A far-flung South Seas island. An uninhabited white-sand beach. A group of ardent explorers. And a message in a bottle. It sounds like the makings of a Stevenson novel…but this story played out in real life on a recent Lindblad expedition aboard the National Geographic Orion. Read on for our very own Tale of the South Pacific!
On March 26, Orion set off on the maiden voyage of our 2018 South Pacific season and spent part of the time exploring the legendary Pitcairn Islands. This group of four volcanic islands, put on the map by the mutineers of the Bounty, includes Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno. And the goal of our itinerary is to visit the first three. But that’s no easy feat—these are three of the trickiest islands in the South Pacific when it comes to landings. Ducie, in particular, is notoriously tough as Nicole Thornton, one of our land services managers who was on the voyage, explained. “Typical atolls have the fringing reef with the lagoon inside, but Ducie is just an uplifted coral island in the middle of the Pacific with no protection around it. On first glance, it looks like an easily accessible shoreline, but you can’t see the reef concealed underwater. You can only see it when the waves crash. Our team needs to find a channel within the reef to pull the Zodiac through, all while the waves keep crashing, and multiple crew members are maneuvering, guiding, and catching the boat so it doesn’t flip.”
So early morning, on the day Orion dropped anchor near Ducie, a group of officers and crew headed out to scout the landing—all eagerly hoping for positive results. They were beyond excited to discover conditions were perfect—from the weather to the tides—and they succeeded in bringing both Zodiacs safely ashore. Fueled by their good fortune, everyone split up to explore the island, find the best trails, and lay down a map for where to take guests later on.
A Thrilling Discovery
One scouting party headed for the far side of the island where navigation officer Fia Wistrand soon spotted something intriguing. “The bottle was laying on the beach, but a bit higher up from the water, partly hidden under the bushes,” she recalls. “From where I stood down on the sand, I could actually see the message rolled together inside the bottle. It was the day after April Fool’s and I couldn’t believe I was really seeing it. I needed witnesses! So I ran to my fellow shipmates Jeroen Bartos and Ian Tomcho. Jeroen got to open it while Ian took photos and I just stood overly excited next to them. Finding a message in a bottle has been a childhood dream—it’s the treasure of treasures for a kid who loved combing beaches.”
The green-glass bottle was broken at the neck so they weren’t sure what to expect. But as they unfurled the message they could see it was miraculously intact, not a drop of water or weather damage. Another surprise! And there was still one more to go.
An Unexpected Twist
Back on board, news of their amazing find spread quickly. The message was from….Orion! It turns out that on December 25, 2011, staff captain Matt Jensen Young launched the bottle from the M.V. Orion (before Lindblad Expeditions had acquired and renamed it). It traveled over 3,566 nautical miles from Snares Island in New Zealand to end up back on board the Orion once again. The coincidence was astounding—the very ship that wrote the message found it almost seven years later on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean on one of the world’s most remote atolls! All because the stars aligned, allowing for a smooth landing at Ducie. That alone would have been a rewarding ending to our tale but to top it all off Orion was able to land successfully at all three islands—and guests enjoyed the trifecta of Ducie, Henderson, and Pitcairn. A truly rare happening on a truly one of a kind expedition.
Fia reached out to Matt. It took him a month to reply—he was on a small sailing yacht attempting to circumnavigate Antarctica by way of the Southern Ocean and South Georgia—but on his return they happily corresponded and he shared some photos. Here he is aboard M.V. Orion tossing the bottle overboard for its fateful journey.
Want to write your own South Pacific story? Explore our five carefully crafted itineraries—and join us to go deep into the culture, history, and vivid depths of the planet’s bluest part.