National News

Sign Washed Away in Hurricane Sandy Lands on Beach in France

Posted May 31, 2018 6:34 p.m. EDT

Hurricane Sandy wrought havoc on the Jersey Shore town of Brielle when it made landfall in October 2012.

Homes filled with water. Boats washed up on people’s lawns and on the Brielle Avenue bridge.

Also, a real estate sign went missing.

It had been planted in back of a house for sale on Cedarcrest Drive, facing a narrow inlet called Debbie’s Creek. The sign was 18 by 24 inches and about an inch thick and made of plastic composite. It disappeared along with the post it was mounted to and was never seen again.

Until around May 14, 2018.

On a beach in France, 3,595 miles away.

A man walking along the Plage du Pin Sec, near Bordeaux, spotted it. The faded sign was missing a chunk, but he could still read the legend “Diane Turton Realtors 732-292-1400.”

“It was curious,” the man, Hannes Frank, 64, a semiretired software consultant who lives in Brussels, said by phone Thursday. “I looked at it and found it quaint.”

He sent an email to Diane Turton Realtors: “Hi, Just wanted to let you know that I found part of one of your signposts washed up on the beach near Bordeaux France pictures available if wanted. Not in best shape after that crossing.”

Perry Beneduce, the company’s marketing director, received the email. “I initially thought this has to be a prank,” he said. But Beneduce happened to have been the manager of the Diane Turton branch in Wall, New Jersey, that had that phone number when the hurricane hit. “It was the only sign from that office that went missing,” he said.

An oceanographer who studies the drift of floating objects, Curtis Ebbesmeyer, said that judging by how long it took, the voyage of the Diane Turton Realtors sign was likely even more arduous than it seemed: The sign may have been on its third crossing of the Atlantic when it beached.

“There is a great gyre of water that runs from New Jersey to northern Europe down to Spain and back to New Jersey and takes 3.3 years on average, and it takes about a year and a half to drift across the North Atlantic one way from New Jersey to France,” said Ebbesmeyer, author of “Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man’s Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science.”

“So 5 1/2 years is just about right.”

Over the centuries, Ebbesmeyer said, thousands of pieces of man-made stuff, including Columbus’ ships, have followed the same watery circuit that links the East Coast and Europe: eastward on the Gulf Stream, south on the Portugal Current, west on the North Atlantic Equatorial Current, back up the East Coast on the Gulf Stream. He knew of a 2003 political campaign sign, about the same size as the Diane Turton sign, that departed Newfoundland, Canada, and landed in Cornwall, England, in 2007.

“What you have is a low-windage object,” he said. “It kind of floats flat in the water. Typically those travel about 7 miles a day.”

“I’m always trying to find data that give me better estimates of the orbital period,” Ebbesmeyer said. “This is really good scientific data.”