Belle of Washington clears Coast Guard inspection, back in service after Hurricane Irene setback

WASHINGTON, N.C. - The vessel Belle, an 85-foot small passenger vessel that conducts dinner cruises on the Pamlico River here is shown resting on a dock Aug. 29, 2011. The vessel was displaced after Hurricane Irene struck the North Carolina coast. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Post written by Lt. Christopher Martin

Hurricane Irene struck the North Carolina coast in August 2011 and destroyed more than 300 aids to navigation, damaged several vessels and shut down both of the state’s major ports. The most memorable vessel damaged in the storm was the Belle of Washington, an 85-foot small passenger vessel that conducts dinner cruises on the Pamlico River in Washington, N.C.

In the days before the storm, the owner of the Belle took the vessel to a protected hurricane mooring area up Broad Creek just south of Washington, N.C. The vessel was moored with its bow up into an empty lot in a waterfront neighborhood off Cox road on Broad Creek. Once the vessel was thought to be secured with slacked lines awaiting the tide and wind of Irene’s fury, the owner went home and secured his personal belongings. During the passing of the storm the master of the vessel went out and braved the weather to check on the vessel only to find out it wasn’t there. Once the storm passed, the owner notified Coast Guard Sector North Carolina watchstanders of the missing vessel.

The next morning, one of Sector North Carolina’s assessment teams found the vessel. The storm’s tidal surge was reportedly in excess of 10 feet which far surpassed the slack in the mooring lines. The vessel and its lines proved stronger than the foundations of the pilings to which they were attached. All four of the wooden pilings were pulled straight out of the ground as the storm surge lifted the vessel until the pilings gave way. The vessel drifted and destroyed a boat house on the end of a private dock then came to rest on top of the neighbor’s dock. The boat’s running strakes, a continuous band of hull planks or plates on a boat, were caught on the top railing of the dock. After the water level dropped, the vessel rested perfectly on seven pilings. The Belle still had the mooring lines tied to both the cleats and to the original pilings while the boat rested on the dock with zero lean in either direction.

Inspectors from Marine Safety Detachment Fort Macon, N.C., assessed the Belle’s predicament with the owner and discussed salvage options. The owner and his insurance company contacted a local construction and salvage company to come up with a plan. The salvage company was very familiar with what to do since their expertise was used for the Mccotter’s Marina fire just a few short months before.

The salvage company, with concurrence from the Sector North Carolina Prevention Department crewmembers and the owner’s insurance company, executed a plan to build a temporary boat lift around the sixty thousand pound dinner cruise boat to lift it up. Once raised, the dock was removed, and the vessel was eased back in the water. The plan worked flawlessly. The Belle motored back to her original mooring in downtown Washington a little bruised, but none of the vessel’s hull was breached. The only damage was to the port side window and the canopy covering the dance floor, which was ripped off. The Belle minor repairs were fixed and it was back in business hosting a wedding reception three weeks later.

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