Of all the boats Hurricane Hugo ripped from their moorings almost three decades ago, none inspired passion like the one on the Folly Beach causeway did.
In time, the long-abandoned boat would become an icon of the beach town down the road. It would become a reflection of the Lowcountry communities the hurricane had ravaged as message after message was painted onto its hull, making sure no one missed news about a graduation, a wedding or a political dust-up.
It inspired controversy as locals debated whether it was a landmark or an eyesore and rivals in sports and politics sought to cover each other's notes. It endured tragedy and triumph, and it reflected them in fresh coats of paint.
It did so for the better part of 28 years — until Monday, when the Folly Boat went out the way it came in September 1989.
It took the highest tide this city has seen since Hugo to sweep the boat from its spot on the marsh, a wash of historic flooding brought by the outer edges of Tropical Storm Irma. Winds pushed a surge of water to the shore, where high tide and a deluge of rain would finally raise the boat again.
"Many paintings, many memories," someone wrote on a Facebook fan page for the boat.
Alan Kleinfeld, a spokesman for the Folly Beach police, confirmed that the boat on Folly Road had washed away, but said his department didn’t know much about its whereabouts or what would become of the landmark.
For much of the afternoon, the boat would settle on a new spot just down Sol Legare Road, when its blue-and-pink hull crashed into Chris John’s dock between James Island and Folly Beach. He'd been live-streaming video of the rain moving on shore when the boat swept in. The boat was still floating Monday afternoon, and it wasn't clear whether it would stay by the dock.
"It's flat here and going to be tough to move," John said. "I'm just trying to soak it all in and figure out what to do."
John himself had been living nearby when Hugo hit in '89. He remembered it taking weeks to get off his street in the Harbor Woods neighborhood on James Island, and he remembered the abandoned boat washing up near the beach.
In those early years, the boat drew ire from elected officials, especially when profanity-laden graffiti started showing up on its hull. The idea of removing it came up, but works of art and personal announcements made it the sort of landmark local politicians would become too scared to touch.
So it made it through rivalry games between Carolina and Clemson, elections between Democrats and Republicans, and other controversies that took hold of the state’s conscience. As recently as June, a Confederate battle flag painting sparked a back-and-forth volley of messages from secessionists and others that grew so heated the police came to break it up.
Controversy mixed with coat after coat of celebration that grew so thick that chunks of paint would sometimes slough off. Before long, the cycle would restart — at least until this weekend, when the boat was painted with a message to Irma, then a hurricane ripping through Key West, Fla.
"Godspeed Florida," the boat read, with a heart painted red. "This too shall pass."
Kalyn Oyer and Gregory Yee contributed to this report.