Littlehampton dogwalkers discover message in a bottle - and track down the American writer

A message in a bottle has united three people who live thousands of miles apart.

Nicholas Smithling from Oklahoma dropped it in the Atlantic Ocean during a voyage on his merchant navy ship more than 70 days ago.

Melanie Harris and her mother Eileen Webb with the note from the bottle. Inset: Nicholas Smithling

Melanie Harris and her mother Eileen Webb with the note from the bottle. Inset: Nicholas Smithling

It washed up on East Beach, Littlehampton, on October 12, where it was discovered by dogwalker Eileen Webb and her daughter Melanie Harris. Melanie, 50, said: “It made the dog walk a little bit more interesting on a Saturday morning!

“Next time, maybe I’ll find some treasure – but I don’t think you’ll find that on Littlehampton Beach.”

An avid litter picker, Eileen, 78, spotted the German schnapps bottle sealed with electrical tape and realised it was not your typical flotsam and jetsam.

Back at Melanie’s home in Toddington Park, Wick, the pair prised it open and read the message, which said ‘Nicholas Smithling, 1-918-348-4900, America, Just trying this out’.

The bottle that was found

The bottle that was found

Minutes later, Melanie had found Nicholas on Facebook: a 36-year-old boatswain from Henryetta, a town of 6,000 people in the central US state.

She said he was ‘over the moon’, adding: “Social media gets a bad rap, but this is a good example of how it brings people together.”

Speaking from his ship, Nicholas said it was the second time he had been contacted via one of his bottles – the first being someone from Columbia.

He said: “It is pretty cool. We just recently got wi-fi on board the ship; normally we go without connection during the Atlantic crossing.

“A random lady hit me up on Facebook, and I was like ‘oh wow!’ I was really excited.

“Someone finding it and messaging is pretty crazy.”

He said he dropped the bottle 100 miles from the English Channel during a trip from Houston, Texas to Germany.

Of his unusual hobby, he said: “Some people think it is dumb, but I enjoy it.”