Thursday, March 9, 2017

Crew members posed Wednesday, March 8, with stainless AJR "wheels" at
Island Ferry Terminal Building: (L to R) Front, Joel Gunnlaugsson; Con McDonald.
Back: Craig Krueger; Pete Nikolai; Hoyt Purinton; Erik Foss; Tully Ellefson;
Janet Hanlin; Bill Jorgenson; Bill Schutz; and Rich Ellefson.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Yesterday a pair of stainless ice propellers were displayed near the Ferry Terminal front entrance.  These are spares that have been in storage since their purchase a little over a year ago.   Rather than continue to store them inside a workshop building, Joel Gunnlaugsson and Con McDonald got busy fabricating a stand on which the two wheels could be publicly displayed.

The propellers were purchased through Kahlengberg Bros. of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, long a provider of propellers, shafts and couplings in the commercial marine market.  Having the spares means, potentially, avoiding a wait of many months to get the right propellers, or propeller, should damage occur for any reason to the Arni J. Richter's current set.  Each propeller measures 66-inches in diameter, with a pitch of 42".  These are robust, "ice class" propellers, meaning the flukes and hub are built to withstand most reasonable ice work without incurring damage.  Yet, one never knows what can happen, and having a damaged propeller, while serious at any time, would result in utmost strain if it meant the Arni J. Richter was out of commission for any length of time in winter.  They were purchased as "insurance" for approximately the cost of a new luxury automobile.

Weighing an estimated #1500 each, they are not easily moved, and the stand that was fabricated in the shop by Joel and Con is equally sturdy, so the propellers become shiny yard art, and not a hazard for curious children.

Pair of Ice Class-C propellers:
bored, keyed for six-inch propeller shafts,
with anti-singing edges. *
Ready to install when/if the occasion arises.

*       *         *

When setting up this group photo, which I believe represents each of the crew who are engaged in  providing ferry service this winter, I was gently reminded there hadn't been a blog since late January.  It's nice to know that some people read them and keep track!  I'll have to improve on my habits, is all I can say.

The 2017 winter has managed to slide past us, almost, but not without giving us the extremes of snowstorms, near-record melting temperatures, icing conditions on trees and power lines, and just these past two days, storm-force winds.

Each scheduled ferry trip was made Tuesday and Wednesday, and according to Captain Bill Jorgenson, yesterday's trip (Wednesday's) went well.  Waves and spray in the door, but otherwise good docking in the westerly gusts at Northport.  Little-to-no ice remains in the upper Bay, except for a few strips of loose ice here and there, and in shallow shoreline indentations.  The Detroit Harbor west channel was starting to fill up with ice moving in from the shore beyond the entrance light, drifting along Willow Point near Rutledges.  It was Bill's observation that this ice might have left Gills Rock's harbor Tuesday, pushed by the then SSW winds toward Washington Island.

Heavy rains that preceded the wind knocked down nearly all evidence of snow and ice, on roads and in fields, but we've been at that juncture several times before this winter, only to have it covered in snow once again.  Maybe, this time we'll start to see the greening of spring and the beginning bloom of flowers.

It was the earliest we'd ever seen a snake out and about in mid-February, when Mary Jo nearly stumbled across a two-foot long, brown, northern water snake.  It was crawling along, more or less on the same path we were as we walked in the woods near our home.  This encounter occurred during one of those foggy, rainy periods, when snowbanks had been reduced to icy mounds, and the ground still had frost.  What inspired this 2-ft. snake to make an excursion at this time of winter when temperature was in the mid-30s?  More to the point, why did it choose to be seen by us, disturbing what we considered a winter's walk?  Mary Jo, who dislikes snakes and who responded by shrieking, has one more reason to believe that she seems to attract such creatures.

Spring break is about to begin for our Island Schools.  Tournament college basketball is already underway.  Indoors, those projects intended for completion during times of adverse winter weather need to move along more rapidly in order to be completed before summer.

-  Dick Purinton

*  Anti-singing edges are trailing blade edges beveled to reduce the "hum" or "singing," vibrations that occur when power load is taken off the propeller.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


This shot may look as though it was tweaked by photo-shopping, but not so.
Tim Graul took this photo at Northport Saturday, Jan. 7, after several days
of high winds added successive layers of frozen spray to the ferry's bow.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

During the past month, we've had a mix:   mild weather; high winds and cold temperatures; a good snow cover of nearly a foot; then rain on top of fresh snow, followed a few hours later by plunging temperatures.   A bit of just about everything.

But, it's cold enough that the harbors and the bay have finally frozen over.  In just a week or so, most of upper Green Bay has seen sheets of ice, and this has changed the ferry operations for the better.  Prior to this week, the absence of ice led to freezing spray and icing on decks, enough so that a week ago only the morning ferry trip was made using the AJR.  The crew went to work trying to remove as much ice as possible, and as the wind subsided a bit, trips were resumed the following morning using the Robert Noble.   By afternoon, with the Island channel becoming choked with ice, the Arni J. Richter resumed operations.  It looks as though this will be the ferry for operations for the next several months.

Joel Gunnlaugsson on deck of Arni J. Richter at Northport Pier.
(Graul photo)

The absence of ice makes it easier, but only when there are moderate winds and temperatures.  Joel Gunnlaugsson is shown in on deck holding a long bar used for knocking away ice, but also for prying open the frozen bow ramp.   Those photos were taken by retired naval architect and designer of the Arni J. Richter, Tim Graul, who happened to take an afternoon ride up the peninsula to our Northport dock, where he found the ferry loaded and ready to depart.

