Oct 01 2013

Folly Boat–An Extraordinary Welcoming Sign

…With a bit of a trash problem.

Folly Beach’s unofficial welcoming landmark, Folly Boat, has been around since ’89 when it washed onto the side of Folly Road during Hurricane Hugo. Since then, the famed boat has been seen by thousands of tourists, Folly Beach residents, and scores of others who have embarked on Folly over the last 24 years.

Folly Boat has become so popular that it has its own website and Facebook page. Run by Eric Draper and his buddy, Chad Rhodes, the friends maintain the site just to share all the love for Folly Boat. “It’s a labor of love and we hope to make a book about it one day,” says Draper. For people planning a vacation to Folly or who have never been to Folly, Folly Boat is a large white boat that is used as a billboard with painted messages of birthday celebrations, marriage proposals, and memorials honoring the lives of people who have died.

Although Draper doesn’t own Folly Boat, he is familiar with the history of how it ended up along Folly Road. Thomas Backman of Backman’s Seafood shared the story of the boat his brother owns. “It belongs to my brother, Sammy, and he tied it up to the dock during Hurricane Hugo. The tide came in so high that half of the dock was towed away,” says Backman. After Hugo, the Backman brothers needed to repair two of their docks to keep their seafood business running and never had a chance to move the boat. A trash problem nearly caused Folly Boat to be removed. “One time [state officials] had a problem with people stopping to paint the boat, and they wanted to move it because of the trash, soda cans, and beer cans people left behind. But people started a petition so they couldn’t move it,” says Backman.

The Folly Boat website is filled with memorable paintings and messages. Congratulatory messages to college bound students, dozens of birthdays wishes, birthday messages in memory of people who are no longer here to celebrate, a few marriage proposals, and an answer to a marriage proposal are all included in follyboat.com’s 2013 photo gallery. “I think people have a personal connection to the boat. A German couple once painted the boat and took several pictures for their friends in Germany who weren’t at Folly,” said Draper. The gigantic message board is sometimes painted several times a day and at other times, messages last for several days. “The 10th anniversary of September 11th, stayed for several days,” says Draper. Draper also mentioned that people share more details about memorial messages, but stories behind the marriage proposals and birthday messages aren’t shared too often.

For the most part, people paint positive messages on the boat, but Draper is concerned about the condition of the boat and the trash that people leave behind. “Something will have to be done sooner than later because there is a huge crack in the boat and it’s beginning to deteriorate,” he says. Surprisingly, people leave behind paint cans, paint brushes, and other garbage on the side of Folly Road. “I picked up approximately 75 paint cans last year, and people also dump their leftover paint into the marsh,” says Draper.

Draper tries to take pictures every day. “It’s the unofficial ambassador to Folly Beach. The City of Folly Beach line begins at the Folly Boat site, and it’s unique to our area,” says Draper. You can purchase souvenirs from the Folly Boat website and about .25 to .50 cents from every sale helps maintain the cost of the website.

With over two decades of Folly Boat messages and a multitude of supporters, hopefully, Folly Boat enthusiasts and artists will support necessary preservation efforts to keep the boat around for a few more decades. In the mean time, painters should take their trash with them and respect the City of Folly Beach, Folly Boat, and it’s stunning marsh ecosystem.

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