Artist Erin Audas-Cristofoli stands with the paintings she and fellow painter Stephen Gregar created. Both paintings have a new home at Agave in Bluffton. COURTESY ERIN AUDAS-CRISTOFOLI

Some folks see it as a nuisance and an environmental danger. Others see it as a symbol of hope and resilience in a time when we need more good news to talk about. 

It has been decorated, it has survived multiple storms, it has become the meme of the moment on local social media pages. 

Everywhere across Bluffton and Hilton Head Island, people are talking about the Little Blue Boat.

The sailboat with the white top and baby blue bottom was originally located offshore near the Daufuskie Island Ferry dock in Bluffton. Multiple charter boat captains we talked to, all wanting no part of having their name next to a quote, say the dinghy is a “don’t-ask, don’t-tell” open secret among area captains.

“There’s a folklore built around this boat, but the truth is, this happens all the time. It’s moored offshore, it’s out of the way of regular maritime traffic and it’s proven itself unsinkable,” said one long-time charter captain. “It’s not abandoned; we all know and love the owner. I wish people would move on and let it be.”

Ah, the title of a Beatles song. John, Paul, George and Ringo of the “Yellow Submarine” era have been Photoshopped onto the boat by Facebook posters. 

One meme of the boat appeared about three weeks ago on the We Love Hilton Head group and commenters immediately saw it as a creative challenge. 

Soon, everyone from Popeye to Gilligan and Skipper, the Lock Ness Monster to Duran Duran were appearing on “Bluey,” as some have affectionately dubbed the boat.

But this became more than just the latest disposable online fad. As the watercraft made its way to the other side of the U.S. 278 bridge into a salt marsh, it has become a mascot for many, an allegory for the spirit of never-surrender Lowcountry storm survival.

“I saw it driving (while) back and forth to work every day, crossing that bridge. At times, I would be stuck in accident traffic and I would just watch it wobble,” said Bluffton resident Ann Hadson. “It went from this eyesore to this thing you could count on seeing. Where’s Bluey today? It’s still there, it’s still standing, so all is right with the world.”

Hadson isn’t alone in letting Bluey creep into her heart. We Love the Little Blue Boat, a new Facebook group, grew to 2,500 members in a matter of hours after its creation. A crew of benevolent groupies adorned the vessel with a wreath and Christmas lights.

The beloved and mild-mannered owner that no one was looking to “out” was named in a WSAV report and then in a local daily paper. Charter boat captain Jon Everetts, the Black Dog Fishing Charters owner and 30-year veteran of area waters, has owned the boat for the past two years. 

Yes, he moored the boat by the bridge to avoid paying dockage fees. He has been nudged by SCDNR to remove Bluey before. At first, it just gently moved with the waves before breaking free during one of 2021’s more powerful storms. Everetts retrieved it and docked it farther away from the bridge, out of the way of boating traffic (and hopefully off the DNR radar). 

But Bluey had a stubborn streak. It cut loose once again during a storm earlier this year and took a small journey under the bridge to where its keel is currently stuck in four feet of mud in the marsh.

It’s not an easy task to remove a boat that’s so attached to the landscape. Everetts has said it will take a sailboat trailer to tow it – a piece of equipment he neither owns nor has been able to find as a loaner from fellow captains.

And that’s just fine with the thousands of cultlike devotees. To them, this water wonder is like a Weeble – it wobbles but it doesn’t fall down. It’s like Stallone with the Russians in “Rocky IV,” at first jeered vociferously, but after an onslaught of deadly Drago body blows and uppercuts, an unlikely hero. 

Seven-day visitors and 70-year residents alike are literally ready to register this little blue boat as a national landmark. Now, with DNR threatening action and Everetts eyeing a “super tide” on Christmas Eve that will dislodge the skiff and allow him to remove it, its ardent admirers are taking action.

Another Facebook page, Save the Little Blue Boat, has been formed, with members looking to start a petition to make the boat a permanent fixture and give an official label to the calm and welcoming status the now-iconic boat has achieved.

“I love the beacon of hope this little boat represents. I arrived here from California in the summer and it called to me every time I drove across the bridge onto Hilton Head,” said recent transplant Sam Wood. “I had driven all the way from California and this boat reminded me that I was coming to a better place.”

Everetts has said that while the boat is sturdy and not in danger of sinking, it does need work. But locals like social media philanthropist Heather Price suggest ridding Bluey of any environmental concerns and keeping it moored right where it is.

“Dump all the oil out of it, make sure it’s not disturbing any oyster beds and just let us have this goodness in our lives,” Price said.

The growing obsession with the boat has sparked a wave of creativity and charity from local artists. Wine and Design owner Erin Audas-Christofoli made a painting of the Little Blue Boat and auctioned it off on the What’s Happening in Bluffton Facebook page with all proceeds going to Bluffton Self Help. Fellow artist Stephen Gregar offered to add a painting of his own, a classic May River sunset, to the auction. 

The bidding was crisp and constant for days before Agave owner Linda Belskis took home the paintings for $550. Gregar later auctioned off a Christmas-themed painting done on a T-shirt with $300 more headed to BSH.

Gregar, the mastermind behind the Bluffton rock pile organic art installation, has been prolific when it comes to Bluey. He’s created close to a dozen different takes on the boat and has created two designs that are being featured on T-shirts and kitchen towels produced by Pockets Full of Sunshine, an organization that teaches vocational skills to special needs adults. A portion of the sales will go to PFS.

“It’s just sparked something inside me. It just makes me smile, makes so many of us happy to see. We need to celebrate moments like this more,” Gregar said.

Bluffton singer-songwriter Jevon Daly agrees. He has commemorated the maritime marvel with a song, “Little Blue Boat and You,” available for download on YouTube and Spotify.

Back on the water, Bluey sways with the tides. Its fate is largely in Mother Nature’s hands. While a smattering of folks can’t wait for the “blight” on our pristine reputation to be removed, the vast majority of newfound blue boat buffs are hoping for a Christmas miracle.

“I hope the ‘super tide’ is a dud and we can let Bluey live in peace,” Hadson said. “I just hope this hysteria fizzles out and I will have this fierce little warrior still around to greet me crossing the bridge and let me know it’s going to be a good day.”

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton.