There's a new way to memorialize a loved one who may have felt a special connection with the sea. It's a concrete fish haven deployed in a reef nearly 40 feet under the waves.
Some three miles off the coast of Little River is the Jim Caudle Reef, a man-made haven for sea life and a fitting place of rest for someone like Loren Draper, an avid fisherman who died in 2009.
"He was a strong independent man that really liked to fish a lot," said Tamie Nixon, Draper's daughter. "He's probably responsible for me being a boat captain."
Nixon operates Adventure Cruises, a tour boat company based in Murrells Inlet.
Following Draper's death at the age of 73, his family felt that he would feel most at home in a place where he spent many precious hours of life, so they made arrangements to have his ashes entombed in one of the 1,300 lb. concrete cones.
After three years of work and planning, the completed memorial was gently lowered into the ocean Monday from a shrimp boat, the Little River-based Miss Carolyn Ann, while Draper's family and friends looked on from a tour boat, the Sea Thunder.
Two other concrete memorials were released as well, for Thelma Jackson and Joseph Faddy. All three memorials will become a new home for sea life.
The memorials were the first to be deployed off Little River, but Nixon said they can be placed in the reef off Murrells Inlet as well.
It's not uncommon for a loved one's ashes to be scattered at sea, but for someone who has made his life on the ocean, the reef cones seem to provide a more meaningful memorial.
"It gives purpose to the reef, it adds to it," Nixon said. "The fish havens provide a protective area to where they could breed."
Each cone contains a plaque with the name of the deceased on it. In Draper's case, the memorial has a drum stick embedded in it as well, befitting his many years as a drummer for the U.S. Marine Corps.
"You can put anything you want in this memorial when they're pouring it and my son sent his drum sticks, which says 'Drumming for Jesus'," said Draper's wife, Arlene Draper.
As Loren Draper returned for eternity to a place where he spent many happy hours, his family believes he was there with them, and smiling from above.
"He's very happy, he's back with the fish," Nixon said.