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Hungry boaters who frequent the Cordova Sand Pits should plan to pack their meals for the remainder of the summer.

MiMi’s Burger Boat, a popular water-based food vendor that serves customers there on weekends, met its demise late Sunday when it struck a wing dam in pool 13 of the Mississippi River near Clinton.

Sonya Carey-Otte, co-owner of the business, said they were traveling about 5 mph when they collided with the underwater barrier, which ripped a “huge hole” into the front of their ship.

“Water just came in immediately,” said Carey-Otte, whose husband, Dean Otte, captained the vessel. “There was hardly any time to find life jackets and save anything; we were going down, and we were going down fast.”

They were on their way back to the Fulton Marina — where they dock their boat between outings — when the incident occurred.

Clinton police and fire personnel received their call for help about 9:30 p.m., and responded to the scene between the northern edge of Beaver Island and shoreline property owned by Archer Daniels Midland Co., or ADM.

Following a three-hour wait, Carey-Otte said authorities rescued her and her husband, a child helper of theirs and their two dogs from the sinking boat.

“Everybody’s safe,” she added. “It’s just devastating.”

Passing boaters had to maneuver around the boat Monday as it balanced on the wing dam, partially submerged in the river.

A St. Louis-based spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard said that the owners of the boat are responsible for removing it from the water. The official also confirmed that the boat was not discharging any oil. 

In response, the couple phoned a friend, Chad Pregracke, the founder of Living Lands & Waters, who answered the call.

Since he and his crew are in Kentucky for a river cleanup, Pregracke said his older brother, Brent, will try and raise the heavy steel boat out of the water this week.

“It’s going to take a while — probably a couple days,” the younger Pregracke said, offering his condolences. “It just sucks that it happened; hopefully we can get it up and get it back in business.”

A disheartened Carey-Otte did not sound as optimistic.

"The boat's ruined," she said. "Even if we get the boat out of the water, it's done."

Meanwhile, the couple only carries liability insurance on the boat, so that coverage will not help pay for any of the damage. 

The Bettendorf residents launched their business about three years ago after purchasing the 54-year-old ship from Walter "Wally" and Dana Geffert of Geneseo, who sold burgers for years in the LeClaire Canal. 

Jeffboat in Jeffersonville, Indiana, the largest inland shipbuilder in the country, originally built the boat for the Lake Davenport Sailing Club.

The next owner, the East Moline Fire Department, considered converting it into a fire and rescue boat but decided against it.

The fire department then sold it to a private party, who used it very little before selling it to the Gefferts in 2004. 

"It's been a great hit here in the Quad-Cities," said Carey-Otte, who noted they have invested about $40,000 into the boat since acquiring it. "This is our only income at the moment."

As word spread about the accident on social media, customers flooded the business' Facebook page to show their support.

One of their fans even created a GoFundMe page to assist the floating restaurant.

"They called us the unsinkable ship," Carey-Otte said. "It's been in the works since 1963, and nothing's ever happened to it until one wing dam took it out."


Jack Cullen covers health, wellness and outdoor recreation for the Quad-City Times.