In the spring of 2006, Joe Orchulli II tossed a message in a bottle from the deck of the tall ship HMS Bounty as it sailed into Portland Harbor.
The bottle bobbed this way and that. The ship sailed on.
And Orchulli, a journalist for the Boothbay Register, got back to work documenting the Bounty’s journey from Long Island, N.Y., to Boothbay, where it would get extensive renovations.
The years passed.
What Orchulli didn’t know was that his bottle was discovered almost immediately by Scott Nash, a well-known Maine children’s book author and illustrator, who was out for a walk with his wife near their home on Peaks Island.
“It was just sitting there on the rounded stones like it was waiting for us to come pick it up,” Nash said.
The message looked like something from the 18th century: stiff parchment rolled up in a scroll and tied off with rough rigging twine.
But it was inside a very modern-looking barbecue sauce bottle, and in the bottle was Orchulli’s business card.
It hadn’t gone far, or been in the water long. Frankly, Nash said, he felt sort of bad for the author of the message.
But it was an unexpected gift, the realization of one of his long-held dreams: to find a message in a bottle.
So Nash placed it carefully among his precious objects, and decided to put off contacting Orchulli.
“We had all the best intentions,” he said. “We were going to give it some time, then get back to him.”
Then the HMS Bounty sank in October in Hurricane Sandy, killing the captain and a crew member who traced her lineage to a mutineer on the original and infamous Bounty.
The story made national news, and Nash suddenly remembered what he had on the shelf of his office in downtown Portland.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I have a message in a bottle from the Bounty,’” Nash said.
He contacted the Boothbay Register, which put him in touch with Orchulli. They spoke by phone and exchanged their stories of the bottle.
“This whole experience is so surreal, I keep wondering if I’m dreaming or not,” said Orchulli, who now lives in Florida and is a worship leader at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Venice. “I’m really thrilled that he’s the one who found it.”
Nash said his discovery was especially meaningful because he found the bottle just days after he collaborated with a Japanese illustrator, Toshiki Sawada, on a book in which two deer on opposite sides of the world correspond by messages in bottles.
That book, to be titled, “Hello from the Other Side of the World,” was never published because Sawada fell ill and died within a year.
“It was heart-rending,” Nash said, “We had shared this delightful exchange and it was the end of this creative collaboration. I had sort of forgotten this message in a bottle.”
The bottle he found became a totem of a different kind, tied to his memory of Sawada and their work.
Nash said the bottle sat in a glass-door cabinet as he worked on his most recent book, “The High Skies Adventure of Blue Jay, The Pirate.”
Nash said he tucked a blue jay feather into the bottle, which he later moved to a shelf behind his desk.
“I tend to roll it out every so often,” Nash said.
He told the story to friends, particularly children.
“What was in there felt old to me,” he said of the scroll of parchment. “That’s one of the things that felt marvelous about it.”
The fading message, written in pencil, begins, “I’m sailing on the tall ship HMS Bounty from Greenport, Long Island, to Boothbay Harbor, Maine,” and asks the recipient to contact Orchulli.
Today, Nash wishes he hadn’t waited so long to do that.
“I was really negligent,” he said. “I had this treasure that I have always wanted.”
But for Orchulli, the timing is poignant, given the tragedy of the Bounty.
“I think it’s a real blessing in a dark time,” said Orchulli, who has shared the story of Nash discovering the bottle with other past crew members who, like himself, consider themselves part of a larger Bounty family.
Over the weekend, Orchulli was at a memorial service in Massachusetts for the Bounty and its lost crew.
The three-masted sailing ship was built for the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty,” and later was featured in several other films, including one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.
The original Bounty became famous after its crew mutinied and took over the ship from its commander, Lt. William Bligh, in April 1789.
For Nash, the story continues to play out.
He and Sawada bonded over music, he said, and he was struck that Orchulli played guitar and had just performed at the memorial for the Bounty victims.
He has been in touch with another crew member from the Bounty who is a budding illustrator.
“This poor neglected message in a bottle has led to all this,” Nash said. “At this point, I’m just trying to comprehend what’s happened. I don’t think it’s completely over yet.”
Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at: