An American boy who cast off a message in a bottle nearly three years ago is “excited” at the prospect of visiting Belfast to meet the local couple who found it recently on a Donegal beach.
Rita Simmonds, who is originally from New Zealand, and her west Belfast partner, Ciaran Marron, found the glass bottle while walking along the sands of Magheraroarty beach earlier in January.
They soon discovered it was from Sasha Yonyak, a teenager in the US, who was aged 11 when he and his favourite neighbour, Wayne Smith, went on a fishing trip in Ocean City, Maryland.
While there at a marina, they found a bottle in the water with two dollar bills and a message from two ladies inside, with a request for the letter’s finder to “pass it on”.
"We brought it back to Wayne’s garage and opened the letter up. We read the message and they were two friends that did it together as well," said Sasha.
Sasha then wrote his own letter, describing his hobbies and the good time he was having with his “three buddies” – Wayne, Wayne’s wife, Lisa, and their dog, Stoney.
It reads: “Hi, my name is Sasha and I am 11 and I have 1 brother and 1 sister. I live in Ocean City, Maryland. I love boogie boarding, fishing and much more. I love fish and crabs. I love riding bikes. I am a really active person. I have three buddies, Stone, Lisa [and] Wayne. Please pass it on.”
“I wrote the letter and I grabbed a dollar bill and Wayne grabbed a dollar bill. We wrapped them around the note and tied it with a string,” said Sasha, who is now 14 years old.
"Then, we put clear food wrap over the opening, then we put the lid on and when we went on our next fishing trip, it was a calm but rainy day. We went one mile offshore of Ocean City, Maryland and we threw in the bottle.
"We predicted, me and Wayne, that the bottle would go into the Gulf Stream.”
Little did the pair think, that their bottle would make a voyage over two years and 3,000 miles across the Atlantic ocean, to be discovered in Ireland.
Sadly, Sasha’s friend Wayne died in August 2021 at the age of 64, but having Rita and Ciaran reach out to the teen has brought back great memories of his time with his favourite fishing partner.
"Wayne was a good fishing buddy to be around with,” he said.
Sasha’s father, Vlad, who is originally from Belarus, said that Wayne “spent a lot of time with Sasha” and that “they became very good friends”.
He also explained that the family has set up a fundraising page to help collect money for a flight to Ireland, so that Sasha can meet Rita and Ciaran, and see first hand where his bottle ended up in the north west of the island.
Rita told the Belfast Telegraph that initially, although Sasha’s letter included a phone number, when she and Ciaran tried to call it, it seemed to be disconnected.
They eventually found Sasha and his family through the help of a reporter at an Ocean City newspaper called The Dispatch, who had a friend that knew Sasha’s parents. They then contacted each other through Facebook.
“We're so excited about it. It’s so amazing really, to think that it made that long journey,” added Rita, and said that lots of family and friends in Belfast are “excited" to hopefully meet Sasha some day soon.
"We already have a 14-year-old west Belfast girl, a cousin, who wants to write to him. It’s such tough times for people, so it’s such a lovely human story.
"If he comes to Donegal and throws the bottle in the ocean, who knows where it’ll end up a third time!”
Sasha’s father Vlad said: “Sasha is thrilled to go to Ireland now to meet his new friends and tell them his lifetime story.”
He added: “Unfortunately, his beloved neighbour and friend, Mr Wayne Smith, died last year at the age of 64, never finding out what became of their bottle.”
You can donate to Sasha’s fundraising page here.