THE LAUNCH AND EXODUS OF THE PRINCESS
The promise of
a good day greeted boat captain Dick Hoffman as he prepared to launch his
5th cruise ship into the Kalamazoo river. Hoffman fit well into Saugatuck’s
boat building history of sailing schooners, steamships, and side-wheelers.
Hoffman served in the US Coast Guard, and when he returned to Saugatuck in
1953 he decided to build a stern-wheel cruise boat for the tourist trade.
He designed and built the Island Queen which had two successful
summer seasons before being sold. Hoffman then built a bigger and better
Island Queen II which ran for 20 seasons on the Kalamazoo river. Dick
had always been intrigued with the design of a side-wheeler, so his next
river boat, The Princess, had that historic design.
The Princess was launched June 19, 1976. Kit Lane describes the
launch in her book Built on the Banks of the Kalamazoo: “The boat
went down the rollers … and she settled in the mud. Bob Peel, a local
fisherman hitched his tug Thomas C. Mullen to the Princess…the
line held and the boat eventually floated.”
After launching, the Princess began passenger tours. Dick Hoffman had
always been concerned about the short tourist season in Saugatuck, and
entertained an offer from Kentucky to establish the Princess at
Kenlake State Resort Park. The deal was made and now all the Hoffmans had to
do was sail the Princess to Kentucky.
Kit Lane describes the journey: “Dick and Deb Hoffman, and the rest of the
family, loaded their furniture and other equipment aboard the Princess
and began the trip down Lake Michigan, through the Cal-Sag Canal to the
Illinois River, down the Mississippi, up the Ohio, up the Tennessee and to
With very few marinas along the river, they tied up most nights behind
islands, occasionally leaving the boat long enough to go ashore for
groceries and sightseeing with a stop at St. Louis to visit the Gateway
Near Turkey Island, the Princess got hung up on a log and finally
radioed ahead to the next port. The little tow boat, Tiger, came and
for $20, pulled them off the log. At Cairo they turned left on the Ohio
River. The Ohio was in flood, filled with debris. They stopped for laundry
and showers at a Cairo hotel, and, as they were pulling away, a dead pig got
caught in the paddle, was pulled up in the wheel and shot out the paddle
housing, making a big hole. For the rest of the trip they had water coming
out of this big hole, soaking the deck.
The Princess continued without difficulty to the Kentucky Lake Dam
lock. Once through the lock she was just 20 miles from her new home dock.
The Hoffmans ran on Kentucky Lake for three years, but the patronage was
much less than they had expected, and they could barely meet expenses. About
1980, passing up an offer to run on a new route, near Opryland in Nashville,
Hoffman sold the Princess to the Ohio River Packet Co, which planned to run
the riverboat from Coney Island Point, near Cincinnati.”
When Dick Hoffman sailed south in the Princess to a new beginning in
Kentucky, he left behind some 20 plus years of building the tourist industry
in Saugatuck. Dick and his Island Queen cruise boats attracted countless
numbers of people to our area and helped establish Saugatuck as a premier
resort town in the Midwest.
Princess photos by Rob Carey