Mar 22, 2006

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Launch of the Princess

Dick Hoffman with Island Queen

Voyage of the Princess from
Saugatuck to Kentucky Lake.

Read Kit Lane's book
for more stories.


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 Kentucky Lake.

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 Arch.

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

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