Message in a bottle: NYC fashion designer and Albatross Fleet first mate reconnect nine years after ocean find brought them together

Published 4:04 pm Friday, June 30, 2023

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A message in a bottle brought independent fashion designer Anna Molinari and Albatross Fleet first mate Sumner Mattingly together when they were just teenagers. Nine years have passed since Mattingly found Molinari’s message 27 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras, but the two have stayed in touch and recently reconnected on the Outer Banks.

The story of this message in a bottle started in 2014. Anna was a 16-year-old military brat that had recently moved to Rhode Island upon orders for her family, and received a full scholarship to start studying at a local boarding school. “Part of that scholarship included a semester at sea on the school’s 70-ft. sailboat,” Molinari shared in an interview with The Coastland Times.

The trip started in the Dominican Republic, from which the students and crew sailed around the Bahamas, Florida and then to Charleston, South Carolina. While sailing between the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, the fashion designer explained that there was little to no wind for about five days straight. “Five days out on the water was a lot for us,” she said. “We started running low on food and just extreme boredom, so one of the first mates suggested we do messages in a bottle to pass the time.”

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Molinari wrote about what she had learned about being out at sea, and what she realized she was taking advantage of back home. She wrote about her feelings, sharing a piece of her life journey with whoever (if anyone) would find her letter. The bottle quickly made its way up the coast, and did in fact find a reader: 18-year old Mattingly.

The first mate was fishing about 27 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras on the Albatross III around the end of spring/beginning of summer. Sumner, an Outer Banks native, shared with The Coastland Times that it was a calm, pretty day out on the water. While catching a couple of dolphins, Mattingly spotted the message in a bottle. The boat circled back to snag the bottle and take it back to shore, where he worked hard to get the bottle open (as it was very well-sealed). “And it ended up being Anna,” he said.

Two months after returning home from the semester at sea trip, Molinari received a hand-written letter, delivered to her school, from Mattingly. “I feel like if I put a message in a bottle and someone found it, I would want them to write me back,” Mattingly shared. “He basically wrote that he resonated with everything I wrote in my letter,” Molinari said.

The two connected via social media. Molinari’s grandfather owns a property in Southern Shores, and the family typically vacations in the area each summertime. That summer, the two agreed to meet while they were both at the beach, but Molinari called it off prior to the meet-up. “Everyone from my boarding school said, ‘No this is too crazy and dangerous’ … so I had all those people in my ear telling me not to meet with him,” she shared. “It really freaked me out, and also, I was really shy when I was sixteen.”

The following summer, Molinari put aside her fears and invited Mattingly over for dinner with her family. The fisherman said he had to head up north to pick up a surfboard anyway, and was happy to meet with Molinari and her family.

“He showed up barefoot, board shorts, post-surfing hair, with his friend and they shucked corn for our family dinner,” Molinari said. “We caught up, compared life stories and talked a little bit more about the message in a bottle.” Mattingly said he stayed for two hours, gave Molinari an Albatross Fleet shirt and the two got their photo taken. “And then we parted ways,” Molinari said.

Over the years, the two have stayed in contact through Facebook and Instagram. During that time, the message and bottle were both stolen. Mattingly said it’s been at least five years since the memorabilia were taken straight from the fleet’s little office museum. “One day, they come in and the display case was broken and the message in the bottle was stolen,” said Molinari. “Someone walked in, and that’s the only thing they took,” Mattingly explained.

The two met up again a couple of weeks ago. Molinari came down for a girl’s trip, and Mattingly took the women out for a charter fishing trip on June 12. They sailed on the Albatross III. The New York-based fashion designer wrote a new letter for Sumner, which she gifted him in a new bottle. Afterward, the two caught up a local bar, and talked about how their lives have changed since connecting nine years ago.

Although Molinari and Mattingly met by chance, their lives have proved to move in parallel directions. Both are pursuing their passions, happily chasing careers that are outside of the “norm.” Molinari said, “I personally think it’s so cool that he has been fishing since he was a kid and that’s what makes him happy … and I’m the exact same way with fashion design. I’ve been making clothes since I was a little kid and it is what makes me happy. She added, “In our generation, people get very indecisive about what they want to do, and finding a passion is very stressful. It’s cool that Sumner and I, although we have very different passions, it’s cool that we both have them and have been pursuing them since we were little and that’s what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives.”

Both agreed that it’s important for everyone to embrace their independence, not be afraid to step outside of the comfort zone and be your own best advocate. “Paving your own way, regardless of whatever is the norm or stereotypical amongst your peers,” Molinari advised.

Molinari posted videos on TikTok about their message in a bottle story while in town, which gained a lot of attention. Her fashion brand, Instinct Brand LLC, showcases clothing made from second-hand trash and fabrics. Mattingly has been with the Albatross Fleet for 16 years and regularly takes clients out for charter fishing trips. “Next time, we want to do an offshore fishing trip to where he found my bottle” Molinari said. “We’ve been keeping in touch a lot more,” shared Mattingly. “It’s been nice to reconnect.”