Zeus is leaving the neighborhood.

Zeus is a 44-foot Caribbean Sailing Yacht, which has been residing in the backyard of Tink and Dianne Shaffer on River Drive in New Bern since Hurricane Florence.

Crews began work Thursday morning to remove it, with plans for it to soon be aboard a hauler and off to a shipyard for evaluation and repairs.

It broke loose from its mooring at Bridgeton Marina during Florence and was swept across the Neuse River.

That it ended up onshore was not unique given the savage nature of Florence. Superior Cranes of New Bern manager Thurman Whitehead said his company alone has removed a hundred or so vessels from land since the storm.

The boat - owned by Capt. Johnny O’Brien - gained international attention because of remarks by President Donald Trump, who visited the neighborhood in the storm aftermath, amid a daylong whirlwind tour of North and South Carolina.

During a visit into their backyard, Trump was widely reported to have told the Shaffers, “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal”

Dianne Shaffer recalled that “he said something like that.”

While the remark caused nationwide political outrage and was fodder for a best-selling children’s book, she and her husband thought nothing much of it.

“Everybody said that to us,” Tink Shafer said Thursday, as a crew lifted the boat from its resting spot of nearly seven months.

Superior Cranes crewmen prepped the boat and outfitted it with massive harness straps before a crane lifted it from where its rudder was buried several feet in the ground. Once airborne, the crane maneuvered the 23-ton vessel around to the side of the house, gently putting it to rest at ground level.

Capt. O’Brien and his crew were then scheduled to remove the rigging so the mast could be taken off.

Whitehead said it would be lifted onto a transport, secured and taken away.

O’Brien, a Virginia native, said he had been in New Bern for seven years, making Zeus his offseason home when he wasn’t in the Caribbean Islands teaching sailing to Boy Scouts and private groups.

O’Brien is a retired Steinway concert piano technician who has worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Herbie Hancock, as well as the New Orleans Jazz Festival.

He had returned to the docks in Bridgeton just a week before the storm hit in mid-September with the vintage 1978 vessel.

O’Brien expressed his thanks to the Superior Cranes crews for their careful handling of the boat and said he was glad to finally have it ready for repairs.

The Shaffers were also happy about Thursday’s events.

“Oh yes, all we can see is the beautiful blue water again,” Dianne Shaffer said. She and her husband are hoping to repair the house, which has been their home for the past four years. Since the storm, they have been given a place to live at a church in Vanceboro.

“It is both a temple and a shelter,” she said.

Late Show with Stephen Colbert turned Trump’s visit to New Bern and his remarks about Zeus into a best-selling picture and quote book - “Whose Boat is This Boat? Comments That Don't Help in the Aftermath of a Hurricane.”

In December, Colbert told his TV audience that the book had hit the $1 million for hurricane relief. Neither the boat owner nor the homeowners received any money from the book.

The removal of the boat was the latest in ongoing work along that section of town, where many homes remain vacant, under repair or have been demolished.

 

Charlie Hall can be reached at 252-635-5667 or 252-259-7585, or charlie.hall@newbernsj.com. Follow him on Facebook at Charlie Hall.