NEWBURYPORT — After about 21 years at sea, a local musician's message in a bottle turned up on the shore of a Scottish island almost 3,000 miles across the Atlantic.
In 1998, 13-year-old Matt Rhoades was on vacation in Wells, Maine, when he decided to cast a plastic water bottle into the ocean with the faint hope that someone might one day find it. Inside the bottle, he placed a letter with a simple message: "Hello, my name is Matt Rhoades. Please write back. Salem, N.H. 35 Colleen Drive. USA."
"I think I was inspired by kids movies where they always did stuff like that. I didn't think much about it at the time," said Rhoades, now a 34-year-old Horton Street resident who teaches guitar and music production at The Musical Suite in The Tannery Marketplace.
Having mostly forgotten about the bottle over the years, Rhoades said he "thought it was spam" when he was contacted last Monday by Scotland native Mike Bolam, who said he found it while vacationing with his family on the Scottish island of North Uist.
But when Rhoades saw pictures of the bottle and letter on Twitter, the memories came rushing back.
"I didn't think it was real until I saw the pictures. It was a total shock," said Rhoades, adding that the letter's discovery helped him recall that summer at the beach when he spent a lot of time surfing.
The moment was a blast from the past, triggering memories of minute details such as the thicker plastic used to make disposable water bottles in the 1990s.
"The material was so much thicker back then, they were like Nalgene bottles," said Rhoades, referring to the popular brand of reusable bottles with thicker, durable plastic.
Years after his family's summer vacation in Wells, Rhoades went on to become the lead vocalist of the metal band And Then There Were None, which enjoyed success locally and then nationally after signing with record label Tooth & Nail. The band released its debut album in 2009 and toured the country with internationally known acts before going on a hiatus.
Rhoades has recorded and performed with other acts since then, but noted that the full-circle nature of the bottle's discovery coincides with the return of And Then There Were None, which is gearing up for a new set of performances and music releases after nearly a decade on hold.
Reflecting on the bottle's discovery, Rhoades said he is still in disbelief at how his message could have completed such a lengthy trip.
"That thing has been floating for most of my life. Had I know it would be found 20 years later, I would have written something much more substantial," he said with a laugh.
Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.