This morning I rode the ferry to check on the work progress at the Northport terminal building.  I decided this might also be a good opportunity to take photos and video along the way.  The ice had built up considerably in the days since Saturday's crossing.  A field of 4-to-6 inch ice slid against the tripod legs Tuesday morning and created an ice shove, according to Erik Foss.  A good photographic opportunity, he suggested, after asking why there haven't been new blogs lately.

I used my iPhone camera to obtain video, which worked quite well.  But because the air temperature was only 14 degrees, it shut down on me shortly after passing the entrance light. As we headed into a stretch of open water on the back side of Plum Island, I headed for the engine room to warm and restart my phone.

The second purpose of my trip, to document the work being done at Northport, commenced when I centered the two fiberglass porta potties in my camera lens, in front of the terminal building.  It was a shot I hoped would get the message across for viewers of this blog, that public toilets in the building were no longer in service (in fact, they are no longer there!).  As I was about to snap this photo, the toilet door on the left opened slightly and a woman peeked out to find my camera trained in her direction.

No, I hadn't intended to take her photo as she exited the toilet, I said.  I was concerned she might get entirely the wrong idea.  While I awkwardly stumbled over my words of apology and took the photo of the pair of toilets with the terminal building in the background, as I had planned, another lady opened the door of the second unit.  Too late!

Yes, they said, the facilities lacked heat, and no, I didn't stick around to find out their names or where they were from (their husbands waited near their car, across the driveway.)

So, if anyone should wonder, these outdoor toilets are in working order (filled with anti-freeze, I assume) and they are placed there for use by the construction workers and the general public.  But my recommendation is that if you're traveling to or from Washington Island, then please consider using the toilets on the ferry when the opportunity presents itself.

As for construction progress, the former Northport restaurant kitchen is now framed in and well along to becoming space for the men's and women's toilets. A utility closest is nearby.   The newly enlarged lobby opens to the Visitor Information Center in two wide openings that will have glass doors.   The finished product is rather hard to feature or appreciate at this point, but workmen are actively remodeling this space so that in several months' time it can be reopened for the busier travel season.  In the meantime, your patience is appreciated.

Back on the Island

Several smaller, but important, projects have been taken on by the ferry crew.  In the office area, Con McDonald is refitting overhead flourescent lighting with LED lighting for energy savings.

Rows of many, small LED lights within a clear, plastic housing replaces the old fixture,
 a filament bulb that was screwed into a socket of the former masthead light housing.

On the Eyrarbakki, Joel is engaged with installing new LED navigational lights, along with a new lighting panel.  As required, the new lights, which look dramatically different from the ones they replace, incandescent bulb style-lighting, will also have a back-up feature, both in power source and in the bulbs themselves, should the primary set for some reason fail.

A century ago or less, many vessels had kerosene lamps behind magnification lenses, eventually changing over to electric navigational lights in brass and glass housing.  Moulded plastic housings eventually replaced the brass or steel housings, and so this step is just the latest in improved equipment. A new pilot house lighting control panel with a solid state board is being installed at the same time.

-  Dick Purinton

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Detroit Harbor shoreline following first major snowfall
of winter, about nine inches that fell Sunday, Dec. 11.
We've counted seven muskrat huts that were created
over the summer, now appearing as snow covered domes.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Yes, it can be long, with overcast and sameness for many days, and confining.  But, if you feel good, like the fresh air and exercise - even limited exercise like brief walks to the bird feeder or mail box - then winter can also be a great time of the year to enjoy the outdoors.

Our mild December changed last weekend with snow, then single-digit cold.  Detroit Harbor froze with a light covering of ice in about three days' time.   High winds of Dec. 14 and 15 limited ferry trips due to icing conditions and strong seas.  Added to that mix was a thick blanket of steam hanging over the Door this morning, about the poorest visibility that can be encountered.

Potato Dock vantage point Wednesday, Dec. 14
as Arni J. Richter returns from Northport,
the only trip made that day.

Ferry Traveler Advisory:   In a few days a remodeling project at the Northport Terminal is expected to begin.  Carlson-Erickson Builders will reconfigure the lobby as per plans drawn by Mike Kickbush, thereby opening up the visitor information and lobby area, moving toilets to the former restaurant kitchen space, and all-in-all making this 30-year old facility into what we believe will be a more useful and functional terminal and visitor center.

Essentially the same view, same time of day as the photo captured Wednesday.
Six degree temperature, strong NW winds with rolling sea and steam.  Crossing
took nearly twice as long as normal, in an effort by the
operator to avoid accumulation of ice on deck.

At a certain point plumbing fixtures within the building will be disconnected and will no longer be available for public use, until such time as new facilities are complete and the project is nears final stages in late winter.  In the meantime, portable toilets will be provided in lieu of indoor plumbing, but we also realize that in below freezing weather this option may not appeal to modern-day sensitivities.   We suggest planning your trip ahead - as much as is possible - and that ferry travelers utilize the heads provided onboard the ferry Arni J. Richter.  Sorry for your inconvenience.  We believe the planned improvements, when completed, will be appreciated.  Thanks in advance for your understanding.

And the above reminds me of a humorous toilet joke that Arni used to enjoy telling. His parents, Carl and Maggie Richter, at a certain point had indoor plumbing installed in their home.  The new facility was located in an area formerly dedicated as kitchen space.  Carl liked to say that he could never get used to going to the bathroom in the kitchen.

