Waterfront restaurant towed to Hebron marina after breaking free and hitting bridge

Workers blame ice, say they almost fell into river

COVINGTON, Ky. -- Tugboats pushed the Waterfront restaurant down the Ohio River to a Hebron marina Friday, a day after it broke free and drifted into the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge.

Owner Jeff Ruby said the boat was not much worse for the adventure and this latest setback won't deter him from reopening the floating restaurant at a new location, Covington Landing, in the spring of 2015.

"The windows I thought were busted out weren't, so I don't believe there's much damage at all to the Waterfront,” Ruby said. “There's electrical and gas lines and the side of the building was smashed in by a tree or something, but it's not a major deal."

Ruby said the boat, closed since it broke away and hit the bridge the first time in 2011 - with 120 people on board - will be better protected from river currents at Covington Landing.

Huge steel "dolphins" in the water will offer extra protection, Ruby said. And that's not all.

"We will have a deflector barge to deflect debris, ice and cows and everything that comes down that river, and we will have a second barge that is an approach barge to the waterfront," he said.

For now, the Waterfront is safely tied up along the riverbank at C&B Marine.

Ruby had no estimate on the cost of repairs. He said he is well insured but wonders whether two major claims in three years will cause some problems with insurance firms.

It was 7 a.m. Friday when the Waterfront began its 9-mile journey past the Anderson Ferry to western Boone County.

"I saw it when it left. Waved goodbye to it," Ruby said.

Ice from the Licking River is being blamed for smashing into the Waterfront and nearly breaking it completely free on Thursday.

 "If that had happened, it probably would have sunk because it would have spun and it would have hit a bridge pier or something,” Ruby said.

It might also have put two Waterfront maintenance workers on board in peril. As it was, they almost fell into the icy water when the boat broke free.

Steve Poe and Bob Fogle, who were repairing the hull, said they saw and heard massive ice chunks pound the boat and cause it to snap the cable holding it to the water’s edge.

Fogle said it felt as if they were “hitting speed bumps.”

“That’s how big those chunks were," Fogle said. "They were 100 feet by eight inches thick."

“A big chunk hit it and I thought a barge hit me," Poe said. "The ice was so big that it shook the whole boat. It was wild after that."

Fogle said he had just walked down the ramp to the shore when he heard it.

“I was walking up to the parking lot. I heard a lot of noise – screeching and scratching and snapping. When I turned around, I saw the barge moving and all the ramps going down river with the barge,” Fogle said.

Poe said he had started to follow Fogle down the ramp when he saw trouble coming.

"I actually saw that one (chunk) coming … I went to run and try to get off the boat, but it was too late,” Poe said.

He had to scramble to get back on the boat.

“I got hold of the rail and it wasn’t 10 seconds after I got on the boat that the ramp fell down in the river," Poe said. I’ve been down on this river for about 14 years now, so I knew it was time to get off. I just couldn’t make it. I was ready for a boat ride, my biggest fear was going down river riding it out.”

Poe said the boat “spun all the way around" as it drifted from the Kentucky side to the Cincinnati side and "ended up at the end of the bank.

“It was a wild ride for four or five minutes.”

A towboat rescued Poe and Ruby came to see how he was.

Ruby called Poe a really lucky guy.

"He was really scared, he told me," Ruby said. “I’m going to get him a three-way (from) Skyline. I’m even going to pay for you today, even though you didn’t work.”

Poe and Fogle were the only ones on the boat.

Fogle said he talked to his wife by phone after Poe got ashore.

“She said, ‘Are you still on the barge? I said, ‘No, I got off. We’re all right.’

“I didn’t tell her the whole story, not yet.”

Ruby tweeted after the incident:

Ruby concurred with Poe and Fogel, saying ice probably broke the restaurant free. An investigation began.

The runaway restaurant stopped against the bridge - just as it had in 2011.

Engineers checked out the bridge and found no damage, Covington Fire Chief Dan Mathew said.

The Clay Wade Bailey and CSX bridges were shut down because of the incident, Kenton County dispatchers said.

Police cruisers stood by in case the restaurant broke completely free. Police were prepared to shut down the Brent Spence Bride if that happened, Mathew said.

A small electrical fire broke out on a corner of the boat but caused little damage, Mathew said.

In March 2011, the flood-swollen Ohio snapped the cables and the Waterfront drifted about 85 to 100 yards down river during the dinner rush.

Emergency crews rescued 83 patrons and three dozen employees using a precarious gangplank of ladders and ropes after diners used cell phones to call for help.

All of the patrons - including former Cincinnati Bengals star Cris Collinsworth - were led off safely one at a time, wearing life jackets.

Jeff Ruby to reopen Waterfront restaurant at Covington Landing
Waterfront restaurant breaks free from dock with patrons on board

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