Sunday, December 18, 2011

Most hated men in Saugatuck?

R.J. Peterson, left, and Eric Conroy at The Annex Coffee Shop Saturday.

Is Eric Conroy the most hated man in Saugatuck?

And R.J. Peterson the town’s own Benedict Arnold?

Radio host Mike Johnson christened the two with the infamous titles Saturday morning during “The Morning Grind” radio show on 92.7 FM.

Johnson was exaggerating, of course — listeners to his weekly radio show know he can push boundaries  — and used his radio time to interview the two Keewatin conspirators about the future of the 104-year-old Great Lakes cruise ship that has been in Kalamazoo Lake for 44 years.

Peterson brought the ship to Douglas in 1967. He sold the vessel to Gil Blutrich of Canada this year, finalizing the deal Nov. 30.

Blutrich is chairman and president of Skyline International Development Inc., a private Canadian investment and management company. He plans to have the vessel towed out of Kalamazoo Lake to its historical home of Port McNicholl, Ontario, where the ship part of a renovated waterfront and tourist attraction that will include a reconstruction of a Canadian Pacific Railway station.

“We have the availability of funds that will restore the ship and preserve it for another 100 years,”  said Conroy, a former crew member and now consultant overseeing the project. “This ship was very much a part of pulling our country together.”

Conroy explained that Canada was formed differently than the United States. America was cemented through a series of wars, while Canada was united through negotiations. The Keewatin helped exchange goods and people from the west to the east.

“Here, it’s a local attraction. There, it’s a big deal,” Peterson said in September about the ship.

The Keewatin has links to two other famous ships: It took sea trials  in Scotland along side the Lusitania, the ship sunk by a German submarine that brought the United States into World War I. The Keewatin has the same style of engine as the Titanic. The staircase and the dining saloon are the same as well. The Marconi Room is the same as the radio room on the Titanic.

Conroy said Saugatuck-Douglas area residents will get a special “thank you” gift when they come to visit the ship in its new home. Residents will be able to get into the new attraction for free.

The ship is set to be removed in June.

“I want to thank you,” Johnson said to Conroy after the radio interview. “Now take the boat and leave.”

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