Maybe this saying will "hold water" for those who in the future will visit the remodeled Northport bathrooms in the old kitchen space.

-  Dick Purinton  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Arrival at South Georgia after approximately three
days sailing from the Falklands. Whales, dolphins and
seabirds are seen in increasing numbers as the
convergence zone is entered.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Note:   Keep in mind Saturday, Dec. 17, 4:00 pm, when I'll present slides and a short video of the trip Thor and I took to the Falklands and South Georgia.  I think you'll be both entertained and educated about life in the Southern Latitudes as we briefly experienced it on our recent Lindblad voyage.  Donations at the door will be accepted in support of the Trueblood Performing Art Center.

Studying atlas pages of the southern ocean in the southern hemisphere, it might be assumed there is nothing but ocean, a vast emptiness.

A sign in the waterfront park in Ushuaia, Argentina, reinforces that belief.  It reads, in Spanish, "fin del mundo."  End of the world.  But that belief might be a hold-over from several centuries ago when little was known about what existed in the Southern Ocean, and Cape Horn was the end of civilization as was then known.   It's true that from the Falkland Islands latitude of 54 degrees south there are few land forms, but a good deal of ice and cold ocean, and that human habitation is sparse for reasons of climate.  But during those centuries, discoveries were made of new lands, of islands, and the Antarctic Continent.  We can say today that although it is a very remote, and often hostile, place for humans, there is an abundance of bird and sea life.  And this is due, in large part, to the cold ocean waters flowing northward in the Antarctic, creating rich food sources for these animals.

Elephant seals (above), fur seals and penguins
provide a great source of color and entertainment

Man quickly adapted and endured harsh conditions found in the southern ocean for reasons of profit.  Sealing and whaling soon became major activities that drew men and ships to this area in the 19th and 20th centuries So did the quest for science.  Science - the study of the earth's magnetism, meteorology, biology, geography, geology, oceanography and mapping - was often the stated reason that aided in securing expedition funding from government and private sources.  And even today, science remains the higher calling,  often an underlying reason for planting flags and expanding the empire.  Antarctica, the continent, is a vast area with outposts of national influence, rights respected by a treaty that has thus far encouraged participating nations with interests there to coexist while learning more about this least populated land.

Industrial scrap in the form of old barrels and oil tanks clutter
the small beach area in Godthul Harbor.  We hiked beyond this,
to the hilltops, for great harbor views.

Our voyage led us "below the convergence zone," where the cold waters of the continent meet warmer ocean waters, where there is found increased ocean habitat, and unique island climates.  Thor and I traveled, therefore, to the Antarctic, but not to Antarctica, the continent itself.  (Maybe another time!)

While the southern oceans may appear desolate, they are an extremely rich source of food for bird and sea mammals, and this in itself becomes an attractive magnet for today's so-called "expedition cruising," whereby paying shipboard guests are invited to observe, photograph and learn about the ecosystem of the cold Antarctic waters.  (And I would add, to learn about the human history of this area.)

Convergence zone where cold Antarctic ocean
waters meet warmer currents indicated by green 

line.  South Georgia falls within that zone; Falkland
Islands lie just outside the zone, a water
temperature difference of 5-10 degrees F.

The ocean waters of the convergence sustain remarkable bird and mammal numbers.  Some of these species are still bouncing back from sealing and whaling days, when industrial processing sites were  constructed in South Georgia's protected harbors.  Whales were found swimming in adjacent waters, and something like 175,000 whales were killed over a 60-year period, at the height of South Georgia's whaling days.  I was surprised to learn that this existed into the 1960s, and ended only when the practice of shore processing proved unprofitable, and whales were further than the immediate South Georgia waters.  Whaling continued, but with self-contained factory ships.

Penguin colonies found in the bays of South Georgia range from several hundred to the thousands.  The fur seal, once thought nearing extinction (300-500 were estimated) when sealers took pelts, are now believed to be 3-5 million in number and growing.  In fact, we were told that bird nesting grounds on cliffs and hillsides that surround South Georgia's harbors may now be threatened by the fur seals who use the same areas when they come ashore to mate and raise their young.   No one seems to know what the right balance ought to be, in terms of fur seal numbers.

Our ship, the National Geographic Explorer, dropped anchor fifteen times or so in different harbors during our five days in South Georgia waters.  Three times we anchored and and went ashore near rusting, abandoned equipment or buildings remnants of an industry that was fairly booming just a little over 50 years ago.   Except for Grytviken, which was perhaps the largest whale processing site on South Georgia, now cleaned up of dangerous debris and open as a museum, the other whaling or sealing historical sites must be observed by visitors (who first register with the local authorities) from a distance of 200 meters or greater, for safety reasons.  Grytviken and the other whaling or sealing processing sites were licensed from the British by Norwegian companies, from approximately the early 1900s into the mid-1960s.

King Penguins and seals coexist on this section of beach in St. Andrews Bay.   

When stepping ashore in a harbor to visit, one of the ship's naturalists' first tasks is to find a beachhead occupied by only a few seals.   The sheer numbers of elephant seals and fur seals found along the shore are such that this isn't always easily done, especially where a beach narrows or is hemmed by hills on either side.   Cones are sometimes set down to indicate a safe walking route inland, up the beach and away from the waterfront frequented and claimed by seals.  But, of course, orange cones mean nothing if the seals have a notion to move to a new spot.

From a vantage point a few hundred feet removed from the water's edge, passengers can observe in relative safety.  Nevertheless, fur seals are still found even hundreds of yards back from the beach, lying amongst tall humps of tussac grass, and they must be respected for both their speed and their teeth should they become aggressive.

It's hard not to find fascination with the sounds and motions of the male elephant seals as they posture, belch and grunt, challenging one another, and with the females and their pups.  Just the bulk of such huge animals that simply flop down on the beach after months of continuous activity in the ocean is impressive.

Amongst the seals can be seen a scattering of penguins of various types, with more penguins found in hillside colonies or further upland where they might inhabit the sometimes relatively flat, expansive beach areas.   Here, fresh water glacial streams may empty into bays.  In St. Andrews Bay, the largest single colony of King Penguins may easily exceed half a million penguins, scattered about within a half-mile or so radius of the beach.  These numbers are made up of parents and their chicks, molting penguins, and birds that may not yet be ready for mating.

Grytviken, a former whale processing port, is now a museum village with post office and
museum display buildings, staffed by approximately 24 residents who represent
the U. K. Territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.  The 

Territory derives income from commercial fishing licensing and tourism.
(Elephant seal, upper left, found a spot to his liking between sections of pipes.)

You may wonder, as I did:  Is there a smell associated with so many krill and fish-eating birds and seals in one place?   Yes, somewhat, but it's very slight as compared with, say, a midwestern hog farm or a dairy barn where cows have been kept indoors.  Comparatively, this odor is nothing at all.  Wearing rubber boots for coming ashore in a Zodiac, you may expect to step into, onto, or over greenish puddles of poop and feathers, residue from the birds, and I would estimate the Ecoli count in the waters adjacent to the beach is high.   But then, we weren't there for the swimming.

During our days spent at sea, and every evening before dinner whether at sea or not, presentations were given by several of the ten naturalists on board.  This was an excellent way to learn about what we might encounter in the coming days, and it also served as great reinforcement of what we experienced earlier that same day.  Slides, short videos, and summations highlighted things we might otherwise have missed, or misunderstood.

I would add that each day from about 6 to 7pm, the wrap-up session coincided with "cocktail hour." Afterward, each naturalist, the ship's doctor, and even the ship's captain, made the rounds of the lounge seating area with trays to pick up our empty glasses and plates as we headed off to dinner.  This practice, led by the captain, is designed not to impress passengers, but rather to instill a sense equality in duty and a willingness to serve.  But I was impressed, nonetheless, by the camaraderie that existed among these professionals, many of whom would soon join the paying guests as evening table mates for  dinner and conversation.  These examples, and the standing Lindblad "open bridge" policy, add a welcoming closeness in shipboard experience, unexpected and unique compared with cruises we've taken on much larger ships of larger name brand companies.

Sale of stamps, commemorative coins, books and other
souvenir items is a source of South Georgia revenue, helping
to maintain government staffing and management there.

There remains much to tell about, so I hope to see you at the TPAC on the 17th!

-  Dick Purinton

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Leaving the Island, Sunday, October 23, 2016

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Our recent trip to Tierra del Fuego, the Falklands and South Georgia is well behind us, but I admit to still getting acclimated, as well as excited when I think back on the many fine moments.

Part of returning home is to get back into whatever routine existed before we left.   The rest has to do with travel memories, putting them into perspective as to what was most important, and given all that we did, what was most meaningful?

Our time away was 18 days, with 13 days spent onboard the National Geographic Explorer.  Motivation for such a trip stemmed from reading about exploration and adventures of Shackleton and many others, for their exploits in the southern latitudes.  But we were open to a good adventure ourselves, learning about places completely new to us, and the birds, mammals and people we might encounter along the way.

Because this was billed by Lindblad as a special expedition - it was the company's 50th year offering Antarctic travel expeditions - that coincidentally was also the100th year of Sir Ernest Shackelton's heroic efforts in finding help at South Georgia.   He and 27 others spent nearly 18 months on the ice after their ship, the Endurance, was crushed in the ice pack, then sailed a small boat in treacherous seas from Elephant Island to South Georgia.  That feat is still considered one of the finest examples of fortitude and navigational success, given the sea conditions they were up against, but in determination it was equalled by the climb of Shackleton and two of his crew, up and over steep mountains and treacherous glaciers to at last reach the Stromness whaling station on the NE side of South Georgia. 

That was the background theme to our trip, one that I hoped would connect us in a meaningful way, including the possibility of retracing the route of Shackleton's final steps on his return to civilization.

Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego

Groggy from the airports and plane rides from Green Bay to Miami, and then to Buenos Aires, we spent a very comfortable overnight in a fine hotel in the old section of this Argentine city.  Several tours were offered, where we met others who would soon be our shipmates, and we learned about the people and the capital of Argentina.  The following morning, by 7:30, our contingency of approximately 70 was bussed to the domestic flight airport, where we boarded a LAN flight to Argentina's southernmost city near the tip of South America.  This is the port where our ship would get underway later that same afternoon.  In order to give a comparison of the N/S distance covered that day in Argentina, the jet flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia took 3 1/2 hours, the same approximate time it took to fly from OHare to Miami.

End of the transcontinental highway in the
Tierra Del Fuego national park. Dandelions reflect
the spring day's temperatures of over 50 F.   

Ushuaia is a city that's seen tremendous growth in recent years, in part due to incentives by the Argentine government to settle the area.  Not that many years ago the population was under 10,000.  And years before that, Ushuaia was the sparsely settled home of Argentina's federal penal colony, believed then to be far enough away from civilization so as to be a perfect place for a prison.  

The surrounding forests and its natural habitat, and the nearby harbors, have much to recommend Ushuaia for hiking and observing wildlife.  One animal found there today in abundance has turned out to be a major pest without natural predator, is the beaver.  It was introduced to the area as a few mating pairs, but today the numbers are so great and the range so extensive that they can't be controlled.

On a catamaran tour we were treated to observing our first groups of penguins and seals sunning on a rocky outcropping in the Beagle Channel.  The birdlife observed that afternoon was just a foretaste of what we were to see in the weeks to follow.  Thor's beard took a set in the breeze as the catamaran sped toward a colony of penguins, shags and elephant seals positioned on rocks near a harbor navigational light that serves as an icon for the area's tourism.  Today, tourism - ecotourism - is the key to the Ushuaia economy.

We disembarked from the catamaran at Ushuaia's main commercial pier.  A containership from Buenos Aires that shuttles products back and forth to this remote city was busy loading empty containers.  A supply ship resembling an oil patch service vessel was moored across the pier and astern of the Lindblad National Geographic Explorer.  Pier activity was so intense in the late afternoon, with trucks, lifts and other equipment moving about, that we were bussed the hundred yards or so from our landing to the Explorer's gangway, for our personal safety. Within minutes, we were shown our cabin and found our winter expedition gear on our beds.

If I held any concerns leading up to this trip for my own health and mobility - considering our isolation from medical care during our trip - I dismissed those thoughts rather quickly when I observed a number of fellow passengers finding a way to manage, many who appeared to be of an even greater age, and many who exhibited mobility difficulties.  I would soon learn that every one of them would get along just fine, given their personal initiative and confidence, and the kind assistance given by the ship's staff at every point along the way.
There were many dedicated Lindblad travelers, I also learned, who embarked with us, proud to be on their second, third, fourth - and even one couple on their fifth - trip to the Falklands and South Georgia.   They well knew the routine and what was to be anticipated along the way.  

I asked, somewhat incredulously, "What is it about this trip that brings you back so many times?"   Their answer: "Penguins!"  That, and the fact that even though they've managed to visit just about every place on earth, no place for them compared to South Georgia.

With that high recommendation imprinted in my mind, lines were cast off, the dining room was open for a buffet dinner, and we headed down the channel for the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic!

Our ship waited several hours for luggage that was late in arriving.  Then shortly
after sunset, we got underway for the Falkland Islands.  The first several days on the open
sea, once clear of the Beagle Channel, would take their toll among the
passengers, evidenced by empty seats in the dining room as
the ship moved about in the seas.

Note:  I won't attempt to do a day-by-day recap by blog.  However, I've scheduled a future date at the TPAC to show more photos, a few short videos, and to discuss in greater detail our trip to the Antarctic,   titled:  "People and penguins:  the southern latitudes."

Time of presentation:   4:00 pm, Saturday, December 17, 2016.   (Free will donations for the TPAC will be accepted at the door.)

 -  Dick Purinton

Saturday, October 22, 2016


Snake Island, with decoys set out on a calm morning.

Warm weather seemed to delay fall colors.  Only after examining this photo more
closely did I see many birds, possibly ducks, circling over Detroit Harbor.
Not far away, in the top photo taken only seconds earlier, is Snake Island with
decoys, and hunters in a duck blind.  

Washington Island -

After one of the busiest, best traffic seasons ever, the Island is finally slowing down a bit.

The Karfi's last day of operation was Columbus Day, Oct. 10th, and Jeff Cornell brought it around to Detroit Harbor that same afternoon.   Benches were removed and oil was changed the following day,
and early Wednesday it was hauled and pressure washed at the Shipyard Island Marina, prior to being placed on blocks for the winter.
Jeff Cornell cleaned the Karfi hull at the Shipyard.

The Karfi began in its 49th season with a new pair of main engines, John Deere motors that replaced fairly young Perkins Sabre engines.  The Perkins had many hours remaining, potentially, but with concern for replacement parts coming from England, a move to new propulsion of nearly the same horsepower was made.  Along with new engines, new pilot house controls were also installed with a single lever per engine for both shifting and throttle (instead of a separate lever for each, as original).  The new engines and controls worked flawlessly all season.

New starboard engine on Karfi.  A new fuel
tank was fabricated and replaced the original.
Otherwise, the engine room looks much as it did
49 years ago, clean as a whistle in the bilges.
New controls and new engine gauges
also required a new and deeper console.

We'll be heading south in two days, to the tip of South America, via Buenos Aires.   Chances are, internet communications will be spotty, or expensive, or both, but if I can get a few photos published here, then I will.

We'll be enjoying the early days of spring in the southern hemisphere, with temperatures expected to be 20-30s F on South Georgia.  

Hasta luego -  Dick Purinton

Monday, September 5, 2016


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Our most illustrious Karfi passenger this summer was a tree frog nicknamed "Chester,"  who rode back and forth many days to Rock Island.

This was back in June, and we were at first puzzled by the occasional, loud sound made by this frog.  I looked about on the shore, never imagining a frog might take up residence aboard this passenger ferry.

Then, one day, Jeff Cornell and his crew spotted the frog near the bow of the Karfi.  They took it ashore, and it returned.

