Message in bottle travels from Maryland to Ireland, bringing comfort to grieving boy

·2-min read

In 2019, an 11-year-old boy in Maryland tossed a bottle from a fishing boat into the ocean. The bottle contained two $1 bills and a note concluding with the sentence, “Please please call.”

Three years later, an Irish couple found the bottle and called – from 3,200 miles away.

“We knew as soon as we found it that it was going to take us on an adventure,” Rita Simmonds, 69, told The Washington Post.

Ms Simmonds and her partner, Ciaran Marron, 64, were on vacation in Donegal, Ireland when they found the bottle on a beach. The couple, who live in Belfast, dried the contents by their fireplace overnight, and then read the letter in the morning.

“Hi,” the note said. “My name is Sasha and I am 11.”

The young scribe went on to tell all about himself, listing his siblings, his friends, and his hobbies.

“I love boogie boarding, fishing and much more,” he wrote. “I love fish and crabs. I love riding bikes. I am really active person.”

Sasha also wrote that he lived in Ocean City, Maryland, and included a phone number. Ms Simmonds and Mr Marron resolved to call it.

Ciaran Marron, left, and Rita Simmonds, right, discovered the bottle on a beach in Donegal, Ireland (Rita Simmonds)
Ciaran Marron, left, and Rita Simmonds, right, discovered the bottle on a beach in Donegal, Ireland (Rita Simmonds)

“We were determined to find him,” Ms Simmonds told the Post. “It was just such a magical thing to find his message. We knew he had to know it landed safely and so far away.”

The couple called the number, but it was out of service. Undeterred, they reached out to an Ocean City newspaper called The Dispatch, where one of the reporters had a friend who knew Sasha’s parents. The two couples got in touch with each other through Facebook.

Sasha Yonyak, now 14, said he was “excited” when he heard the news.

Rita Simmonds, 69, and Ciaran Marron, 64, found this bottle carrying Sasha Yonyak’s message on a beach in Donegal, Ireland (Rita Simmonds)
Rita Simmonds, 69, and Ciaran Marron, 64, found this bottle carrying Sasha Yonyak’s message on a beach in Donegal, Ireland (Rita Simmonds)

“I’ve made some new friends in Ireland,” the teen told The Dispatch. “It’s like a treasure washing up.”

The moment was also poignant. As Sasha’s father, Vlad Yonyak, explained, Sasha had cast off the bottle with his fishing buddy, a neighbour in his 60s named Wayne Smith.

“He spent a lot of time with Sasha,” Mr Yonyak said of Mr Smith. “They became very good friends.”

In August 2021, Mr Smith died at age 64. For Sasha, hearing about the bottle’s discovery brought back a happy moment he’d spent with his friend.

“This bottle reflects the friendship of Mr Wayne and Sasha,” Mr Yonyak told the Post. “Mr Wayne is no longer with us, but what he did with Sasha is.”

The Yonyaks say they hope to visit Ireland someday and meet the couple who answered Sasha’s note. Mr Marron and Ms Simmonds say they’re looking forward to it. When Sasha arrives, they plan to take the bottle back to the beach together, with a new note for a new recipient.

Sasha Yonyak was 11 years old when he penned this letter, which traveled 3,200 miles (Rita Simmonds)
Sasha Yonyak was 11 years old when he penned this letter, which traveled 3,200 miles (Rita Simmonds)
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