Land & Conservation

A Mysterious Beach Discovery on Hilton Head

The island’s sea turtle patrol is searching for the owner of a vessel made with love

Photo: Courtesy of Sea Turtle Patrol Hilton Head Island

A handmade sailboat that washed up on Hilton Head Island last Saturday.

In her nineteen years as a volunteer with Sea Turtle Patrol Hilton Head Island, Kym Castillo has discovered everything from whale carcasses to boat motors while combing the beach for turtle nests. But she’s never found anything quite like what turned up last Saturday.

The team patrols fourteen miles of beach on the South Carolina island every morning during nesting season, starting at 5 a.m., marking nests and moving any that are too close to the water to higher ground. “We were relocating the last nest of the day, and I saw a very curious object that I thought was a toy up on the beach,” Castillo says. “When I picked it up, I realized it was much more than that.” The object turned out to be a little hand-carved wooden sailboat, painted blue and bearing a message that reads, “In Loving Memory, 1948-2020.” “And that’s all,” Castillo says. “No initials, no point of launch, nothing.” 

The south end of the island, says the turtle patrol’s director, Amber Kuehn, is a depositing ground for all manner of items. “Hilton Head is shaped like a foot, and the boat arrived around the toe area,” Kuehn explains. “Longshore currents move south, and that’s why a lot of things wash up in that area, but we’ve never had anything so personal before.”

photo: Courtesy of Sea Turtle Patrol Hilton Head Island
The boat in the sand on the south end of the island.

Someone clearly made the little vessel with love, Castillo says. “It’s heavy, meticulously crafted, and so lovely, with billowing sails, both simple and intricate. If it is what we think it is, it’s a beautiful testament to the person housed there.”

The team posted a picture of the find on Facebook. So far, only one more clue has emerged—a beachgoer on Georgia’s Tybee Island had discovered it on July 9 and gave it to a naturalist on the island, who took it out in his boat a few days later and set it back out to sea. “There was a true feeling of peace as we did this,” he wrote on Facebook. “The dolphins were swimming around the boat and a bell in the channel’s marker buoy was ringing. It sounded like the bell of a church.”

The currents then brought the boat to Hilton Head, and for now, the turtle patrol has been holding on to the vessel in case someone claims it. But if no one comes forward, Castillo says they plan to release it far out at sea. “I think that is the right thing to do. It came to the naturalist on Tybee, and then to sea turtle patrol here, and sending it on in its journey just adds to its story and its unique tribute.” 

If you have information about the boat, you can contact the sea turtle team at