Owner devises plan to remove ship from perch atop dock after Irene

Posted September 1, 2011 6:50 p.m. EDT

— Hurricane Irene left many damaged or destroyed boats in its wake, but the Belle of Washington refused to let Irene push her around.

The storm ripped the 85-foot-long cruise vessel from its moorings in the Pamlico River, but instead of sinking or washing up on land, the Belle settled perfectly atop a dock in Jackie and Gil Leebrick's backyard.

"My husband and I are both photographers. and Gil said, 'This is an iconic image,'" Jackie Leebrick said Thursday with a laugh. "It could've easily gotten right into the house, but maybe it hung up on the dock."

"I think it's amazing. That's what I think," said the Belle's owner, A.G. Swanner.

The 4-foot-wide dock has held up for days under the 54,000-pound vessel, but that could change to get the Belle back into the water.

Swanner said the plan is to use a crane to lift the Belle off the dock, which will then be knocked out so the ship can be lowered into the water.

"It'll be a hell of an idea, what an idea," Swanner said, adding that he will pay to rebuild the dock.

Swanner and the Belle have had a rough year. A January explosion aboard the ship caused about $80,000 in damage and led to months of repairs.

In May, Swanner's restaurant in Washington, Blackbeard's, burned down. He had no insurance for the restaurant, he said, partly because he was paying so much money to insure the Belle.

Swanner compares owning businesses to playing poker.

"You have to take the good with the bad or give it up, one way or another," he said. "I'm ready for another hand."

He said he hopes to reopen Blackbeard's later this month and will get the Belle back on the river for dinner cruises. A couple who had reserved the ship this weekend for a wedding will have to find another venue, however.

"We're going to fix her up (and) put her back in business," he said of his ship.