On one of my days with Tony Woodruff, the frog was spotted clinging comfortably to the vertical wall above the door frame to the storage locker.  Like Jeff, Tony removed the frog from the boat and placed him (her?) in the woodsy strip adjacent to the parking lot.  And like the other previous occasions, it was found back on board the boat the next morning.  

I guess it was this persistent personality, with a penchant for traveling back and forth to Rock Island, that earned it the name "Chester" (Thordarson) from Jeff.    

Then, on one of my days in late June taking a turn as operator aboard the Karfi, I spotted the frog sitting on the starboard rail, just outside the screening.  (The starboard rail seemed to be its preferred perch.)   After several trips to Rock Island and back that day it disappeared, slipping, maybe, into a pile of camping gear for a ride to a new, more exotic location.

We haven't seen it since.

   *        *        *

View of decimated Pilot Island during height of cormorant nesting,
with ore boat entering Death's Door Passage, enroute to Escanaba.

During an Island visit in early June, boatbuilder and youngest son, Thor, and I took a leisurely trip around Detroit Island on the Moby Dick.   This short cruise turned out to be a practice run for our upcoming journey to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, where bird life is concentrated in the various harbors.  Thousands upon thousands of seabirds and penguins rest, mate and raise their young on the relatively small patches of land sprinkled across waters of the vast Southern Latitudes.

Thor at the helm of Moby Dick as we round Detroit Island.

The bird activity - in this case,  Pilot Island, and of seagulls and cormorants - and the smells that emanate from this nesting island favored by fish eaters - proved to be a practice run for what we expect we might encounter on our trip south.

But, first I should back up a bit to say that I've always been interested in reading about early exploration and man testing his limits, especially in those days when sailing vessels were the only means of going to the ends of the earth, and when discovery of new lands and the planting of a flag brought national prominence.

The risks of finding uncharted lands often meant lasting recognition for the vessel captain, ship sponsors (with the subsequent naming of islands, bays and sections of coastline) and occasionally, crew members.  More often, sailing in the high latitudes, whether the Arctic or the Antarctic, also brought on severe bouts of illness, months of deprivation and hardship, and not infrequently, loss of life.

Such has been my interest since reading a paperback book in seventh grade titled, Shackelton's Incredible Journey.  It was pure luck when I blindly chose this title from among several recommended in the flimsy, monthly paper called The Scholastic Reader.   (There was a faint image of a sailing ship on the cover.)  I ordered a copy, knowing nothing about Shackleton and his efforts to cross the southernmost continent.  

Such interest in books about men and expeditions picked up once again in recent years, and when I finished reading Alan Gurney's book in March, Below the Convergence, I wondered aloud, "Wouldn't it be fun to visit some of those places?"

Mary Jo firmly declined, having listened to my recounting of the literary descriptions of frequent storms, steep seas, ice, fog and generally harsh conditions experienced in the high southern latitudes.  But, she suggested, our son Thor might be interested.  And he was.

So, on October 24 we'll embark on a trip with Lindblad / National Geographic to the port Ushuaia,  Argentina, board the National Geographic Explorer, spend a night in the Falklands, and then steam onward, and southward, to South Georgia.   This island is rugged, with many fjords and indentations, along with grassy slopes in the southern spring (not to forget the interior glaciers).  This rarity of landmass in the midst of vast ocean reaches is what the population of Antarctic birds find to their liking for nesting.  One particular variety of penguin, in its favored cove, may number upward of a quarter-million, making Pilot Island's bird population, in comparison, a paltry warm-up.  

But it is the human history of this region, and the history of exploration of these remote, scattered lands that has most captured my interest.   I only realized, after first suggesting this trip, that May 2016 was the 100th anniversary of the noted crossing by Shackleton and five other men in the 22-ft. lifeboat James Caird, sailing from Elephant Island to South Georgia.  That desperate, heroic voyage of 15 days was equalled - topped in some ways - by the exhausting, life or death climb up and over the interior of South Georgia by Shackleton and two crewmen.  This climb brought them to the Norwegian whaling station on the far, eastern side of the island.  There, he found assistance, and he eventually succeeded in saving the lives of all of his men, including those men left behind without knowing if they would survive, on Elephant Island.

I've read almost nothing about this 100th milestone year of Shackleton's expedition and survival except in the marketing literarure of the Lindblad / National Geographic cruises.  The cruise ship company has planned this voyage in commemoration.  Their two ships will moor at South Georgia at the same time, to witness a recreation of the climb up and over the island.  Sons of noted explorers will do the climbing:   Peter Hillary (son of Sir Edmund Hillary);  Jamling Norgay (son of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay), and Sven Lindblad, son of Lars-Eric Lindblad, founder of Lindblad Expeditions. Lindblad was the first company to provide public cruises to Antarctica and adjacent southern waters, and 2016 also happens to be the 50th year of Lindblad Expeditions operating in Antarctic waters.  

Passengers will have the opportunity to meet this small group as they descend from the island's interior toward Grytviken, where the remains of the old Norwegian whaling station (now a small museum) can be found today.

In all, a most exciting time lies ahead!    

-  Dick Purinton

Saturday, August 20, 2016


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The pace of summer was upon us each day, with strong auto and passenger traffic coming to Washington Island daily since the July 4th weekend, warm, sunny summer days, with numerous events to attract the interest of visitors and locals alike.

I happened to be in Sturgeon Bay approximately two weeks ago when several of the participants in the 2016 Great Lakes Tall Ship fleet departed Green Bay, most headed for Duluth, Minnesota where they would gather in that harbor for an event scheduled this weekend (Aug. 19-21).

