Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Kingfisher on flagpole.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Harbor ice is now about 60% gone from the surface of Detroit Harbor, and on the route very little ice has been encountered in the past week.

Those piles of ice along the shore of Plum Island? Still there, shrunk slightly by Sunday's rain.   Ice could remain as late as Memorial Weekend,  given the density of the ice.

We've seen many more birds lately.  In Sunday morning's rain the Kingfisher (we assume its the same one as other years) sat on tall waterfront perches.  Since only the shallowest parts of the harbor were ice free, this bird's hovering and diving for food was limited.

Monday, a great white egret showed up, and blackbirds that enjoy being among the cattails.

All of this comes as a reminder to remind readers that the 8th Annual Door Islands Bird Festival is coming up very soon, May 30 - June 1, 2014.  A copy of the flyer and a registration form appear below.  Look up the website for additional details.

This event was well received by those who've previously joined Sandy Peterson, Melody Walsh, Char Rutledge and other Island birding experts.  They enjoy leading groups to their favorite, productive birding spots on Washington and Rock Islands.  (And in certain years, Plum Island.)

The Bird Festival idea originated with Sandy Peterson, and she's followed up the initial year with excellent planning for day events, plus an evening banquet where there is always an expert presenting a related topic of interest.

Interested birders are asked to register prior to May 16th.  Send your check and registration to:  Island Birding Inc.
PO Box 607
Stoughton, WI  53589
For more details and registration form, go to:             www.islandbirdfest.org

Ice shoves

While still on the topic of birds, I spotted an eagle, a younger one in dark feathers, sitting on one of the highest points of the ice piled on Plum Island yesterday.    The day was, once again, dark and gloomy, so the ice didn't appear as blue as it might with sunlight illuminating the large pieces.

For a number of days, since ice pushed back into the bay on a southerly wind, the ferry route has changed its route to the west side of Plum Island, first time since way back in early December.  All the better for passengers to view the ice shoves.

Reading Great Lakes shipping news on the BoatNerd website gives you an instant feel for what is happening around the upper Great Lakes regarding the difficulty of ice breaking and ship movement.  The name of the game so far has been patience, waiting for available ice breakers to arrive on scene to open up tracks, or to break out harbors that have been ice-bound all winter.  Some of the worst conditions have been on the St. Mary's River and on Lake Superior.

So far, other than holding in for weather one morning a week ago, the Arni J. Richter continues to make excellent crossing time.  Conditions are also excellent for the continuation of the dredging project in the Detroit Harbor Channel.

-  Dick Purinton

Thursday, April 17, 2014


 A twofer -  Snowfall plus dredging, taken at 8:35 this morning.
According to the weatherman, we'll see some sunshine later today
as this patch of moisture heads to the northeast.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Following Monday's snowfall, which let up in the early afternoon, our temperatures turned colder on the northerly wind, dipping into and staying in the 20s for several days. But, we at least saw sunshine, to help brighten our mood.

Monday evening's moon was terrific, the so-called blood moon. (I had to take Mary Jo's word for this one, a spectacular eclipse seen around 3 a.m.).  I did manage to stay up Tuesday evening (9:30 p.m.) for the moonrise, the official full moon.  It couldn't be missed because its light reflected from the slick surface of the refrozen harbor, brightening up the landscape.

I thought of the second shift crew as they dredged, and how working that evening must have been quite pleasant, given the garbage they put up with in the prior 24 hours.  Made me think of that Van Morrison song, with a local variation: "We get it almost every night, And when that moon gets big and bright, It's supernatural delight, Everybody was dancing (digging) in the moonlight." Or, for you hipsters out there, "digging the moonlight."  (Make your own variations.  It will stick in your head through this day, guaranteed.)

Tuesday evening, moonrise over Snake Island.
Dredging production since the project really got rolling Sunday has been quite good, with only short lapses for movement of the rig, and a blown hydraulic line on the excavator.  Trucks have been pounding the pavement - not an exaggeration.

The roads over which the spoils are trucked have been taking a spring beating, laden with frost and moisture.  The roadbeds are not all that deep to begin with, and as on Lakeview, bedrock isn't far beneath the surface.  Gargantuan potholes have developed, and the Town has been working to fill them with gravel, about the only remedy at this point.

Two Door County Highway dump trucks came in on today's morning ferry, and I can see another in the Northport webcam in line for the ferry, in an attempt to stockpile material for maintaining the roads.  Motorists are advised to go slowly over these roads, warned sufficiently in advance by orange Caution signs.  The toll on island blacktop is always great this time of year, but we'll see even more as the ground is still oozing moisture.

This County Highway truck, wing plow still attached,
was one of two trucks bringing gravel to
the island this morning.  
Why must road gravel be imported to an island famous for stone?

According to Town Chairman Joel Gunnlaugsson, the recommended size of aggregate for road base is larger than that which the Town has on hand (and possibly less sand content).  It is presumed - although I didn't ask - that such costs will be reimbursed with road maintenance dollars identified for road resurfacing in the dredging project funding.

Currently, there is little to no ice in the ferry route.  The large field jammed against Plum Island acts as a stopper in the bottleneck for the time being.  Pieces of drift ice that were problems last week have been blown far enough down the lakeshore that digging has not been affected, even with a southerly flow of wind last night.  A wind shift to the west later today should help to keep the channel open.

Due to the presence of ice in the route, or the threat of it, the Arni J. Richter remains the only ferry operating these days because it can navigate in ice.  And because the ferry schedule of six trips are more or less back-to-back, with little breathing room between departures, special runs for flammables such as fuel must be made in the off-hours.  This was done last evening when two tankers, one for LP, one for gasoline, were transported to the island around 6:30 p.m.

Digging Wednesday evening, without the benefit of moonlight.
This spring's extended winter touches many and varied parts of the island's economy.   In "normal" years the transport of fishermen and boats and trailers,  and of seasonal homeowners who start opening up their cottages, helps jumpstart tourism revenues.   Lacking that influx this year, dredging operations provide a needed boost for many local businesses.

-  Dick Purinton  

Monday, April 14, 2014


Wind-driven, heavy Green Bay ice piled on the western side of Plum Island
during the early morning.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

A gray, bleary Sunday turned out to be our best day of the weekend in what could otherwise be termed a stretch of poopy weather. (Is that an approved meteorological term?)

We got comfy and spent several hours yesterday watching those folks in short sleeves and shorts as they watched the Masters in Augusta, Georgia.  And, we don't golf.  We just wanted to be transported to someplace for a few hours, to see what green grass and bright spring flowers look like.  After Bubba Watson put on his new green blazer, I went outdoors to put away sleds and shovels, and raked in a few small sections of lawn where it had dried.

I had no sense, believing the TV weather picture that had the snow north of our location.  By daybreak Monday morning, rain having turned to snow during the night, winds from the NW picked up and temperatures dropped, and we looked out the window to a fresh blanket of heavy snow.  This latest snow storm, by my official boot top measurement and estimated shovel weight, put another five or so inches on the ground.

With the high winds and poor visibility, and the likelihood of ice coming out the Door passage, the morning ferries were canceled.  Although Islanders were headed down the line (to hear the Governor speak at the Door County Economic Development Corporation's Annual Banquet, among other things), the poor roads and difficult conditions reined in such impulses. School was first delayed, then canceled.   Students may have been happy to be home, indoors looking out, but that was before the other shoe dropped.  The power went out, and it remained out for three to four hours.

Tree limbs were down over power lines and roads in many locations. The Town crew tackled limbs as  the REA crew worked to restore power.  According to Mary Lynn at REA Phone Central, what was first a local problem grew as a phase was dropped from the Mainland, and one of the Island generators had a problem that caused "an imbalanced load."  Power was restored in time for a hot lunch.

Beyond these several setbacks there was good news.  The Roen crew dug today throughout the blizzard-like conditions, and as of 4 pm the tug Stephan M. Asher was pushing the third loaded scow of the day to the Potato Dock, with the possibility of a fourth scow being filled in the early evening.  Although roads were plenty sloppy in places, the main trucking routes that were plowed by the Town early in the morning seemed exceptionally dry and snow-free, thanks to melting from pavement heat.

Dredging days have been few and far between this spring.
First, ice and cold weather, then broken ice in
the channel blocked operations.   

This day marked only the second full 24 hours of dredging so far in 2014.

Tuesday, April 7th, the Detroit Harbor project resumed, only to have progress quickly curtailed by a damaged silt curtain.  Several days passed while repairs were made, during what were ideal weather and ice-free conditions.  But, by the time the crews and equipment were ready to dig once again, ice chunks filled the channel, floated in on a southerly breeze.

With no prospect for the wind to shift and the ice to leave, crews departed for a couple of days off. They reported in again Sunday morning, just as the shifting northerly breeze blew ice toward the open lake.  With April now already half over, and only two days of dredging accomplished,  in order to gain on the schedule imposed by the WDNR permit for digging, the contractor will need assistance in the form of favorable winds - meaning more northerly than any other direction.

According to Hoyt Purinton, the bay ice that blew down this morning against Plum Island was a single, large field, with nary a visible crack running through it.  Plum Island became an effective Door stop, but not before the edge of the field piled some 30 feet into the air.  (That's an estimate, as there is little but the nearby tree line for a gauge.)  The Bay of Green Bay has yet to break up into small fields.

A friend earlier this winter indicated to me that he read my blogs, but he just about had his fill of dredging photos.  Sorry!  I guess the same might be said for snow pictures. When there are few local events to mark these days, we'll keep covering the same-old.   [But really, how exciting, isn't it, to see the dredge dredge for a change?  And fresh snow fall sideways in a breeze, and then the white aftermath…]

Some day soon, summer will come along and then we'll be yawning, waiting for fall colors and another cycle of nature.

-  Dick Purinton

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Ice several feet thick had to be broken by machine in order
to open the approach to the Potato Dock Saturday afternoon.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

It's not over yet, Old Man Winter, and we were reminded of that fact Friday, with 4-5 inches of heavy, wet snow.  We saw a brief let-up around noon, then snowfall resumed, even harder, in the late afternoon.  Large disks of lake effect snow were whipped by high winds.

Those winds, which strengthened and backed toward the north, were enough to stream heavy ice through the Door Passage into the lake.   This, coupled with hampered visibility for what was in the ferry's route,  brought cancellation of the first Friday evening trip of 2014.  By Saturday morning the snow had ended, and the sky was sparkling clear - and ground cover sparkled, too.    Fresh snow stuck in the trees, and the air temperature was at 23 degrees at 7 a.m.

With a few passes of the shovel, clear patches here and there, the rest was left to intense sunshine.   Most of our snow was gone or on its way out by late afternoon.

The Roen crew had arrived at the end of the week to get their equipment running.  Saturday morning their tug was operational and the crew broke out their crane barge.  By Saturday afternoon they were engaged in opening up the area next to the Potato Dock, so that dredging can begin soon and scows of spoils can be pushed alongside that pier for offloading.  The channel dredging project should move forward this week if ice and wind don't interfere with the maneuvering of the scows or with the rather delicate silt curtain, a requirement while when digging takes place.  (As of Sunday afternoon, the northern half of the channel in Detroit Harbor had broken ice, floated in and held by southerly wind.)

School Navigators Unit is a success

One point I want to relate was the great success Washington Island Schools Navigators unit.   The unit began, if you'll recall, with a trip aboard the Arni J. Richter on St. Patrick's day, March 17.

This Friday afternoon, with their work completed, students and staff hosted an Open House for the community at Washington Island School.  All ages and all grade levels participated in this project.  Clearly, each class put in a great deal of work and thought on this project.  I was impressed with the quality of their end-product, and the enthusiasm the students showed for their work, which was designed to help them learn more about their community, past and present, and learn new skills in the process.

In the 4-6 grade room, Ryan, Max and Aidan showed Mary Jo and I around their computer website, after ensuring we were property greeted, then comfortably seated, to observe their product.  Mary Jo was one of several Islanders interviewed as a former student of the old Detroit Harbor School, but there were many interviews done by the students.  They set up the interview appointments and asked the questions, and took notes, and later wrote up their notes, which can be seen on their website, along with photos.

Elementary school children listen to early
Islanders' stories onboard the Arni J. Richter.
Students, even the lower grades, became adept
interviewers, researchers and historians during the
following weeks.
You can learn about their Navigator unit, too.  Go to the school's website, and from there you'll find pages for each grade levels.   Given a close look you'll see the results of their many hours of interviews, research, and discussion.  It's a masterful job by both staff and students, and should itself be entered into the Island Archives.

Here is the web address:      www.island.k12.wi.us        click on:  WINS Spring 2014 Voyage

Birds and such

Aside from the fresh snow, the first thing I noticed Saturday morning when I looked out the window toward the harbor was a large bird with the appearance and size of a hawk struggling to subdue a duck.  This struggle took place about 15 feet from the edge of a small opening in the ice where springs keep the ice from freezing.   According to fresh tracks in the snow the larger bird and duck had already dragged about 20 feet.   The duck, using all of its remaining strength, was scooting the pair toward the opening's edge.

I was too excited at this point to grab a pair of binoculars or my camera as the drama unfolded.  I expressed an inner "Yes!" when the duck maneuvered itself into the water, large bird still firmly attached.  If it can make it to the pond, I thought, the larger bird might let go.  But, with equal grit and determination, and superior strength, the hawk-like bird pulled the duck back onto the ice.  Once on its back, the duck's feet went skyward in classical, almost cartoonish style, and they ceased to kick.

With a fleeting chance for a good Falcon photo,
my camera was set on autofocus.  As a result the foreground
branches are sharp while the bird is out of focus.
Within seconds (and this whole scene unfolded in less than two minutes) the large bird took off with its prey to one of the trees east of our home, out of sight.  This bird had a meal, and I suppose I should add deservedly so, given the work put in.

In about half an hour this same bird appeared again and roosted in a branch above spring opening.  There on the branch it preened and spread its feathers, drying them (I guessed) from the quick dip in the pond.  After 20 minutes it moved from that perch to another tree on the far side of the opening, and it resumed its preening.

Now I could see more clearly through binoculars, and I took a few photos (they turned out quite blurry, sorry). Mary Jo and I are quite certain it was a Peregrine Falcon.  (If bird experts out there differ in this opinion, please let us know.)

About an hour later, a young eagle was seen circling over the same small pond, swooping low, also looking for a duck dinner.

In the last 10 days we've seen the arrival of geese and sandhill cranes, pairs that would in past springs be swimming close to Snake Island or the old, partially submerged Ida Bo dock, or walking the shoreline looking for food.  The sandhill crane pair walked past our home on the ice during Friday afternoon's storm when snowfall was heaviest.  What they're finding to eat, with insects not yet out and ice covering the harbor, is hard to imagine.  The few openings in the ice that appear near shore, where springs keep the waters ice-free, become sought after holes for wading and swimming and finding food, maybe.

We're not the only ones anxious for warmer weather.

-  Dick Purinton

Thursday, April 3, 2014


April 3 - Al Thiele with a few of the many photos and
momentos from 32 years of Coast Guard service.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

This posting won't be about Al Thiele, shown in the photo above, taken this morning.  That blog is yet to come.

In a time of year when there aren't many spring photo opportunities, however, no daffodils or tulips poking their heads above the earth in this part of Wisconsin, Al's story emerges like the freshness that is spring.

When we visited approximately one year ago at Al's home for an interview, to talk about Al's career in the U. S. Coast Guard, he was a very sick man.  He had recently received a diagnosis that, had he not questioned his options more carefully, would have provided him a new address at School House Beach Cemetery rather than his home on Swenson Road.  But question he did.  Following a trip to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion, and a fairly routine medical procedure(s), along with faith that his health would improve, Al and his wife, Nancy, continue to enjoy life with their friends, children and grandchildren.

A more detailed piece on Al and his rise from Seaman to top enlisted man, Master Chief of the Coast Guard, will be coming later this month.  It's an interesting story, and one that should be published and introduced to the Island Historical Archives now, and not as a posthumous contribution.

Helene Meyer continues to improve

Word of Helene Meyer's steady recovery continues to be received on Washington Island.  Following a very serious auto crash, Helene's guarded condition initially could only be considered a long and upward climb.  And yet, while we are assured her situation is no picnic, she continues to mend, as breaks in her bones begin to heal.  Her mind and her disposition have escaped trauma, it seems, and she's been asking for books to read, activity to occupy her mind while the physical mending takes place.

So, it wasn't surprising to see a photo taken recently of Helene, her arms outstretched, welcoming a photographer.  Cards may now be welcomed, a way to enhance her day in addition to expressing our concerns and gratitude.

You may send your cards to:   (the address given below was updated 4/4/14 to reflect Helene's move from the hospital to this recovery center - another sign of progress)

Helene Meyer
Rennes Health & Rehab Center
325 East Florida Ave.
Appleton, WI  54911

Not an April's fool joke

I avoided producing a blog on April 1st because, I thought, some readers might confuse validity with bogus information.

But, now, I want to express my genuine thanks for your faithful readership, both ferrycabinnews Followers and occasional readers.  The fact that there are hits from just about every continent and country on the globe, as shown on the revolving Globe, I'd have to guess that many of these visits are accidental blog landings.  On the other hand, I also know there are intentional readers from exotic locations, and some are friends who live in or visit these places.  Each such visitor, in my mind, produces a special "ping" of distinction.

Yesterday, just before the noon whistle blew for lunch, my Globe meter turned the 100,000 mark.  Now, if that individual (Mr. or Mrs. 100,000) can identify themselves as being the 100,000th visitor, and offer me reasonable proof, I'll buy them a hot dog and soda at the Jackson Harbor Time Out Concession in July.  (I was visitor 100,103... so that number is taken.)

This "blog site visitor tally" began, if I recall correctly, about three years ago when the counter with globe was introduced to my site.  This was several years after I began the blog.  While there must be some weblogs that get this many hits on a daily basis, for me 100,000 represents a milestone.  I remember back to March of 2008, following the inaugural posting, how I was thrilled just to reach 20 readers.  And that number grew, but mostly on days when fresh, new blogs were posted.

Gradually, over several years' time, the hits counter crept to the 40-50/day range, then 75-80/day, and finally, 100 or more hits on a regular, daily basis.  All-time peak activity came in early March of this year, with over 1400 hits in one 24-hour period.  That was when the U. S. Coast Guard helicopter landed in deep snow on the Island's eastern shore, a precautionary landing, then was removed on trailer the following day.

I know many readers are brought to my site by Facebook mentions, a social media phenomena that I've not paid much personal attention to.  I have to acknowledge Facebook's power to get word out quickly about people and events.  Social networking's just not been my cup of tea.

Maybe the next 100,000 hits will come more quickly.  It really doesn't matter, except to salve my ego when I get discouraged.  (The inverse also happens.  I get down when the hits don't rise to my expectations.)   I track blog hits on a daily basis to see what topics or presentations strike people's fancy, and in this endeavor I still can't predict what captures people's interest most intensely.  Postings I consider "duds," not much more than filler,  sometimes get higher responses than those I've worked on the hardest, proud to finally hit the "publish" button.

Blog comments have also increased, and perhaps that's a better measure of the reader's interest.  It lets me know people are quite engaged in a variety of topics related to Washington Island.

In a round-about way, I believe that by providing this tether to the Washington Island community, the occasional blogs, means something to people.  It may even be that blogs, communications about the Island, have helped steer decision making for those considering buying land or settling down here in retirement, rather than some other community.   It works in this way as a soft marketing tool for the local economy, tying together people through positive attributes of community life on this small island.

Of course, there are many who don't read this blog, or who seldom look at the internet, and they may reach similar conclusions from entirely different sets of information.  Its hard to measure the reach, but I have this feeling, and it's based on pieces of conversation and correspondence.  (That's why I also believe its important to have a good Island newspaper, the Island Observer, and it can serve a real purpose beyond the delivery of 'hard' news.)

Another by-product of this blog is that it keeps me closer to the streets, the woods and harbors, especially now that I'm in a semi-retirement mode.  Thinking on paper, informing, entertaining myself and others - whatever it is people might find worthwhile in reading such posts - requires continual consideration of Island events, politics, history and its future.

As the list of blog Followers and site visitors continues to grow, so does my sense of responsibility to provide columns worthwhile to read.

And the best part, of course, is that it's free to the reader!  No pop-up ads or distracting, crashing videos.  But, those might be directions to consider for another day.

Thanks for your continued interest!  -    Dick Purinton

A peak rose from the plain of the average daily readership in early March.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


An address change:  Since her previous address given earlier, Helene moved to a new facility.  Cards and letters are welcomed, but please, still no phone calls or visits are requested:
Helene Meyer
Rennes Health & Rehab Center
325 East Florida Ave.
Appleton, WI   54911

Notes from April 3, 2014 -  Helene is rapidly improving, and your cards are welcomed!  Send to:
Helene Meyer,  Theda Clark Medical Center
130 Second St., Neenah, WI    54957-2021
*   *   *
Notes - from March 25th:    We're pleased to report that Helene was moved from Theda Clark's ICU, in part because she's doing better, but also because she's being prepared for more surgery next week.  Her breathing tube removed, she then asked the Andersons to request Carol Amadio to call her!  
     Carol, in addition to being her friend, is one of four interim pastors presently sharing duties at Trinity Lutheran Church.   It was in her 'official capacity' that Carol was able to slip her call through the hospital's phone tree and speak with Helene, who, she said, was alert, joked and laughed (medications, perhaps?!).  But in all respects, considering the extent of her injuries, she was very much tuned-in to activities back home, Carol said, including a study class she had planned to join.  Last week, Helene underwent an operation for broken fibulas in both legs.  Her right arm is broken, which will cramp her writing when she gets the urge, and she has a fractured pelvis and a vertebrae.  Her fractured ankle was too swollen to operate on last week.  So, despite tremendous skeletal damage, Helene, bright-eyed lady, is alive, alert, and already she's thinking ahead to coming home.  -  Well-wishers are still requested to withhold communications for now.  Cards may be sent to Helene's island address:  1475 Aznoe Road, Washington Island WI  54246

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Several weekends ago I photographed quilters at Sievers School as they participated in Washington Island's Quilts of Valor Foundation project.  Helene Meyer was one of those quilters.

Just a few days ago news was received that Helene was in a serious auto accident.  She was hospitalized at Theda Clark, and she's now in ICU with serious injuries.  Her legs were broken, and she has severe bruising, and the immediate prognosis is that she will remain hospitalized for some time.  Her single-car accident was said to be "catastrophic" by those who arrived on the accident scene.

How quickly events can change lives.

Since I learned of Helene's accident, the above photo image has been on my mind, even though it was one of perhaps dozens I took over the three-day quilting exercise.  There is something about the sparkle and the pleasant look in her eyes.

Helene's been involved in a variety of Island activities.  Most recently, following the death of her husband, Gene, she helped start an Island lavender business.  As a locally grown product, she saw lavender as one way to contribute to the local economy, as did her friends and business partners, Edgar and Martine Anderson.

The commitment of time and investment of dollars required to establish a new, agricultural-based business might be considered puzzling, given this venture wasn't something Helene had to pursue.  But her passion for the lavender products clearly showed, as did her desire for a closer association with residents and visitors, participating in the community in which she chooses to live.

I came to know Helene better through last year's Island Literary Festival, an event born of her ideas.  The organization and subsequent success of this festival was due largely to Helen's inspiration, and it was fueled by her leadership.  She delegated details and trusted others in the committee decision making.    At the Festival opening, when participants registered and gathered for the first evening at the Red Cup, it was as if participants already knew one another and were gathering after only a short absence.  The mood and atmosphere that Helene helped to establish permeated each of the next two days.

In these many ways, Helene has given of her energy and gifts.  Her struggle now is to live, and to heal.  In this, our prayers and encouraging thoughts will be helpful.

(Please note:  Well wishers have been asked to withhold communications - gifts, phone calls, emails, or flowers - because rest and privacy are needed most.  This same respectful consideration holds true for her friends Edgar and Martine, who provide support in adjacent hospital corridors as she recovers.)

 -  Dick Purinton

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


The entire Washington Island Schools student body, here
led by kindergarten children with teacher Margaret Foss,
filed aboard the Arni J. Richter for a voyage of immigration.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The prospects of opportunity and a new life, a Voyage in Experiential Learning, brought 59 students and 11 staff members onboard the ferry Arni J. Richter yesterday morning.  In their current unit, the Washington Island Navigators (WINS) sought a taste of practical understanding, to expand on classroom studies of what it might have been like to be an early Island settler, in this case, Icelanders who arrived on Washington Island.

Jeannie Hutchins and Mary Andersen
offered early Icelander perspective to
elementary students.

Helping to provide images from an early Icelander's point of view, the positives and the uncertainties about their new home, were portrayals of early Icelandic settlers and one particular family who came from Iceland by way of Winnipeg, Canada.  Jeannie Hutchins spoke about the Lindals, her forbears, who arrived in the early 1920s to work for Mr. Thordarson on Rock Island, then stayed, making Washington Island their home.  Mary Andersen took the part of Gertie Andersen, her husband's, Martin's, grandmother and the first child born to Icelanders on Washington Island. Her children became an integral part of the Washington Island community (and as an aside, she christened the new ferry Eyrarbakki in 1970, the centennial that marked the arrival of the first Icelandic immigrants here).

Howard Scott as Goodmander Gudmundson, and Tony Woodruff, a heavily accented Jon Gislason, related challenges encountered in being the first of their countrymen to join Washington Island's melting pot.

With temperatures in the low-20s and new ice already several inches thick where Friday there had been none, the ferry arrived off Plum Island's southern point around 11 a.m., the voyage half-way point.  Course was then adjusted for Washington Island's Detroit Harbor.  Island students, upper grades and elementary, were cheek-to-jowel in separate, overheated cabins, not unlike immigrants packed into steerage.  They respectfully absorbed the lessons passed along from early Icelanders, names that still resonate in many families today such as Gunnlaugsson, Bjarnarson, Magnusson, and Gudmundsen.

Island students proved to be an ideal audience, offering
their full attention in the confines of one of the AJR cabins.
After what may have seemed like an eternity, a voyage of endurance, the ferry at last touched land and the young immigrants came ashore, fleeing to the warmth of their yellow school bus - but not until a group photo commemorated their ordeal.

The low rumble of diesels and constant parting of ice notwithstanding,
upper-level students gave their full attention to Gudmunder
Gudmundson and Jon Gislason, portrayed by Howard Scott
and Tony Woodruff (gesturing).

Around this same time, it might be noted, a St. Patrick's Day parade comprised of adults honoring national Irish heritage marched up Main Road, cheered on by more adult bystanders.  They "made land" at Karly's, where corned beef and cabbage and adult libations awaited, a learning reinforcement with a slightly different flavor.  It can be said that among the Island's earliest European pioneers were the Irish, who along with German immigrants led that parade, followed by Scandinavians.  The first Icelanders arrived in 1870, at a time when others had already staked their claim to land.  A collection of dwellings on the western slope of Washington Harbor was dubbed the "Irish Village."

Island students (59 of them!), school staff, Island Players
and ferry  crew reach destination in time for lunch.
Our thanks to School Administrator Mr. Raymond and the Staff Members of Washington Island School for voyage arrangements that ignored stow-away photographers.

 - Dick Purinton

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Cutter ACACIA assisted ferry C. G. Richter on several occasions over
the years, usually following transit from homeport in Sturgeon Bay.
(photo date unknown, but thought to be from the late 1970s)
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

In the blog posted just before this one, I mentioned the navigation difficulties experienced by both large commercial vessels, and also the Coast Guard icebreakers.

The Acacia and similar buoy tenders of her class had multiple missions.  The age of this class buoy tender also revealed a need for cutters with better ice breaking capabilities, and this led the way to the "Bay" class vessels.  The Mobile Bay stationed in Sturgeon Bay, and the Biscayne Bay assigned to St. Ignace, Michigan, were two of the nine vessels that came off the ways in 1978 and 1979, at a time when commercial ore vessels hoped to ramp up winter operations.  The need for more regular supply of  raw materials at mills was married with a plan to execute year-around navigation (or nearly so) on the Great Lakes.

From reader Jim Legault I received an interesting observation from 1978 when he was crew aboard an ore boat on its last run of the season before layup.

[After I typically post a blog, I'll look at the revolving globe to see the origins of readers as they come online.  One morning, quite early, a red "ping" jumped out from the map.  The city was Merida, in the Yucatan, Mexico.   I knew it was Jim Legault, also up at an early hour.  Jim hadn't visited the Island for several years, and we rarely communicated during that time.  But it turns out he reads my blogs, keeping in touch through whatever I happen to post.]

Below is Jim's email received yesterday, reprinted with his permission.  He's an excellent photographer, and several decades ago he published a book on Great Lakes environmental changes, Reflections On A Tarnished Mirror.  In 1990 I relied on his advice and expertise to put together a photo history book, Over and Back.  Today, Jim uses many of his fine photos for websites he develops to advance eco-tourism marketing efforts in the Yukatan region.

    I have enjoyed your recent blogs about the Coast Guard helicopter mechanical problems, ice conditions, and the Roger Blough stuck in the ice.  The combination unlocked  a few frozen memories of sailing in the first extended sailing season on the Great Lakes in 1977-78. The federal Government agreed to pay the shipping companies for the damages incurred in the experiment. The shipping companies saw it as potential windfall to fix some of their tired old equipment.

I had just finished the work on Reflections in a Tarnished Mirror, was dead broke and needed some quick cash to catch up.  (Sailing turned out to be) a windfall for me, too.

I met the SS Crispin Oglebay in Escanaba about the 12th of January, and after a very slow trip through the Straits of Mackinaw with an ice breaker assist (The Mackinaw), we passed through Lake Huron fairly unobstructed.  After another slow trip in the rivers and Lake St Clair we joined a convoy (6 ships, I think) with ice breaker North Wind leading us into the western end of Lake Erie. Very slow going, but we kept going.  As the convoy approached Cleveland with the last loads of the year, we were stopped dead.

It took almost 9 days to make as many miles, with Cleveland in sight the whole time.  First, all alcohol was consumed [by some crew members], next all the ice cream, and finally, all the sugar, as the alcoholics tried to replace alcohol with sugar.  

