Tower Harbour Yacht Club History

Notes on the Founding of Tower Harbor Yacht Club in 1983

Painting of tower

Painting of the tower located on the bluff overlooking Tower Marine.

On a sultry Sunday Morning in early Summer, 1983, Don Weston (Nepenthe) boarded the boat of his slip mate, Tom Germeraad (Rhumb Liner), for their regular Sunday Bloody Mary and conversation.  Don, the Dean of the Medical School at Michigan State, had a habit of reading several newspapers on Sunday and had found a cartoon he felt represented a common interest.  The strip showed two Vikings looking at their worn leather sandals with one saying "let's start a yacht club so we can get a pair of those fancy boat shoes".  From this shared chuckle, explained Tom Germeraad recently when reflecting on the THYC beginnings, germinated the idea of beginning a sailboat racing club.  There had been informal racing from the marina since 1980, but without organizational support.  The racers created race mark anchors from cement poured into cardboard box forms.

Don ("Doc") Weston became the first Club Commodore (1985-86) and Tom Germeraad the first Vice Commodore and Race Chairman.  Jo Winn became the Secretary/ Treasurer. Jo lived in the Douglas area and provided local support, together with RJ Peterson, for weekend social activities.  R.J. was very supportive of the Club development from the beginning. The new club had a strong powerboat membership from the start and the first THYC newsletter editor and a historian came from this group.

Tom Germeraad was elected the second Commodore for the 1987-88 seasons. There had been talk with RJ about a clubhouse. In the middle of the 1988 season, RJ discovered a small building that had supposedly been used as a chicken coop that he gave to the Club members to develop into a club.  Tom remembers returning from the "Mac" race that summer to find what other members called the "yacht hut" sitting in the parking lot.  RJ had the building gutted and remodeled, while Club members cleaned and painted to create our current clubhouse.  In its first year, there was no running water or electricity, and kerosene lanterns provided lights for evening meetings.

During this period THYC began a Youth Activities Program as this generation of club members began to have children and grandchildren.  These activities included dinghy sailboat races, rowing contests, and Mt. Baldhead climbing races.  At one point in the late 80s, there was an attempt to collaborate with the Saugatuck Yacht Club to provide small boat sailing training (SYC) and large boat racing experience (THYC) for both Club youngsters.  Politics scuttled the effort.

Sailboat racing interest grew to a peak of competition between 22 boats, with an average of 12 to 15 core racers during the late 80s.  When Marcia Weston, a well-liked Club member, passed away from heart disease, the Weston Cup was inaugurated to honor the winner of the Memorial Day Race. The cup was purchased with club member donations and owes its large size to Marcia's popularity.

Of interest is that Don Weston put Nepenthe up for sale in the early 90s.  Jim Karczewski and Carol Roberts, who owned separate sailboats in the marina, combined their resources to purchase this beautiful boat and continued its fine local racing success.  In the Spring of 1999 Jim and Carol, after some keel modifications to Nepenthe, left THYC to take her cruising around the world. They donated the Nepenthe Cup, the award for the most races won in a season, before they left.  Their last website update puts them somewhere north of the Philippine Islands.

Tower Harbour Yacht Club Commodores

1985 - 1986 Don Weston
1987 - 1988 Tom Germeraad
1989 - 1990 Larry Atkins
1991 - 1992 Jim McKinstry
1993 - 1994 Fred Kanouse
1995 - 1996 Bill Krater
1997 - 1998 David Haywood
1999 - 2000 Jane Kanouse
2001 - 2002 Ted Corlett
2003 Curt Clemens
2004 - 2005 Ron Smith
2006 - 2007 Chuck Bunting
2008 - 2009 Rosemary Hughes
2010 - 2011 Jim Tavarozzi
2012 - 2013 Nancy Littlefair
2014 - 2017 Gerry Allred
2018 - 2020 Denis Prisk
2021-2022 Alan Littlefair

History of Tower Marina

written by John Shack

Until the mid 1950’s, commercial yacht dockage and services for the Saugatuck/ Douglas area were mostly non-existent.  Yachts coming up the Kalamazoo River would battle for the few spaces on the pier running from Hoffman Street to the former Big Pavilion.  Most boats would anchor out in the lake (or later use permanent mooring buoys installed by the Village) to reach town by dinghy, as some still do.

Frank Denison, a boat builder in the area and in Florida at that time, purchased a small peninsula on the southwest shore of Lake Kalamazoo that had been the causeway for the old Blue Star Highway Bridge.  There he built the Pier Marina, the first full-service dockage and storage facility.  In the early 1960s, the Saugatuck Yacht Service was established by a Saugatuck and Holland Syndicate near the mouth of Moore’s Creek.  It offered over 100 slips and large storage sheds on-site and up on Maple Street.

In 1964 Roland E. Peterson came to town after having retired from operating a successful boat building business in Gary, Indiana.  His company, which he turned over to his son Roland J Peterson, produced an all-steel river houseboat called the River Queen, several of which still grace our area.  Should your boat be disabled in the vicinity of the Kalamazoo River, you may find R. J. Peterson arriving to the rescue aboard his River Queen. The elder Peterson purchased riverfront property at the mouth of Moore’s Creek which had been part of the H.D. Moore Park House estate.  He cleared and dredged the stream to the mouth of the river and constructed a lagoon. Peterson also built a substantial home on the river for himself and constructed, using salvaged material, a small authentic and working grist mill on Moore’s Creek the stream which turned its wheel.

During this same period, R.E. Peterson was declared the “man of the year” by the Saugatuck Chamber of Commerce.  During the short time this “retired” consummate developer had been in town, he had renewed the old chain ferry.  He then purchased and brought the 346’ Lake steamer, Keewatin, into Lake Kalamazoo to eventually serve as a lake steamer maritime museum.  The Keewatin, which in 1908 began its Great Lakes work running passengers and cargo from western Lake Superior to the east coast of Georgian Bay connecting railroad service from western Ontario to Montreal, was retired from service in 1965.  Peterson acquired the beautiful ship and a remarkable story to tell about its transport to its present location.  After spending the summer and winter of 1967-68 aground in the river just below Mt. Baldhead, she was towed and winched into a dredged slip alongside the Tower Marina pier.  Here she remained until 1980 when she was moved to her present site near the historic fruit-shipping Red Dock.

In 1968 R.E. Peterson decided to move his River Queen plant to Douglas.  For this purpose, he bought the vacant building that was once George Harding’s first hotel. Next, the Petersons purchased the adjacent Terrace Park Resort on the southwest corner of Kalamazoo Lake for the purpose of building the present Tower Marina. The new marina was to have a total capacity of over 250 boats distributed over several long piers.  The construction involved considerable dredging of the marshy south shore and defeating a lawsuit initiated by local environmentalists.  From its opening day, Tower Marina was a success and nearly doubled the number of boats moored in the area and continues to grow.