2½ years later, Royalton teen’s message in a bottle receives reply from abroad

  • Sean Smith, 16, of Royalton, Vt., on Thursday, June, 17, 2021, tossed a message in a bottle into the Atlantic Ocean with family members in 2018 in Rhode Island. It was recently found in the Azores by a teenager. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/17/2021 11:12:21 PM
Modified: 6/17/2021 11:12:29 PM

ROYALTON — After they ate Thanksgiving dinner in 2018 at a relative’s home in Narragansett, R.I., Sean Smith gathered with his siblings and cousins to throw eight messages in bottles into the sea.

Using an orange marker and an index card, Smith wrote, “It is Thanksgiving. I am 13 and visiting family in Rhode Island. I am from Vermont. If found email messageinabottle2018@gmail.com.”

Smith’s bottle traveled for at least 2,400 miles, ending its journey in the Azores when Portuguese teenager Christian Santos fished it out of the water this spring and responded to the email.

Because the password to the email account had been lost over the years, Smith only learned that his message had been found when scrolling through the news feed on his phone on Wednesday evening and reading that Santos and his mother, Molly, had taken to Facebook to find the sender.

“I was like, ‘Wait, what?’ ” Smith said in a phone interview on Thursday. “I was pretty shocked because I had completely forgotten that we had done it.”

Molly Santos posted a picture of the message in the bottle to her Facebook page, asking anyone with contacts in Vermont to share the post. “It’s so cool how far it came!!!” she wrote.

Christian Santos, who was spearfishing for fun near the island of São Jorge, told The Boston Globe that he often picks up trash he finds floating in the sea out of respect for the environment. When he saw that a Powerade bottle had a message in it, he brought it home to show his mom.

Smith, now 16, and Santos, 17, finally connected Thursday afternoon through a Zoom call with a Globe reporter.

“I think it’s cool that somebody similar in age found it so far away and we were actually able to get in touch,” said Smith.

Not only are they close in age, but the teens also share a geographical connection. Although he now lives in the Azores, Santos was born in Boston, so until the Santos family moved when Christian was 5 years old, he was only one state away from Smith, who grew up in Royalton.

“What are the chances of someone from Portugal, who can actually read English, finding that and understanding what it says?” Molly Santos asked the Globe.

Smith recognized the big role the internet played in this serendipity. “We’re very virtually centered right now,” Smith said. “How did I hear that it was found? On my phone. How did I get in contact with somebody to get in contact with them? On my phone. How did I talk to him? On my phone. It was this old-fashioned sort of thing to do, but I would have had absolutely no idea that somebody ever found it if it wasn’t for technology.”

Of the eight bottle messages thrown into the sea, Smith said two or three more were found soon after that 2018 Thanksgiving, all in the Rhode Island area. The messages were unique, as each sibling, cousin and parent had written their own.

“What are we going to do after Thanksgiving dinner?” Smith said. “(We were) hoping that the bottles would make it somewhere and that we’d be able to meet some new people and share our experience of our little family Thanksgiving.”

Laurie Smith, Sean’s mother, noted that his twin brother, Danny, had written his message in Morse code, “so it’s probably a good thing that Sean’s bottle made the long journey!”

She said the event was a “lovely connection point as we near the end of the pandemic.”

“As a teacher, I am well aware that small moments of initiative can have a huge impact on others, but I certainly didn’t wake up today expecting my son to be bonding on Zoom with a boy from the Azores,” she said via email. “Sean loved talking to Christian and they plan to connect again soon.”

“I think we’re definitely going to stay in touch,” Sean Smith added.

Jasmine Taudvin can be reached at jtaudvin@vnews.com.

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