In this photo, taken on or around Jan. 25, Little Blue is tied to a dock in a “secret location,” according to the Facebook post of Fran and Bill Bollin.

To some, it was a ratty old boat. It was a potential environmental pollutant. It was an eyesore that needed to go. 

And for that group, the removal of a small blue and white dingy from the mud flats, oyster beds and grasses of Mackay Creek on Jan. 21 was a belated gift from St. Nick. 

What’s Happening in Bluffton Facebook group member Aaron Smithmeier posted a photo of the boat being towed away around 7:45 a.m. Jan. 21. This effort came after repeated efforts to dislodge the boat from its wedged-in position in the mud flats by the boat’s former owner, long-time island charter captain Jon Everetts. 

He was hoping for a “super tide” on Christmas Eve to get some help from Mother Nature, as he was unable to procure the proper size boat tow from local captains. As we’ve said before, this skiff has been the “don’t-ask, don’t tell” open secret among area seafarers for years. 

There is a lore that built up around the boat. Some say it’s really been hanging around the bridge waters for close to five years. We know that Everetts bought the boat about two and a half years ago. He moored the boat near the bridge to avoid dockage fees, hoping to one day restore the boat. 

But rumor has it that the combined price tag of the purchase and the estimated cost of restoration was not sitting well with the true captain of the Everetts household. 

So the boat meandered the waterways between Buckingham Landing and Mackays Creek for the past 24 months. It moved from one side to the other of the bridge segment closest to the Bluffton mainland before beaching itself in the Lowcountry grasses for an extended sunning session. 

In that time, a smattering of social media posts admiring the boat turned into a buzz that grew into a full-on admiration society far outnumbering the prickly pears perturbed by what they saw as the lower-class aesthetic of the boat bringing down their property values. 

These are likely the same folks who complained about the rock pile organic art installation at the Bluffton town dock. 

As one online commenter said, “To these snobs, we point an eternal raspberry tongue your way.” 

The folks sad to hear the Jan. 21 news see the boat as far more than a sailing vessel. It is a sign of resilience, hope and joy each time they cross the bridge. “Bluey” has survived multiple severe storms, been knocked on its side, been tagged for removal multiple times – and yet it had survived every threat. Its indominable spirit became a symbol for first-time island visitors and long-time residents alike.

Facebook commenter Tracy Owens encapsulated this Little Blue Boat love perfectly in her Jan. 22 post. 

“I love our quirky, eccentric, compassionate, party hard Island. I love how our mistakes are forgotten quickly and a little crazy is a required trait. It’s like a high school cafeteria, where there’s the jocks, the nerds, the geeks and freaks, the ‘goody two shoes,’ the druggies, the rich kids and the ‘not so rich kids’,” Owens began. “But the thing that’s different here is we all sit at the same table. Let something happen to one of us and we all turn out in support. We get all googly over a little blue boat that gets stuck in the marsh, and we freak out when it gets towed away. It’s like, if something (or someone) ends up here, then it becomes part of the landscape quickly and we want to protect it. I just freaking love that about this little rock that we call home.”

The vessel has gone through smaller waves of online infamy over the past two years but nothing like what began shortly after Thanksgiving. It began with a few videos admiring the boat. That turned into a barrage of hilarious memes, putting everyone from Skipper and Gilligan to Hootie and the Blowfish on the boat. 

Local artists then began to take note. A pair of artists, Erin Christofoli and Stephen Gregar, raised a combined $900 that was donated to Bluffton Self Help. 

Everetts was mostly oblivious to the newest wave of social media notoriety until a 48-hour spate of TV and daily newspaper reports put “Bluey” back on the South Carolina Department of Natural Resource’s radar. When “look the other way” turned to finger pointing and blame assignments, the DNR cracked down on Everetts, who donated the boat to the South Carolina Reef Association rather than pay a $10,000 fine. 

While there is no such organization that comes up on an online search, the DNR does run a Marine Artificial Reef Program, which constructs reefs from a variety of concrete and steel structures, including donated ships and tugboats. 

Perhaps this is the group to which Everetts donated “Bluey.” Online commenters buy the theory, believing the boat will be sunk to become part of a new artificial reef off the Hilton Head coastline. 

Still others think no matter where the boat is, the spirit it represents should not be lost. They suggest a permanent floating replica be made to serve as a welcome to all visitors. Even new Hilton Head Island mayor Alan Perry, contacted last week, acknowledged the Little Blue Boat’s potential in serving as our emotional and spiritual mascot.

But this story is far from over. A steady flow of posters have said the reef stories are untrue, that the boat was taken off the marsh to quell the maritime barbarians at the gate.

Commenters in Facebook fan groups like I Love the Little Boat say this is just the beginning of a new chapter.

“It’s just the start of a new adventure. Gonna be restored and brought back to its original glory. Y’all will see it sailing around the island soon,” said one commenter. Bluffton resident Glenn Giles has been inquiring as to its wearabouts in hopes of taking on and completing the restoration that Everetts never got to.

And then there’s a photo posted by islander Bill Bollin, showing what looks to be the celebrated watercraft in a location near the bridge.

“It’s B-A-C-K!” said commenter Sandy Gillis of the photo.

Other backers of the boat preferred to lean on the big-picture meaning of the boat, rather than speculate about Bluey’s actual location.

Nay, haters, you might have taken the boat out of the water. But you can’t rip it out of our hearts.

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton.