As Forrest Gump might say, “the beach is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.” Beaches are a virtual treasure trove of unusual finds, ranging from the shocking to the bizarre to the absolutely enchanting. Yet every so often, an object washes ashore that completely baffles all those who come across it.
For one coastal Ireland community, that object was a large, seemingly alien vessel that drifted completely out of the blue and into the path of an approaching coast guard. But as the officers boarded the craft and looked inside, they discovered a startling message that the entire nation couldn’t ignore.
With its majestic cliffs, rolling hills, and breathtaking views of the Atlantic, the Irish coast truly is something to behold. Yet in the winter of 2016, those who frequented the shores of Mayo County found their normally picturesque view disturbed by a peculiar sight.
The object was fuzzy at first, but as it grew closer to the coastline, onlookers realized that floating shape was actually a boat — and by the looks of its trajectory, it was going to crash right into the shore!
Without hesitation, the locals radioed the Coast Guard, who immediately sent a team to investigate the craft and bring it safely to shore. But when the guards reached the vessel and peeked inside, they were stumped by what they found.
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The small boat was totally abandoned, and based on its unorthodox design, the craft really had no business being seaworthy at all. Yet somehow, this unmanned vessel had reached the coast, leaving the guards to wonder how and why it had come there in the first place.
But now was not the time for questions, as the rough ocean waves threatened to rip the boat apart and sink the answers with it. The guards carefully towed the boat ashore, and, once it was out of harm’s way, they eagerly climbed inside.
Strangely, it seemed the craft had been built to be lived in, almost like a makeshift houseboat. But who could’ve built such a strange vessel? And what’s more, had they perished while at sea?
The guards weren’t sure they’d find the answer here, yet after scouring the boat for clues, they came across a bit of information that cracked the case wide open. Apparently, this vessel had come quite a long way — and it was all because of a man named Rick Small.
A resident of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Rick Small was well-known in his home country of Canada for building all kinds of unique contraptions. In fact, Small once made headlines for constructing a solar-powered bike and riding it from British Columbia all the way to Newfoundland.
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Clearly, Small was a proponent of alternative energy, and he had actually sought to build his own solar-powered houseboat. But this craft wasn’t just going to serve as the eccentric environmentalist’s home in the Foxtrap Marina: he was going to sail it, too.
Using a combination of lumber and polystyrene, Small constructed the 20-foot vessel with the goal of crossing the Atlantic, journeying from his basecamp in Newfoundland all the way to – you guessed it – Ireland. Yet even with a sound plan of action, Small immediately ran into trouble.
After informing the Canadian Coast Guard of his mission, the officers expressed concern that Small’s vessel wasn’t equipped to handle the unpredictable might of the ocean. Small thought it over, and in the end, he actually opted not to make his journey… or did he?
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With the discovery of Small’s vessel in Ireland, it seemed that the makeshift craft had completed its maiden voyage after all. But there was still one question that authorities were dying to answer: where in the world was Rick Small?
While some initially feared that the environmentalist had drowned at sea, the Coast Guard’s search turned up a peculiar message scrawled on the wall of the craft. Signed by Small himself, the note revealed his true motivations behind building the unusual boat.
The vessel wasn’t built as a personal home or as a means of travel — instead, it was a gift. Since Small couldn’t sail the craft himself, it appeared he was gifting it as a shelter to homeless youth in protest of Newfoundland’s refusal to do the same for its own homeless.
“Something must have changed drastically for this to happen,” said Foxtrap Marina member Rodney Mercer of Small’s unexpected change-of-heart. “He had a clear idea what he was building and what he wanted to do. [I was] surprised to see it set adrift with that note.”
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Word soon spread of Small’s selfless gesture, and locals began flocking to the site of the beached vessel to see the unique craft for themselves. Eventually, the crowds the boat was drawing became so great the authorities were forced to remove it from the shore.
Given the massive amount of interest in Small’s boat, a number of companies actually expressed interest in restoring the vessel for display as an official landmark. However, Irish authorities instead placed it in storage, hoping it would one day be claimed by Small.
But there’s just one problem: nobody knows where Rick Small is. Although locals claimed to have seen Small in the days before his boat disappeared from the harbor, no one has seen him since.
While he was primarily known to live off the grid, authorities can’t help but wonder if Small really was on his boat the day it drifted into the Atlantic. For now, the legend of Rick Small will remain one defined by a mind – and heart – way ahead of its time.
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Yet not all messages sent adrift at sea come bearing such good faith and generosity. While most of us would expect such a discovery to spark a sense of joy and wonder, one couple learned the hard way that even a message in a bottle can break your heart.
In September of 2017, people of the Florida coast waited in fear for destruction to come their way. There was a dark sky, strong gusts of wind, and a chill in the air…
That’s because Irma was ready to destroy. The hurricane had already taken her toll on the northeast Caribbean and was headed to the Sunshine State, which wasn’t looking all that sunny.
While everyone fled to safety, two people headed directly towards the impending peril: a young couple from Melbourne, Florida. Their names were Nikki Snow and Allen Gibson, and they were ready to chase some storms.
Around 3 pm on September 20th, Nikki and Allen were taking pictures on the beach and looking out to sea, feeling the rush of the approaching storm. But as the winds grew, they realized they had walked way too far and began to return to higher ground.
Running as fast as they could, they made their way back up the shore. But just before they left the beach they stumbled across something out of place. It caught their eye — and they couldn’t ignore it.
A dark green wine bottle stuck out from the sand. It could have been sheer curiosity or a desire to keep the beach clean, but the young lovers decided to inspect it. That’s when they noticed it wasn’t a piece of trash at all.
Much to their surprise, the bottle not only had a cork in it, but a piece of paper as well. Had they stumbled upon a real life message in the bottle?
Back at home in Melbourne, while hunkering down from Hurricane Irma as it passed through, Nikki and Allen extricated the letter, eager to see what it might say. There was only one problem: they couldn’t read it.
Unfortunately, the letter inside was written in Spanish, and neither Nikki’s nor Allen’s high school language classes could help them comprehend the scribbles on the pages. However, they knew someone who would.
Allen actually worked as a line cook at a Cuban restaurant named El Ambia Cubano — a place full of Cuban coworkers whose mother tongue was Spanish. Surely someone there could translate the message…
Luckily, Allen’s bilingual kitchen manager, Alfredo Hernandez Froment, was happy to take a crack at it. As it turned out, the letter was a call for help, but not the kind that one would expect from a message in a bottle.
It was written by a woman, and it talked about heartbreak and the struggle to overcome mounting obstacles. This girl was trying to get her life and her career together, and Alfredo instantly identified with it.
Additionally, Alfredo discovered who the sender was: a young woman living on a tropical island, desperately hoping to improve her life. As she wrote, she poured her struggles into her letter addressed to “mother.”
This mystery woman had poured her heart out, rolled up her emotions and stuffed them into a bottle, sealed it with her wishes and cast it into the ocean. It was never meant to be read, but it was a good thing it was…
See, that the bottle had been swept up by currents, traveled thousands of miles without breaking, was dragged through a hurricane and eventually slammed onto that Florida beach was a miracle in and of itself. Two worlds were about to collide.
Far south, in Havana, Cuba, 25-year-old Chila Lynn was feeling trapped. An R&B singer and pianist, she had found success at a young age as the Spanish singing voice for the lead princess Tiana in the dubbed version of The Princess and the Frog.
Not only was she a talented voice actress, she also produced an album in 2012 titled Real Woman. Since then, however, she felt that despite her efforts, her music career had fallen flat, and she was unable to put it back into motion.
Chila’s successes were simply not enough for her, as she was hoping to take her talents internationally. She wanted respect, and she wanted her songs to be heard — so badly that she took it up with a higher power.
“I’ve had many obstacles, my heart has been broken a ton of times,” the letter read. “I have lost the roof over my head and had almost lost my way, but I’m trying to get back my house, my direction, and my progress.”
To the intended recipient of her pained letter, Chila wrote, “I’m an artist, you know, since I opened my eyes, music lives in me.” Chila took her note, placed it inside a wine bottle, and took it to pray at the church of Our Lady of Regla.
In Cuba, ancient Yoruban religion brought by West African slaves has blended with Spanish Catholic beliefs to create a practice called Santería. Those who follow it believe in a system of “Orishas.”
Orishas are godly spirits that have taken a human form. Those who practice Santería have often found a counterpart in Christianity represented by each Orisha, and Chila had someone specific in mind.
The Orisha Yemayá is considered the mother of all creation and all other deities. She is associated with the Virgin Mary. She is a goddess of the seas, and a protector of women, a comforting mother figure.
While Allen’s coworker Alfredo was no Orisha, he had defected from Cuba in 1994 and played music. Not only did he share a nationality and language with Chila, they even had a similar background and interests.
Somehow he managed to find Chila Lynn’s email, and he reached out to the singer to let her know that he had found her message and wanted to help her achieve her dreams by supporting her career.
At first, when she read his message, rather than being overjoyed or excited, she got annoyed. She thought that someone in Cuba was playing a cruel prank on her. No way her message made it all the way to Florida… right?
However, once she found out that Alfredo meant everything he said, Chila was over the moon. Finally, somebody was on her side, even though it was a stranger who lived thousands of miles away.
They kept in touch, and he made sure to listen to her music and was deeply impressed with her work, calling her a “talented and dedicated artist.” In 2017, she worked hard to release an international album: Amor Y Miel (love and honey).
Sadly, By the time Nikki and Allen found the message in a bottle, Chila didn’t have the record deal anymore, but that didn’t deter her. Alfredo turned to his own connections to see if they could help this young woman.
Knowing Chila’s options were limited in Cuba, Alfredo wanted to get her some performing gigs in the United States. It almost seemed too good to be true, and Chila wondered why this stranger would help her out like this.
For Alfredo, helping this young singer tour in the U.S. was not at all a business deal, nor did he seek any personal gain. He did it with the utmost devotion, feeling that the Virgin Mary was asking him personally to help this woman.
As a matter of fact, the entire journey of the bottled message and the experience of finding a kindred spirit across the ocean had strengthened both of their faiths. This was no coincidence — this was Yemayá’s work.
“I told Chila, the virgin put this letter in my hand for a reason,” Alfredo said. Coincidentally, Chila had been thinking of expanding her career to the U.S. before she sent out her prayer. Would her dreams finally come true?
As of March 2019, there were no official reports of Chila performing in the United States, yet after her message was found, she had reportedly assembled a band and was prepared to tour in the U.S. when the opportunity arose.
Still, all parties involved in the saga, including Nikki and Allen, were absolutely floored with what transpired. “I think it’s pretty incredible. Nine times out of ten you’re never going to know who it is,” Nikki said. “But we found the person. We were able to contact her.”
So where is the letter now? Alfredo framed it and hung it on the wall of his restaurant, where it was kept company by a shrine to the Virgin. While it hadn’t been intended for human eyes, he believed it was brought along by a higher power. One thing is certain: the forces that brought the two together were anything but ordinary.