The Spanish vessel Galeon, and the Norwegian Draken Harald Harfargre sailed to Sturgeon Bay and moored along the waterfront just east of the Oregon Street Bridge.  Before I headed to the Department of Motor Vehicle office to renew my driver's license (early, with the intention of beating the crowd) we stopped for a close look, unencumbered by other onlookers or security barriers.  By ten o'clock that morning the two vessels would be open to receive paying visitors, $10 for adults, $5 for children.  But by then we intended to be on our way back to the Island.

Locally, hopes were raised high that Draken and crew would consider stopping at Washington Island for a night or two, based on the sincere belief that a welcoming and solidly-rooted Scandinavian community might be an enticement hard to turn down.

However, the ship's presence in U. S. waters required filing a sailing plan with the U.S. Coast Guard (in part, because of current Homeland Security rules).  So, the plan's ports of call took priority.

The Sturgeon Bay stop may also have been influenced by the fact that Draken, with her diminishing operating funds as described in various press stories, could potentially fare better in receipts from day visitors at Sturgeon Bay's waterfront than in a Washington Island harbor.

In any case, shortly before 7 a. m., Mary Jo and I strolled close to the Draken as her crew of men and women stretched, brushed teeth, ate their breakfast and prepared for the day under the ever-present eyes of dockside onlookers.

That routine of living under a microscope must make her crew long to get underway for the open seas and passage home, distancing themselves for a time from press and onlookers...even though such media and public attention is a primary reason for the construction of such replica vessels, to show how ships of centuries ago were constructed and sailed, and to demonstrate their importance in the history of world exploration and commerce.  (With superstructure like a fortress, the Spanish crew at that same hour remained belowdecks, nowhere to be seen - not even a deck watch!)

A Jackson Harbor spectacle

The following remarks are based not on my personal familiarity with the world of theater - which is minimal - but rather from a most positive reaction to last night's Island Players drama staged on the grounds near the Jackson Harbor Maritime Museum's restored John Christiansen home.

(If you read this before noon Sunday, Aug. 22, and you're on the Island, then I'd urge you to see the play "Seascape," a drama by Edward Albee.)

The setting is outdoors, seating under a tent that is nestled between the porch of the old fisherman's home and the tall rushes and brush that grow with abandon along Jackson Harbor's shore in that location.

Andy Sachs, Director, took this project on knowing there would be many hurdles to putting on such a play outdoors. (Even Andy might have been surprised by the height of the hurdles!).

However, this location proved to be an excellent setting for an aging, bickering couple who spend their day on the beach discussing their life's regrets, joined eventually, and unexpectedly, in a discussion of human evolution, human traits and time by a pair of lizards, very distant cousins from the sea.

Albee's dialog is filled with humor and pithy observations about couples, both human and human predecessors.   Most pleasant surprises were provided by these actors, with great timing of lines and physical movements on the grassy stage:  Brian Sorenson, Patti Cauldwell, Libby Evans Sachs and Terry Henkel.

You'll not find a play that provides a more continual stream of laughs.  I may have been more easily encouraged by the tall glass of Guiness I had with dinner beforehand at the Fiddler's Green. But, I'm not one to find laughter in forced humor...this was not forced, but clever, timely riposte.  This play was best entertainment!

You can likely get your tickets at the door, as we did, if you don't already have them.  This evening's performance starts at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday's matinee begins at 1:30 p.m.

Other activities

Today's Island Fair - historically one of the biggest days on the Island - looks to be a rain-out.  That's very unfortunate considering the efforts on the part of Island Lions Club members and others that goes into the set-up, entertainment and food preparation (not to mention out-of-pocket expenses by various Island organizations and individuals).

You can cap off your weekend with a bit of historical reflection.  The Island Archives sponsors its second program of the summer with Will Craig presenting:  Early Washington Island Settlers - The Second Wave, at 4:30 Sunday afternoon.   A chance to wind down in the air conditioned Trinity Fellowship hall for an hour or so before supper.  See you there!

-  Dick Purinton

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


Although the life ring says U. S. Coast Guard, this small lifeboat,
according to Eric Bonow, came from the American Girl, which
is now displayed in the Gills Rock Maritime Museum.
(Eric Bonow photo)

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

When a topic presents itself, as did  Jim Anderson's stories of freighting with his close family members on the vessel American Girl, research and information can take unusual turns, and that's a fun side benefit to doing such projects.

I'm referring to the work done with Jim Anderson for his book, Memories of the American Girl - Stories of a Washington Island family freighting business.  Although the print run wasn't large, sales have been unexpectedly, pleasantly brisk in the past several weeks, encouraging me to reorder from Seaway, the Green Bay printer we worked with.

An interest I had in doing this book was to learn a bit more about the American Girl as a vessel, both before and after the Andersons owned and sailed her from Washington Island.  And, too, the Oil Queen, their tank barge built especially for hauling oil products from the Green Bay terminal to Sturgeon Bay and Washington Island.

I often go to Eric Bonow for answers to my questions, and even when he's out on the lakes in his capacity as a mate aboard one of the Great Lakes ore boats, he generally responds within a day or less, providing me with helpful direction, additional information, photos, maps or charts, and other connecting bits.   Such were the two photos he took of the old American Girl lifeboat, now on display at the Gills Rock Maritime Museum. I'm also looking at an old photo of the American Girl - on file with the Bowling Green University's Collection of the Great Lakes - when she was new, in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

American Girl as new vessel in 1922,
with lifeboat on after, upper deck.  Also, this
original profile matches closely the modifications of the
American Girl by Matt Fogg of Fogg Towing, and
St. James Marine, of Beaver Island.  (photo
from Great Lakes Historical Collection,
Bowling Green University.)

