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Pawleys Island man promoting climate change education at Georgetown’s Wooden Boat Show

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PAWLEYS ISLAND — When 70-year-old Henry Culberson was partially paralyzed three years ago in a surfing accident, he never thought he’d build another boat.

But with the help of an assistant, Culberson is now entering his solar-powered boat named “Greta T” as an exhibit into Georgetown’s 2021 Wooden Boat Show this weekend.

Complete with a giant wooden dragon head carved out of mahogany and solar panels that can power the boat for an all-day casual cruise on the water, “Greta T” is named after young Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, Culberson said.

“I’ve just admired her so much for everything she’s done, and just watching her trip develop has just been such an inspiration to me,” Culberson said, adding that he’s been an environmentalist his entire life.

Georgetown’s Wooden Boat Show, founded in 1993, is one of the city’s largest annual events, and often brings businesses downtown their best days of the year, according to the event’s website. The South Carolina Maritime Museum in Georgetown was born out of the boat show’s success, complete with photos of past show boats and other maritime-related artifacts.

Culberson said he has been building boats and working with wood for decades. He used to help repair boats in Key West, Florida in his earlier years, he said, and about 30 years ago he was in the boat show’s building competition and won.

A few years later, his 6-year-old daughter won a competition in the city by painting a photo of her watching him build that same boat.

He always wanted to build another boat and submit it to the exhibit portion of the competition, he said, so that his grandkids could share the experiences of his daughter in watching him build it. After his accident, though, that dream seemed pretty far fetched — he needs help doing a lot of small tasks including walking, and he struggles working with his hands, too.

But a year and a half ago, when Culberson met Tristan Allerton, a 35-year-old man living in the area from England with a PhD in forestry, Allerton gladly offered to help him build another wooden boat.

This help brought Culberson out of a very dark place after his accident, he said, and gave him a renewed view on life.

“The only way you can live and be as disabled as I am is keep yourself busy so you can keep your mind and yourself physically busy instead of sitting here all day long thinking about what you can and can’t do,” Culberson said.

The two have been working on “Greta T” since October 2020, Culberson said, and it has been fun for him to teach Allerton about wood-working and for the two to share endless amounts of life stories along the way.

Culberson said he is most excited to educate people on the effects climate change has had not only on the planet, but specifically South Carolina and Georgetown. Front Street only used to flood once every few years, Culberson said, but now it floods with more severity several few times a year, he said.

At his exhibit, he plans to have climate change posters so visitors can understand the meaning behind his boat while also enjoying it as an art piece.

“It’s not just going to be showing the boat, it’s going to be promoting climate change activism,” he said.

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