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Sunderland Seaman Paddy Taylor’s Message in a Bottle Has Been Solved!

Well, friends and neighbors – and I mean that literally for folks in Sunderland’s Town End Farm – a bit of message in a bottle magic has happened! The astute and clever Sue Taylor took one look my Facebook post sharing the bedraggled message in a bottle I found from someone in Sunderland and realized that the the handwriting looked familiar… So she passed her phone to her partner, Paddy Taylor, for a look. At once, Paddy realized that the last name was not “THYLE” or anything like it. No, it was his own last name: TAYLOR! And the author of this message in a bottle? None other than the world-traveling, Sunderland seaman Paddy Taylor himself!

Paddy commented on the photo (under Sue’s name):

Here’s the photo they were looking at. Remember, I thought the “A” in Taylor was an H, like this:

Sunderland message in a bottle partially transcribed

My interpretation of the name and address on the Sunderland message in a bottle. Note: The “H” in “HYL” turns out to be an “A”.

But I wasn’t totally certain of that…

Paddy Taylor’s Message in a Bottle, Solved by a Single Letter

Once Paddy & Sue suggested it could be an A, I took a closer look. Sure enough – though it is so faint it is nearly impossible to see – the “H” was not an H at all… There is an extremely light stroke running diagonally up to the peak of what is indeed an A! Here’s what I can see:

Paddy Taylor's message in a bottle with correct transcription.

I wish I could show this to you in a photo. But try as I might, the upstroke is too faint to see clearly. You can kiiiind of make it out in this photo if you zoom way in, cross your eyes, stick out your tongue, and stand on your head for a minute:

Sunderland message in a bottle close up.

Around this time, Paddy’s neighbors, friends, and family began to chime in. All confirmed he was a seaman, in the Merchant Navy for some time, and that he had indeed lived at #10 Barking Street during the time frame I thought the message originated from, roughly 1974 – 1990ish. This was confirmed by multiple friends and family who saw my post.

When I finally got in touch with Paddy directly, he confirmed two key facts. First, he had indeed lived at #10 at around the time this note was sent. Second, he had occasionally sent messages in bottles when he was a seaman!

Paddy Taylor's message in a bottle, conversation with Clint Buffington

Soon, we were trying to figure out when Paddy Taylor sent his message in a bottle. Sadly, the exact date will probably remain a mystery…

“When I saw The article and Town End Farm I thought ‘Wow this could be Paddy,'” Sue said. “He was always at sea. He often used to throw bottles into the sea but never thought anything like this would happen… It’s just amazing! Paddy thinks he was on his way to New Zealand at the time, so heading towards The Panama Canal. It’s a shame he can’t remember the exact year, but he travelled all over the world… He would have been in his twenties he seems to think it was in the seventies.”

Handwriting Clues Confirm Author’s Identity

All of that is well and good, but I’ve had some strange experiences in my time solving messages in bottles. I have had people pretend to be the author of a message, only to have their story unravel under scrutiny.

I asked Sue for a sample of Paddy’s handwriting, and bless her, she obliged. In fact, she sent me a completed job application from years ago. There’s no way could it have been forged.

Paddy Taylor handwriting sample

Well, the moment I saw Paddy’s handwriting, there was no doubt–none–that he was indeed the author of this message!

I am no handwriting expert. But I have spent hours–hours!–poring over this faded scrap of paper. I’ve committed every faint squiggle to memory, conjecturing about the missing pieces. I know it like the back of my hand. I mentioned a few handwriting quirks in my last post. But when I saw Paddy’s handwriting sample, there were a few other quirks that proved him to be the author.

First, the A. Paddy makes his A by first employing a heavy downstroke, then a much lighter upstroke, then another heavy downstroke, and finally he crosses it.

I do this, too, but while my first downstroke and upstroke follow roughly the same line, so that it looks like one line, Paddy’s has a bit of a gap sometimes between the first / farthest left downstroke, and the light upstroke that runs up to the peak of the A. Even in the application above, you can see that in the A in “Taylor” and “Patrick” and “BA”.

When the second stroke – the upstroke to the peak of the A – is light, and when the ink fades (as it does in an old message in a bottle), the result can be a character that LOOKS like an H, but is in fact an A. That’s exactly what happened in this message.

