Boblo boat owners vow to restore after fire with GoFundMe

Blake Alsup
The Detroit News

The two owners of the historic Boblo boat SS Ste. Claire that caught fire Friday have vowed to go forward with its restoration.

Now they're asking for help.

The boat’s owners, Ron Kattoo and Saqib Nakadar, both Metro Detroit physicians, lamented the destruction of the boat they have worked on for about 10 years.

The S.S. Ste. Claire is engulfed in flames Friday afternoon in this photo taken by Detroit fire inspector Joseph Cartledge.

"Like anything that someone has put their own energy into it and blood and sweat, that’s the part you can’t get back," Nakadar said. "Besides that, we also feel the weight of everyone else who supported us and encouraged us, and this boat is something that’s way beyond just him and I."

A GoFundMe page was made by a friend of Nakadar and Kattoo on July 6. After concerns from the public asking whether or not the campaign was legitimate, Kattoo decided to end the campaign, which raised $325 over three days, and create another campaign under his own name with the same goal of raising $500,000.

The insurance the men purchased for the boat will not cover the fire damage.

“Our coverages included coverage for the hull, so had there been damage to the hull, had the ship sank, if those things had happened, we had coverages for those things,” Nakadar said. “But she wasn’t really insurable otherwise.”

He said much of the wooden structure had rotted and needed repair. The goal was to repair it and then there would be something to insure.

“There won’t be any coverages on that end,” Nakadar said.

The Ste. Claire was docked at Riverside Marina on the Detroit River on Friday when it caught fire.

Kattoo visited the ship Monday and is confident that if the GoFundMe is successful, they can rebuild — and they intend to begin that effort as soon as this week after debris is cleared.

“I know we lost a lot of the old wood, but thank God the steel is actually in great shape,” Kattoo said.

He described multi-purpose vision he has for the well-known vessel.

“My main goal was to have her sitting downtown in Detroit on the riverwalk that they built so well, that people can just walk on and enjoy,” Kattoo said. “I was going to turn the whole thing into essentially a walk-through museum with all of the Boblo artifacts that we had acquired over the years.”

Other than its daily function as a museum, Kattoo always intended to have the ship available for people to rent out for private functions. He envisioned public events like dance nights, comedy shows and talent competitions. The boat would be enclosed in the fall and winter seasons with a haunted house in October and Christmas/New Year events during the holiday season.

“I’ve had literally hundreds of phone calls, texts, emails, saying: ‘Please don’t give up. This boat means a lot to me and my family,’” Kattoo said. “You know, there’s no way I’m going to give up.”

The Detroit Fire Department had no update about what happened, according to Patrick McNulty, chief of the department's Fire Investigation Division, on Monday. The department is trying to obtain video from the dock to confirm time frames of when the fire started and how it progressed.

McNulty said the belief that a welder caused the blaze is "the best theory that we have going." A welder was the only person on the boat at the time of the incident and was working one floor above where the fire started.

"It makes sense that some flaming debris fell down onto some combustibles," McNulty said. "Because there’s a lot of dry rot that’s easily combustible."

He said the wind gusts, which reached 13 miles per hour that day, played a factor in advancing the fire quickly.