For years, visitors have been curious to learn about the 50-foot boat located right before the bridge on the way to the island. How did it get there? What’s with the ever-changing paint job?
Origin: Hurricane Hugo
The Folly Boat first appeared on Folly Road in 1989 due to one of Charleston’s most infamous storms: Hurricane Hugo. The storm surge pushed the boat onto a spot close to the bridge, and the owner never came forward to claim it. It remained where the storm deposited it for almost three decades.
Soon after Hugo, residents and visitors began using the boat as a place for writing messages and displaying art. The boat was used to wish passers-by special happy birthdays, propose marriages, and display varying political sentiments. The communications painted onto the side of the boat never lasted very long, though—sometimes messages were painted over and changed daily.
While some of the messages were innocent and harmless, there were many times when the boat was used as a billboard for hate speech and commercial purposes. Messages painted onto the boat were featured in the local news more than a few times for inappropriate content that stirred controversy.
After years of painting over the boat, the layers began to thicken more and more until entire chunks of the boat started to come loose and peel off. Nevertheless, messages and art continued to be painted onto the side of the boat, and it continued to be a vessel of free speech—literally.
Present Day: Tropical Storm Irma and The Barrel
By 2017, the Folly boat had become a true unofficial landmark of the island. Tropical Storm Irma, which hit during the fall of 2017, swept the boat back out and stranded it on a privately-owned dock on Sol Legare Road. Weighing an estimated 20 tons and filled with steel and cement, the future of the boat seemed uncertain, as transporting it would be a daunting and expensive task. A nonprofit called Save the Folly Boat, together with the owner of the dock where the boat was stuck, organized a fundraiser to remove it and try to bring the boat back to Folly Road at its former position near the bridge.
Then on December 12, 2019, at the request of owner Chad Reynolds, the Folly Boat was moved to its present location adjacent to the James Island bar The Barrel on Folly Road, where it sits on the south side of the property. Crews with Limehouse & Sons used a crane and flatbed truck to move it, donating their time and equipment, according to the Post and Courier. Folly Beach City Council, the city Department of Public Safety, Aspen Fencing, Eric Draper of Save the Folly Boat, and others pitched in to help make it happen and preserve a community symbol. People still drop by to paint the boat with various messages and art, continuing the longstanding tradition of this enduring Folly icon!