It appears to be the same lifeboat  boat that is shown on the top deck, judging by lines, length, and so on.

Later photos of when the Andersons sailed her depict a smaller, newer model tucked behind the pilot house of the American Girl, probably lighter, easier to handle, and less prone to leaking.  Here is one photo, from the mid-1960s, with Jim Anderson on the upper deck, with the newer lifeboat version secured in the background.

Jim Anderson on top deck of American Girl.
(Jim Anderson photo)

Trip to Ironton

In order to see the American Girl as she looks today, and to obtain a comparison photo or two for Jim's book, I rode the Badger car ferry with Tom Wilson on a wet day in mid-May.

I was fortunate to able to first connect with owner Matt Fogg by phone to set up a visit for Saturday morning.  On the previous day he had been working at North Fox Island and just returned to his docks at Ironton, Michigan.

Matt met us at his landing property a  few hundred yards west of the Ironton cable ferry.  This ferry provides a shortcut across an arm of Lake Charlevoix that leads to East Jordan, Michigan.  This location was, conveniently, a mere 20-minute drive from son Thor's home in Boyne City.

The exterior of the American Girl looked great, as did the wheel house and interior spaces above decks.

Much maintenance work was done by Matt and his crew to keep her useful and operational during his years of ownership.

Below decks, the former wooden bulkheads that separated the machinery space from the rest of the vessel have been mostly removed.  (Those bulkheads also served as vertical points to stack freight against to keep it from shifting when underway, according to Jim Anderson.)

Standing near the Caterpillar engine, one can look fore and aft to see both stem and stern.  It is one, long and open space.

Original, riveted shell plating clearly shows without any sort of inner liner to cover it up.  The general look reminded me of a gill net tug, only much larger.

The American Girl wasn't used much in recent years because Matt nicely refitted a former U. S. Army tugboat he acquired on the east coast a year or two ago.  This new tug has more power (a single, Cat 3508 engine), with more speed, a good towing winch, and spacious accommodations for himself and his crew when they engage in long tows or contract construction work where they're away from home for long periods of time.  The Fogg landing in Ironton provides room for staging and loading materials and large pieces of equipment, much of it destined for Beaver or nearby Michigan islands.   This is a niche business that also hauls up cargo that the Beaver Island ferry is unable to carry.

With owner, Capt. Matt Fogg, on the American Girl.
A part of the former bulkhead can still be seen at left.

The American Girl, should anyone be seriously interested, is for sale, according to Fogg.

Her hull is sound.  The pilot house appears to be well-appointed and ideally set up for long transits.

Matt is presently working on an overhaul of the engine, and several system components, such as the sewage holding tank, will be modified.  But, the basics are certainly there, and the vessel is in near-ready to sail status.

All of this is quite amazing, I find, for a vessel that has seen her share of hard work in all sorts of conditions, and has wintered in ice, most of her 94 years.

And, finally, thanks to Eric Bonow who stuck his camera lens through the Basic shipyard facility chainlink fence one day, on a pleasure walk from the Escanaba ore docks.  His photo shows the Oil Queen resting in a field.  As far as we know, this is still her home and it will likely remain so until she's cut up for scrap.   The deep hull was built for holding liquid product is not readily adaptable for other work, and with today's current requirements for double-skin tankers, it is obsolete and non-compliant as a product tanker.

American Girl, below decks, looking aft.

After a second career on Beaver Island under the ownership of the Gillespie
family members, Oil Queen was retired.  Today, a new tanker that meets
U. S. Coast Guard requirements hauls oil products to Beaver Island.
(Eric Bonow photo)

These are but a few of the side trips made to learn more about the vessels used in the Anderson freighting business.

-   Dick Purinton

Sunday, July 24, 2016


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The list of authors and poets is set, for both presentations and workshops, for the 4th Washington Island Literary Festival.  

The invited authors have each written and published one or more works that reflect this year's theme: MYSTERY AND MISTIQUE OF THE MIDWEST.     Not all are writers of mystery, although that genre dominates this year.  

In non-fiction, author Michael McCarthy's book Ashes Under Water is about the Eastland disaster in the Chicago River of a century ago.  This maritime event that shook not only Chicago but the entire nation, a milestone disaster that set a course for federal laws for improved passenger vessel design and operation.  The poems of Wisconsin Poet Laureate Kimberly Blaeser reflect the mystique of living in Wisconsin.


A variety of writing and poetry workshops will begin Friday morning, September 16, and there will be a Festival opening reception at the Farm Museum Barn that same evening for all registrants.  A panel discussion will begin Saturday's program at the TPAC, followed by individual author presentations, interspersed by opportunities for the purchase and signing of books backstage.   Dinner Saturday evening will be at Karly's, featuring readings by Poet Laureate Blaeser.   Sunday morning's author presentations will once again be held at the TPAC.  

Registrations are now being taken, both online at the Literary Festival page within the Trueblood Performing Art Center website (    Deb Wayman will also help to sign you up at her Fair Isle Bookstore, adjacent to Red Cup.

For more details on authors and events, please go to the Literary Festival website at:

-  Dick Purinton