every year to Cape May Point to get our beach fix,” Kembel said.
No one has ever accused Kembel of littering.
“Nobody has ever said that, most people are interested in what is going on,” Kembel said. “When people find them, they get a chuckle.”
Kembel has been in touch with García since the first response.
“I sent a note to one of my colleagues in Germany when I heard about this,” Kembel said. “One of them is from that part of Spain and he had heard and seen about the message in the bottle on the news. He thought it was funny because they knew about it but didn’t know it was me. It’s a small world.”