Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Keewatin now a local memory as it sails into new life in Canada

Saugatuck Township — Susan McDermott stood on the south pier in Saugatuck on Monday afternoon as the historic steamship Keewatin was eased into Lake Michigan for the first time in more than 40 years.
It was a long week since McDermott first said farewell to the 105-year-old ship, five days after the 350-foot ship got stuck in the mud of Kalamazoo Lake, four days after a rain storm soaked her as tugboats pulled the ship through the shallow Saugatuck harbor and several hours after making a mile-long walk up a Saugatuck beach to see the ship fade on the horizon on its way to Canada.
“It was worth it,” she said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
King Co. of Holland tugs pulled the ship stern-first out of the channel in less than an hour, passing the Saugatuck pierheads at about 12:30 p.m. and floating into Lake Michigan. There, a tugboat from St. James Marine Co. took over to pull the vessel first to Mackinaw City then to Port McNicoll, Ontario, its new home, on June 23.
As the Keewatin began its journey north in the Big Lake, bells and horns from nearby vessels rang out over the clear, still lake.
“It actually did make me cry ... to see it out in the lake, sitting proud,” said Eric Conroy, who represents Gil Blutrich, chairman and president of Skyline International Development Inc. Blutrich bought the Keewatin last year.
“I just can’t tell you how fabulous I feel,” Conroy said.
R.J. Peterson, owner of Tower Marina in Douglas who brought the Keewatin to the area in 1967, said the ship was looking good as it headed into Lake Michigan.
A community celebration of the Keewatin on Memorial Day brought hundreds of people, a chorus to sing “America the Beautiful” and “O Canada!” and a bagpiper to the shores of Kalamazoo Lake.
To get the ship out of its berth at the end of Union Street in Douglas, crews had to dredge a 50-foot-wide trench around Kalamazoo Lake to the channel. On the first try to move the Keewatin on Wednesday, it got stuck.
A larger tug came in Thursday to muscle the almost 4,000 ton ship out of the muck.
It sat off Aubrey McClendon’s property in Saugatuck Township near the channel to Lake Michigan until Monday for a final U.S. Coast Guard inspections and painting.
Scores of spectators made the almost mile walk from Oval Beach to the Saugatuck piers to watch the ship pass. Leanne Giles and her daughter, Ally, walked up the 303 Mount Baldhead steps then through sand dunes to get to the event.
“We just wanted to watch it go into the lake — the lake is like glass today,” Giles said.
The Keewatin will be the center of a redeveloped waterfront park in Port McNicoll, Ontario. The vessel will be transformed into a social center with a movie theater, 122-seat dining area and museums of Georgian Bay maritime history.

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