Communicating the old fashioned way

Thu, 09/26/2019 - 5:00pm
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A boy on Block Island has become friends with a boy living on the mainland in an unusual way: by finding a message in a bottle.

Resident Shannon Cotter-Marsella said her son, Eli, found a message in a bottle sent by Gavin McGreevy, who lives with his family in Mattituck, New York. The boys, who are both seven years old, have “hit it off,” and “have the same interests,” she said.

“I was hoping to maybe make a new friend, and I did,” said Gavin. “It was exciting because when Eli sent me an email I was happy one of my bottles made it and was found. I was surprised that a bottle was found that quickly.”

Eli said that when he first found the bottle, he “felt curious and sort of excited that it was just a message in the bottle. When I found out that it was from a kid my age, I felt wowed. It was fun when we e-mailed back and forth all winter and got to know each other better.” 

Shannon said Eli found the bottle on Nov. 4, 2018 at the beach located at the end of Cooneymus Road “13 days after Gavin threw it off his parent’s boat.” She added: “I just found out Gavin actually threw 31 bottles into the water that day, and five have been found. Eli was the first to find one, and is the only kid to find a bottle, to this point.”

Gavin said his grandfather told him “that when he was in the Navy he threw bottles off his ship, but nobody ever replied. So I wanted to try it to see if someone would reply to my bottles. Plus I thought it would be a neat project to see where the currents take my bottles.”

Gavin’s father, Peter, said his “father, Ronald McGreevy, served on the bridge of a destroyer in the Navy. They steamed all over the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Persian Gulf, and he told Gavin that he threw bottles overboard, but never heard back from anyone. So Gavin decided to try it, and used the idea as his second grade science fair project. He won first place at Cutchogue East School, and then won an honorable mention at the science fair at Brookhaven National Laboratories. So he had an idea from his grandfather, had fun executing it, made a new friend, and won a few medals all at the same time. Pretty neat.”

Gavin’s message included information about who he was, where he lives, where the bottle was launched and how to contact him.

“Eli was the first to respond,” said Gavin. “One bottle was found on Block Island, two were found on Martha’s Vineyard, one was found in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and one made it to Cape Cod. I put dots on the map with my dad to see where they were found.”

“So far Gavin has met five new people, from all around the area, of different ages, and from different walks of life,” said Peter, who noted that the project was part old-school sea adventure, and part science project. “There are still 26 bottles out there, maybe he’ll hear back from someone when he’s seventy, who knows.”

Gavin said, “It was really amazing that I met someone my age by just a message in a bottle, who has the same exact interests as me. What are the odds? We both are Cub Scouts, we both like to practice piano; and we both like Pokémon cards and Legos.”

“It’s a unique way of meeting someone,” said Shannon, noting that Gavin and his parents, Colleen and Peter, visited Block Island on Sunday, Sept. 8. “Gavin is pretty social, and Eli is kind of shy, but that didn’t seem to matter. They’re friends now. I hope they remain friends.”

“When I found out Gavin was coming to visit me on Block Island I was so excited and happy about it, I thought about it all night and day,” said Eli. “It was a lot of fun meeting him. We had the most fun feeding the ducks at Payne's Donuts. I want to stay pen pals and friends with Gavin."

“I enjoyed meeting Eli, and seeing the beach where he found my bottle,” said Gavin. “It was very rocky. I also liked having lunch with Eli. And I liked seeing the windmills and learning that the island is powered by them.” 

Peter said, “It was great to see the kids make the connection. How many kids will ever be able to say that they met a friend their same age with a message in a bottle? Watching them meet for the first time and then spend the day together was definitely unforgettable.”

“I’ve been to Block Island a couple of dozen times,” added Peter. “I’m usually there for Block Island Race Week, and a few other yacht races that bring us there for an overnight or two. Plus we take our boat over from Orient on occasion. It’s only 35 miles away and it’s a great escape.”

Shannon said the McGreevy’s docked their boat at Payne’s Dock, and they spent six hours tooling around the island. “It was exciting. We took them to get donuts at Payne’s Killer Donuts; we went to the Animal Farm, Southeast Lighthouse, and the Block Island School. We toured the school, and showed them our classrooms, as well as the bird collection.” Shannon teaches sixth grade and middle grades science at the school. “And of course we took them to the beach where Eli found Gavin’s bottle.”

Shannon said she looks forward to keeping in touch with the McGreevy’s. “We talked about maybe visiting them in Orient Point,” she said. “We can take the New London Ferry over to do that.”

Gavin said that meeting Eli has been the best part of his project. “I made a new friend who I really like and I will see again. Also it’s not a long boat ride from Orient to Block Island so we can visit each other. We learned a lot about each other by email, but visiting was the best.”