Beyond the special As, there are other handwriting quirks that match up. Check out the B, Y, R, and L in the following images.

The Ys match perfectly, as do the idiosyncratic Rs, some of which have “low” legs shooting way off to the right.

On top of all that, Paddy’s handwriting sample shows the same mixing of upper case and lower case letters that appears in the message I found. That’s not a very common quirk, and lends weight to the handwriting match. Wow!

A Message in a Bottle and a Family Tradition

Paddy’s sister Kath commented on my Facebook post about Paddy’s message, saying  that while Paddy was away at sea, she and her siblings used to send messages in bottles hoping to reach him. Is that not the sweetest thing you’ve ever heard?

Kath went on to say: “This has brought so many happy, wonderful memories back of our childhood, playing on our beautiful beach as kids, and sending messages in bottles…”

Paddy also had a brother called Anthony, who was also a seaman, and who also sent messages in bottles.

As Paddy’s family began to see my post and examine the message–an extremely difficult task when all you have are photos of faint squiggly lines on disintegrating paper–there was some conjecture about who might have been involved in making this bottled note.

Paddy’s sister Lisa recalls possibly helping Paddy make this message in a bottle, but of course it’s hard to be sure since he sent so many in his years at sea, and the only name recovered from the paper is Paddy’s. It’s lovely, though, to think of them doing this as a family all those years ago, and maybe Lisa did indeed help with this one. I guess their idea was to have some excitement, perhaps connect with someone far away and have a story to tell. Well, mission accomplished!

Whoever may have been involved in creating this message in a bottle, what is certain is that it’s Paddy’s handwriting on the note, and Paddy who went to sea and flung it out into an unfathomable blue infinity…

Like Ripples on Water

I haven’t met Paddy in person yet, though I hope to. It’s funny, but I feel deeply connected to him through this message. It’s hard to imagine a more difficult message in a bottle, a more magical ending, a more unlikely connection than this one. I am once again amazed by the power of people working together to solve a mystery and bring a little joy into the world.

Before, Paddy and all his friends and family were strangers to me, but now they feel more like friends who I just haven’t met in person yet. We all care about the man behind this message in a bottle, so that gives us something in common. We all worked toward a common goal without even knowing each other. It seems like there’s a bigger lesson in this, but I may not be bright enough to illuminate it.

When Paddy’s friends and neighbors all began to weigh in and go to bat for Paddy, to connect the dots and clarify that he had lived at the address I was seeking; that he had been a seaman, etc., I began to think about the impact one person can have… How we all touch more lives than we can ever know.

To tell you the truth, it made me think of the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, and how easy it is to lose sight of the fact that each of us matters a lot to our friends and family–even to people we don’t yet know. It may not always be obvious, but it’s true. Paddy is a walking example of how one man can touch the lives of more people than he’d ever dream. Just look at little ol’ me, telling you this story from the frozen forests and farmland of central Indiana. I’m a changed man! Like every one I find, Paddy Taylor’s message in a bottle has left its mark on me, and I’ll never be the same person again that I was before he came into my life…

Perhaps even now, as I rejoice over finding Paddy, there’s a kid on some desolate island in the Bahamas, or off the coast of Nova Scotia or Greenalnd, or New Zealand, picking up an old soda bottle with a faded brown scrap of paper inside, embarking on his or her own search for Paddy…

Today, as I celebrate connecting with Paddy and his lovely family – his partner, siblings, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, I like to imagine him standing long ago on the deck of a massive ship on the ocean, looming over the waves, en route to somewhere far-flung… As the salt spray billows mistily about him, he writes a little message on a little piece of paper, and stuffs it into a soda bottle. Chuckling to himself (as I imagine it), thinking no one will find this bottle, just like no one has found the others he’s sent… He grabs the bottle by its neck, rears back like a top-tier cricket bowler, takes one running hop, and hurtles the bottle end-over-end, foomp-foomp-foomp, in a fantastic flinging arc down into the endless and merciless beautiful sea…

Come to think of it… Is that really only Paddy Taylor’s message in a bottle floating there? Or is it actually Paddy himself, making ripples that go on and on, spreading ever outward into that great blue unknown?

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