Despite stormy waters, the Folly Boat continues to be the community’s canvas

By Bill Davis | Staff Writer

Ever since Hurricane Hugo spawned a tornado that lifted a boat from Backman’s Seafood Company along Sol Legare Road and deposited it alongside Folly Road, locals have had a place to display their inner thoughts.

One painting caught the eye of local realtor and Folly Beach resident Eric Draper back in 1993. It featured a mother and calf orca swimming alongside each other. Fascinated, Draper, now 46, rolled back to the spot and snapped a shot.

And then later, when someone else repainted the boat, he took another picture. And then another. And another. He has since become the unofficial caretaker of the boat, taking time out from showing properties to clients to clean-up the boat and picking up items out of the nearby marsh, like paint cans and rollers.

And those pictures have added up. Draper estimates he has as many as 5,000 shots of different messages painted on the boat. 

Those shots are featured and categorized by year on a website he curates, There are wedding announcements, birth announcements, sports celebrations, just about anything you can think of.

One of Draper’s favorite images was the time someone painted the whole boat black and then accused an ex-lover of being a cheater. “My assumption was that a jilted woman painted it,” he says, adding that by the next day a new message had covered it up.

Recently, as issues of race have heated up nationally, the boat has become a battle sight where different factions have decided to fight with each other. One side will paint a pro-confederate flag message and within hours a “con” message has covered it up, and so on.

Part of the reason for the back-and-forth is that the boat, like Folly itself is open to everyone. There is no fence surrounding the boat; there are no ordinances requiring a permit to splash a message across its port side and bow.

City Administrator Spencer Wetmore says her office assumes the boat falls within city jurisdiction, as the high ground on which it sits was annexed into Folly in the 2000’s.

And if the recent unpleasantness continues, there could another opportunity for an “old” Folly versus “new” Folly squabble to break out between its free-wheeling past and its more complicated future.

Mayor Tim Goodwin says the main thing everyone needs to do is to “respect everybody.”

He says that as long as any message plastered on the side of the boat isn’t racist, or profane, that access to the boat will remain “fair game” and “wide open to everybody.”

Goodwin, echoing the opinions of many others in the island community, has asked locals to “take a break” from fighting on Facebook on the nature of recent messages painted on the boat.

Discussions have turned heated of late on the Follitics page on Facebook, with many worrying that future protests could be spurred by more heated jibber-jabber on public media.

Draper says that as a former history teacher he sees both sides of the issue, and echoes the mayor’s advice to let things cool off.

Goodwin laughs, saying that he’s been taken to task multiple times on the side of the boat for the job he’s doing at City Hall. Free speech cuts both ways, he says, as does tolerance for those you don’t agree with.

He remembers an instance three months after he took office when the volume of paint on the side of the boat became too heavy for the chemicals holding it in place, and a big chunk of the paint just fell off.

“We had to hire someone to come up and haul away the paint, there was so much,” says the mayor. “It was like looking at rings on a tree.”

And that’s how Goodwin hopes the bickering over what gets put on the boat will end. “One day, all the paint will fall off and take all the latent anger and discontent, and we can get back to ‘Julie will you marry me?’”

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