Lowell Templeton was watching for high tide around 8 p.m. on September 11 — the day Tropical Storm Irma hit the Lowcountry — when he saw it off Hilton Head Island.
“I just saw this big, blinking red light and I could tell it was pretty close to the shoreline,” Templeton said. “I’ve lived here for 10 years and had never seen any light like that that close to the shore.”
Irma had arrived on Hilton Head earlier in the day, bringing heavy rains and wind gusts up to 70 mph. The barrier islands were evacuated — Hilton Head included — but Templeton stayed put. He watched the waves roll in from his third floor, oceanfront condo at Sea Crest Villas.
“I’d read the big deal for Irma was the storm surge coming up over the dunes, and at the high tide earlier in the day, the tide had been coming up through the beach path,” he said. “So I was kind of looking and waiting for the high tide to come in.”
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He’d been sending video clips to family and friends who’d left the island.
He dropped everything when he saw that blinking red light.
At first he thought it was a boat.
Then he realized it had to be some kind of buoy.
“I wasn’t sure if maybe the Coast Guard had put it there to track the tide,” he said.
His question was answered when he looked out his window the next morning.
There it was — Buoy 8 — stranded on Coligny Beach.
A crowd had already gathered, he said.
“You could see where it was attracting peoples’ attention,” he said. “It was definitely neat.”
The size of the crowd also told another tale — not many islanders evacuated for Irma.
“I don’t know if it was because of the frustration (from after Hurricane Matthew),” he said. “I talked to a lot of people who evacuated for Matthew who said, ‘I’ll never evacuate again.’”
Templeton stayed put for both storms.
“Matthew was a lot worse, by far,” he said. “For Irma, it was all just storm surge as far as where I’m located.”
He never even lost power during Irma.
“(It was) nothing really outside of just a lot of rain and wind,” Templeton said.
That random, giant buoy was the only really interesting thing he saw that day, he said.
“It was kind of funny how people were kind of enraptured by this odd buoy that just kind of floated up,” Templeton said.
Eventually, the buoy had to return to its home at the mouth of the Port Royal Sound.
But that wasn’t the end of Buoy 8’s life on Hilton Head. The buoy was so loved, a replica was made and has been placed outside between Skull Creek Boathouse and Skull Creek Dockside.