Gig Harbor sweethearts Mattie and Jake Harrison pose for a photo along the Thea Foss waterway in Tacoma last month. (David Montesino/The News Tribune via AP)

Gig Harbor sweethearts Mattie and Jake Harrison pose for a photo along the Thea Foss waterway in Tacoma last month. (David Montesino/The News Tribune via AP)

Gig Harbor couple’s messages in a bottle tie strangers together

By Craig Sailor

The [Tacoma] News Tribune

TACOMA — Somewhere on the currents of Puget Sound is a clear glass wine bottle containing a conversation.

It’s been floating with its cargo of letters for the past four years.

When discovered, the finder becomes privy to the chain of communication, adds his or her own missive and then tosses it back into the sea.

When he’s not busy working his job on a Foss Maritime tugboat, Jake Harrison will sometimes scan the waves for it. After all, he’s the one who first tossed it overboard.

He threw the bottle, with his and his new bride Mattie’s letters, into Fair Harbor at Grapeview on Aug. 4, 2012. Minutes earlier, the high school sweethearts from Gig Harbor had been married, reported The News Tribune.

Now both 28, the couple wanted to wed near the water because they feel connected to it.

“The water means a lot to my husband and I,” Mattie said. “It’s a big part of our story.”

The couple read each other’s handwritten letters silently during the ceremony. They were full of inside jokes as well as declarations of love, things they wouldn’t even share with their families.

“Letters to each other about our feelings and our future together,” Jake said.

A mixture of vows and jokes is how Mattie described it.

The letters were rolled up and placed in the bottle. The bottle was cast onto the waters.

“After our ceremony, we didn’t think too much about our letters. We just assumed it washed ashore shortly after the ceremony and went on with our normal lives,” Mattie said.

By this year the couple had largely forgotten the gesture. They were busy making their life together in Gig Harbor.

But in September, Mattie got a call from her mother. Nearly four years later, the bottle had been found.

Messages in a bottle

Camille Folweiler was born to the sea. The 17-year-old junior at Seattle’s Ballard High School is an avid sailor. When she’s not crewing on tall ships or working at The Center for Wooden Boats, she sails with her family on Puget Sound.

That’s what they were doing on Memorial Day weekend this year. The family had tied up at Blake Island, just a mile north of Vashon Island.

“It’s a beautiful place to be,” Folweiler said.

Folweiler and a friend took a dingy to the south end of the island to explore. Finished with their adventure, they pushed the dingy back into the water. That’s when she saw a bottle floating about 35 feet off shore.

“It was a warm day so I was half swimming,” she recalled.

Folweiler grabbed the bottle. She could see notes inside.

“It felt very movie-ish, sort of old-fashioned,” she said.

Intrigued, they brought it back to the sailboat.

“We took the cork out,” Folweiler said. “We got the letters all out.”

They read Jake and Mattie’s notes.

“They were adorable,” she said.

But there was more inside.

Two other letters had been added since Jake first tossed the bottle in 2012.

One was dated 2012 and the other from 2014.

“Here we were finding it in 2016,” Folweiler said. “It blew our minds.”

The two new notes were from others who had found the bottle, were moved by the Harrisons’ letters and added their own. The two newer notes wished the couple well and stated where the bottle had been found.

Folweiler and her family decided to add their own.

“We wish you good luck,” is how she characterized it. “We put the date on it and the place we found it.”

After taking some pictures, Folweiler tossed the bottle back into the Sound.

But something kept nagging at her.

“If it was me, I would want to know that it was still out there,” she said of the Harrisons. At the time she knew them only as Mattie and Jake.

She began sleuthing on the internet, armed only with first names and the date of the wedding.

Eventually, Folweiler found the couple’s wedding page and the name of Mattie’s mother, Kim Maenhout. They connected via Facebook, and Folweiler told the Harrisons of her find.

Months later, Folweiler, who wants to study oceanography in college, is still amazed by the discovery.

“It could have gotten run over or put in the garbage,” she said. “But no, it was still floating out there. Finding it was sort of a one in a million chance.”


Though the letters are private, the Harrisons don’t mind that beachcombers have found their bottle. In fact, they’re delighted that others have joined the conversation.

“If anything, it makes us feel a sense of connection,” Mattie said. They wonder who the other readers were and if the letters affected them.

Though they cast the bottle into the sea, the Harrisons would like to have it returned to them.

“We would love to write another letter together and release it again on our five-year anniversary,” Mattie said.

Even if they never see the bottle again, they still feel connected, through time and currents, to people they’ve never met.

“This experience has renewed our love for each other, and shown us the kindness and thoughtfulness of strangers,” Mattie said.

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