A party pontoon? A floating food stand? A project for firefighter training?
Questions -- and theories -- abound about the white, apparently homemade boat anchored by the Richard V. Woods Memorial Bridge near Lady's Island.
"Nobody really knows; everybody asks," said Dick Jennings of Beaufort Water Search & Rescue. "It's a great conversation piece."
The boat appeared off Lady's Island just before the start of the Beaufort Water Festival on July 13 and has remained.
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Ernie Moore at the Lady's Island Marina said it appears to be a sailboat hull, with a plywood middle that rises high above the water line and a pontoon top. When it first appeared, the plywood was not painted. Its sides got a coat of white paint a few weeks ago.
"It's probably one of the weirdest rebuilds I've ever seen on the water," said Beaufort resident Dave Curtis, who has been around boats for about two decades. "It looks like a white outhouse on the water."
He is worried a strong gust of wind could knock it over, as it appears to be top-heavy.
Spokesmen from the Beaufort Fire Department and the Lady's Island/St. Helena Fire Department said the boat is not theirs, dispelling a rumor that it was being built so firefighters could practice putting out a fire on the water.
On Sept. 20, The Beaufort Gazette attached to a railing a plastic bag with a note inside requesting an interview with the owner. On Friday, it still hung there, apparently unopened.
Donna Kirkpatrick of Beaufort said she has seen a small boat or kayak tied alongside the mystery craft several times.
"Our theory is that someone is working on it, and they will take the big thing on top off when they're done," she said.
The owner did not register with the Downtown Beaufort Marina, as a few other vessels anchored nearby have, according to harbormaster Rick Griffin. However, the city has told him not to worry about boats parked that close to Factory Creek.
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said Griffin has little jurisdiction over the harbor without an organized mooring field, which the city plans to create. However, even then, the harbormaster would only have control within that field. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has jurisdiction over the waters beyond.
DNR Sgt. Michael Paul Thomas said he plans to look into the boat and its owner this week . He recently received calls about boats moored in Factory Creek without lights. The mystery boat has lights, though, and as long as vessels are also properly registered with the state, they can be moored there, Thomas said.
"I don't really concern myself with that boat," he said. "... I figured somebody built that deck on it to take it out to party on during Water Festival."
Jennings said people have asked him to move the boat somewhere less visible. While he said he does not have that authority, he believes it should be relocated.
"People coming into Beaufort, they see that," he said. "It's somebody's homemade project that should be in their yard or at their dock and not as a reception to Beaufort."
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/EyeonBeaufort.