For more than 20 years, people have been painting messages on a boat that Hurricane Hugo left landlocked beside Folly Road.
But now, the roadside public billboard seems to be sending a message of its own: “Scrape the paint off me once in while, will ya?”
On Monday, Folly Beach city officials examined what appears to be a several-inches-thick, rubbery-like layer sagging off the entire side of the boat facing the road. Something like this also happened “seven or eight years ago,” when paint layers, accumulating year after year and one atop the other, became too heavy to cling to the boat, Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin said.
Goodwin, who inspected the boat Monday with Public Works Department Director Kevin Whitsett, said city employees will be back today to pull the paint layer off. The layer will be sent to the Charleston County landfill, he said.
The boat has risen to iconic status since Hugo left it high and dry among oleander bushes and between Folly Road and a wide expanse of picturesque marsh.
Messages and art creations are painted on the boat’s side, sometimes daily and sometimes more than once daily. Messages have included birthday and wedding wishes, wedding proposals, divorce annoucements, requiems for lost or missing loved ones, announcements of coming events, support for sports teams, political appeals and just plain artsy creations.
The boat has a Facebook page, with more than 7,615 likes, and its own webpage, follyboat.com. Fans of the boat chat via Twitter, @follyboat, where the vessel is described as ”a South Carolina legend and landmark.”
The boat is depicted on the front cover of Frank Melvin Braden’s “The Humours of Folly.”
At Follyboat.com, a photo gallery illustrates some of the many inscriptions left on the boat. Stratton Lawrence provides a detailed “How to Paint the Folly Boat,” and in a blog, Folly Beach City Clerk Marlene Estridge says that when officials are asked for permission to paint the boat, “We just tell people to go ahead and do it.”
There’s no guarantee your message will be seen for long, she said.
“It’s first come, first serve,” Estridge wrote. “You might paint it and 45 minutes later someone else comes along.”
Paul Cheney, a local photographer who helped create the follyboat.com site, said Monday that boat supporters have been trying to come up with a way to raise funds to regularly clean and maintain the boat and its site.
“It’s an odd entity that needs to be protected and respected,” Cheney said.
He said no one at the website makes any money off the boat, but they all love the boat and its unique communicative abilities. “It’s nice to have an icon in the community.”
The Facebook page lets users swap comments and invites them to check out follyboat.com. At Facebook, a statement explains the website “was created so that painters and lovers of the folly boat can upload and share their memories of the landmark gifted by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 that greets each and every person as they travel to the Edge of America.”
Goodwin said that some seven or eight years ago the city carted off a thick layer of paint that began drooping off the boat, similar to, but not as expansive as the layer seen Monday.
“So many layers of paint, it looks like a solid wall of rubber. Sooner or later, it just gets so heavy it turns loose,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin pointed to a multi-colored area of asphalt between the boat and Folly Road, and said people are invited to paint the boat but are asked not to paint the road.
“It’s illegal and it’s not safe,” wrote Lawrence in his follyboat.com commentary.
Lawrence said Monday he has not yet seen the paint layer that’s sagging. In March of last year, he said, boat boosters gathered and did some cleanup at the site. The cleanup was aimed mostly at preventing spilled paints from washing into the marsh, and at the time there was no hint that the paint on the boat would begin falling off.
The boat offers everyone a one-of-a-kind opportunity for expression, he said.
“You don’t have to wait for a special occasion to get your tag on. If an image appears in your head, grab some paint, brushes, and a friend or two and head out to the Folly Boat. Just remember to take a picture before you drive away, because inspiration will likely strike someone else tomorrow,” Lawrence said.