The sun was just coming up when Mike Ley stepped off the 7:00 a.m. ferry boat that carried him from Port Aransas across the Corpus Christi Ship Channel to the north jetty on San Jose Island. He took a picture of the sunrise then started walking south close to the dunes along the hurricane wrack line.
Since his retirement, Ley spends the winter months walking Texas beaches on South Padre Island, North Padre Island, Mustang Island and the northern 10 miles of San Jose Island. As an avid beachcomber, he always searches for shells, sea beans and anything of interest with a story to learn as he walks.
Ley was anxious to visit “his beaches” when he arrived at his Texas home in the late fall of 2016. Watching the landfall of Hurricane Harvey and seeing the destruction through the news reports in his Colorado home, he wondered what he would find on the Texas barrier islands.
Walking along the San Jose dune line, Ley said he could see four large barges which had been carried by high waters from the Lydia Ann Channel and deposited on the island. The privately-owned island had fences running across the island but Ley said the fences are gone.
“I had marked the second fence down as six miles (from the ferry landing). The second fence is gone! It’s not there anymore,” said Ley. “I think I went down 8 miles then turned back.”
As Ley searched the hurricane wrack line, he found a bottle with a rolled-up piece of paper in it. It had a screw cap so he took the cap off to see what he assumed would be a message while he was on the beach.
“The paper was damp and I couldn’t get it out with my fingers and I didn’t want to tear the paper so I sealed it back up and put it in my pack.”
At 11:30 a.m. Ley said he sat down, watched the waves coming ashore and ate lunch. Then he decided he should turn around and head back. He had been walking 4 ½ hours. Now he would have a 4 ½ hour walk back to catch the 4:00 p.m. ferry.
“I had just started back around noon and was walking closer to the water and I found it! I walked by it on the way up but was close to the dunes so I had missed it,” said Ley.
This green bottle had a cork in the neck with paper rolled inside it and was found about five miles from the north jetty. Ley said It had recently come in and was not carried in by the hurricane since it was in the wrack line close to the water’s edge.
“So, it was a fresh find,” said Ley. “Anybody who was walking down the beach could have found it. Most people don’t look at every bottle like I do. If it has a cork in it, I look at it and see if there’s a message in it, ‘cause you never know.”
The bottle was placed in his backpack with the first bottle and all the other treasures he had picked up. Ley then returned home to read what he thought would be two messages. The bottle with the cap was put aside to allow the paper to dry. Then two blank pieces of paper were removed. Ley held a flashlight behind them but no traces of faded letters or indentations were visible.
The corked bottle was a true MIB (Message in a Bottle). The message was dated January 20 so the bottle had been floating in the Gulf only two months. Ley said he contacted the sender and “got another cool MIB response.
“Finding these MIB is like getting a message from a friend I haven’t yet met. “ ~ Mike Ley
“Well, greetings and welcome to Texas!!! My name is Martin Wysocki. … The cruise was a quick one from Galveston to Cozumel. We take this often, it’s a quick 4-day get-a-way. This cruise was on the occasion of our 35th wedding anniversary. We had 20 friends and family come with us. Each time we cruise this cruise, we drop off 2 or 3 bottles in the Gulf, halfway between Galveston and Cozumel. Bottles have surfaced as far as the Georgia/Florida border and the Yucatan, Mexico. The bottle on the Georgia/Fla. border obviously got caught up in the Gulf Stream, it was found on the beach there after a hurricane. If you send me a mailing address I’ll send out a package of Texas goodies we send out to respondents! … I am also a cigar aficionado. If you enjoy a good cigar, let me know. I’ll include some in the package. Thanks so much! If you are ever in Houston let me know we’d love to meet you! My wife makes great BBQ, we’ll have you over!!!”
Ley said, “I used to smoke but not anymore, so I told him if he sent cigars I would let my son-in-law smoke them and I would sit there and smell them ‘cause I love to smell cigars.” Then he added, “I have to keep all my lungs so I can walk up St. Joe’s and find more bottles!”
Ley said he and his wife Sandy might visit Houston before they leave Texas for Colorado. It would make another “full circle” with a bottle by meeting the Wysockis and taking a group photo with their MIB.
This is the ninth MIB the Leys have found on Texas beaches and each one holds the possibility of new friends. On December 29, 2013, one from Mali Jereczek, a high school junior from Green Bay, Wisconsin, was found on San Jose Island. That “full circle” story can be read in the blog post “A never-ending MIB story” published August 18. 2017 on My Coastal World.
In 2012 Ley found another bottle on San Jose. It was launched by the de Mal family from Holland. Maurice and Linda de Mal and their two children were on a two-year sailing tour on their 59 ft sailboat. They launched 105 bottles. Ley’s was number 72 and was launched between Cape Verde Islands and French Guiana, December 2010. The Leys and de Mals connected through social media.
All nine MIBs have a story. Some are long. Some are short. Sandy Ley found hers on Mustang Island in the winter of 2013. It had been thrown from a cruise ship and was filled with beads, a pencil, candy and perishables. But, each bottle launched from a boat or a ship can hold the promise of a new friend.
Walk a beach. Look for treasures and memories. Share the stories.
All photos shared by Mike Ley.