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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Richard Luscombe in Miami

‘It bust loose and went to Europe’: Florida buoy washes up in Scotland

A buoy from Florida floated all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to the Scottish isle of Eriskay.
A buoy from Florida floated all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to the Scottish isle of Eriskay. Photograph: Maryann Macintyre

From Bonnie Prince Charlie’s ill-fated 1745 landing, to the shipwreck of a whisky-laden cargo freighter two centuries later that inspired a bestselling novel and blockbuster movie, the tiny Scottish island of Eriskay has a rich and outsized history of notable maritime events.

Now, the arrival of a visitor from Florida following a 4,000-mile solo voyage across the Atlantic has added another curious chapter. It is a navigation buoy that slipped its mooring in the Florida Keys and rode the Gulf Stream to the British Isles, coming ashore in Eriskay and discovered by one of its 143 residents.

“Our team can’t say with any certainty when it went missing. We just know it bust loose and went all the way to Europe,” said Scott Atwell, communications and outreach manager for the Florida Keys national marine sanctuary.

“We had no idea it had gone until we received an email and some photos from a lady who lives on the island. Sometimes they just disappear, or wash up somewhere on the coast of Florida. A couple of times I’ve personally been to the West Palm Beach area to pick them up. It just depends on the wind and the tides where they end up.”

The Eriskay resident, Maryann Macintyre, also posted news of her find on Facebook, where other beachgoers left comments saying the faded yellow buoy, about the size of a child’s space hopper, had been there for several weeks.

The buoy, one of about 300 marking the boundary of the Elbow Sanctuary preservation area in the upper Keys, has no GPS or other electronic tracking equipment, only stickers stating it is US government property and asking anybody who finds it to contact authorities in Florida.

The island, part of the Outer Hebrides, was the landing site for Charles Edward Stuart, grandson of the deposed King James II and so-called Young Pretender, who led the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1745.

More recently, Scottish author Compton Mackenzie’s 1947 book, Whisky Galore, and a 1949 Ealing comedy of the same name, were based on the grounding of the freighter SS Politician in Eriskay in 1941.

Islanders recovered, hid and savored the bulk of 28,000 cases of Scotch whisky that had been in its hold, thwarting strict second world war ration restrictions, but drawing the attention of British customs and excise officials who prosecuted those they could find.

“I can understand the fascination with our buoy. It’s just a more modern way to tell the Whisky Galore story, right?” Atwell said.

He added that a smaller, mooring buoy from the sanctuary reached the Welsh seaside resort of Tywyn last November, and another had been found in Haverigg, Cumbria, seven months earlier. But he said neither incident generated the same level of social media commentary as the Eriskay buoy.

“There are several people on our team volunteering to go and get it, but we don’t have the budget to go pick it up, and it wouldn’t be cost-effective anyway, even if they were to come back with a few bottles of Scotch,” Atwell said.

“It’s a souvenir for Maryann and whoever else wants on the fine island of Eriskay.”

Macintyre said the Eriskay Historical Society was currently renovating the island’s old schoolhouse into a museum, and the buoy could end up there as an exhibit.

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