The Belle Makes Her Way Home from the Shipyard
The Belle of Louisville has departed the Amherst-Madison shipyard in Gallipolis, OH, towed by a towboat, to make its approximately two-day journey over 300 miles down the Ohio River to her home in Louisville.
The Belle, the oldest Western Rivers-style steamboat in the world, has just completed a six-week stint in the facility’s dry dock, which enables the 200 ft. long sternwheeler to be removed from the water. While out of the water, her hull was inspected by the United States Coast Guard and found to be in excellent condition. With that important item checked off the list, work began on other maintenance projects to keep the antique vessel in seaworthy shape for many years to come.
Those other preventative maintenance measures included:
- Painting the entire hull
- Inspecting the keel coolers and resealing them, as well as rebuilding one of the recessed cooler boxes
- Replacing numerous internal frame members, most of which were original to the boat
- Removing an unused sea-chest and piping to make the boat lighter
- Pulling and inspecting all below water intake valves, replacing one
- Replacing a watertight hatch cover on the stern
- Replacing the transom bulkhead forward of the paddlewheel
- Inspecting and making minor repairs to the original paddlewheel support and fantail structure
- Replacing the grease line for the rudder system
- Replacing a set of chalks (deck fitting) on the bow
- Pressure testing the fuel bunker
- Replacing some deck plate on the bow around the capstan
- Manufacturing and replacing the bolts on the paddlewheel bearing journals
- Having a new set of piston rings manufactured
- Having replacement paddlewheel lumber milled
With the closing of Jeffboat just across the river in Jeffersonville, Ind. in 2018, Master Captain Mark Doty knew he’d need to find an alternate shipyard that could handle a boat of this size. The Amherst-Madison shipyard was one of two such locations approximately 300 – 400 nautical miles from Louisville. The Gallipolis facility was chosen due to its excellent reputation. Captain Doty and his crew worked with marine architect Elliot Bay Design Group to scope the Belle’s 2020 drydock projects in advance in order to ensure all repairs and preventative maintenance were conducted during the boat’s limited time out of the water, reducing the cost of the next inspection in 2025.
Just as she did on her journey upriver, the Belle of Louisville is expected to draw attention on her way home from people in communities along the river that haven’t seen an authentic steamboat in many years. Unlike the trip up the river to Gallipolis, however, the Belle will return home being pushed by a towboat.
“We brought her up on her own power because it was October and conditions were great,” said Doty. “Now that the weather has gotten colder and water conditions are changing, it’s safer to have her towed back and keep her winterized until she begins cruising again in April.”
The Belle of Louisville is expected to depart today and arrive back home at Louisville’s Fourth Street Wharf by Saturday, December 19th.