For a time we anchored, as wind-rowed ice passed by on the port side driven by easterly strong winds. On our starboard side, solid ice, strong winds, no motion and the lights of Cleveland.  About day six, a Coast Guard helicopter landed midship and delivered milk, prime rib - and no alcohol, but more ice cream and  cigarettes.  The drunks talked about heading out on foot, and it wasn't the whiskey talking.

The reason we were trapped, I found out later, was that the ice was compressed against the Lake Erie shore by the strong winds. It was then a storm of the century arrived that wind shifted and the ice pressure was relieved. We tied up on the Cleveland lake front, the drunks took taxis to the Flats (an area of bars and clubs close by), and then the wind blew almost 100mph and the barometric pressure fell to 28.28 inches (the lowest non tropical atmospheric pressure ever recorded up to that time in the inland US).

Here in the Yucatan the wind is warm (and from above, a slow moving ceiling fan).
I`ve been busy here doing photos for a project studying an endemic species of Hummingbird  (Mexican Sheartail, Doricha Eliza ) with a research University in Merida. They live only here in Yucatan in a narrow strip along the gulf coast, and there are a few in the State of Veracruz. The project was Funded by Nat. Geo. and there will at least be a few photos in a photo gallery on their website and they are likely use some of the video I shot in some way. 
Give my best to Mary Jo and the family. My sharpie is pretty close to launch-ready, so hopefully I will have a chance to spend a little time on the Island this summer.

Your blog is the only regular connection I maintain with Door County. I enjoy it. Thanks. 

These websites show examples of his photography in an area teeming with fish and wildlife.

www.birdingyucatan.com         A new website dedicated to birding in Rio Lagartos .
www.riolagartosnaturetours.com        Website for Rio Lagartos Adventures (Diego Nunez)

Jim added this information on the super-low recorded during that January storm he referred to in his email:

The Great Blizzard of 1978, also known as the Cleveland Superbomb,[1] was a historic winter storm that struck the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes from Wednesday, January 25 through Friday, January 27, 1978. The 28.28 inches (958 millibars) barometric pressure measurement recorded in Cleveland, Ohiowas the lowest non-tropical atmospheric pressure ever recorded in the mainland United States until theUpper Midwest Storm of October 26, 2010 (28.20" measured at 5:13PM CDT at Bigfork Municipal Airport, Bigfork, MN). The lowest central pressure for the 1978 blizzard was 28.05" (953 mb) measured in southern Ontario a few hours after the aforementioned record in Cleveland.[2] On rare occasions, extra-tropical cyclones with central pressures below 28 inches of mercury or about 95 kPa (950 mb) have been recorded in Wiscasset, Maine (27.9") and Newfoundland (27.76").[3]

 -  Dick Purinton 

Friday, March 14, 2014


Early morning ferry, Wednesday, March 12, followed
track from previous day to open water.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Wednesday morning the crossing was quite good, but man, I got cold!

The temperature was +5 degrees, but the wind was 30+ mph, and it felt as though it circulated up one pant leg and down the other.   Warmer clothing would have been smarter, but I was on a mission to Sister Bay where I would speak in front of a group, and coveralls didn't seem right.  Standing outside my truck taking photos of the boarding, then underway out the channel, then outdoors again at Northport, took the warmth out of me.  And that was before I visited cousin Steve's farm on Old Stage Road, where with shovels we pried up frozen corn cobs from a crib to feed deer that roamed in our island neighborhood, and before we loaded a dozen hay bales Steve tossed down from his barn's loft, for daughter Evy's horses.

A warm-up at Al Johnson's never felt so good.

Have I become sissified these past 12 months, working from the comfort of our home, venturing outdoors only for mail or an occasional trek on snowshoes?  I credit the many people whose work requires they be outdoors for extended periods of time, including our ferry crews.

The compliment of vehicles on the
ferry Wednesday included two empty trucks and
the Bethel Church passenger bus.
The crossing itself Wednesday morning was excellent.  Solid bay ice held to the west of Plum Island and in its lee our route smooth and easy, despite the brisk NNW.   We were quickly into open water after first passing through the previous days' track for a mile or so.

That same morning, several miles north of Washington Harbor I was told, the Roger Blough had been stuck for nearly 24 hours in ice.  It was escorted by a Coast Guard cutter as the two made slow, and then no progress.  The cutter Mackinaw arrived to assist, and eventually the Blough made it rhough the Rock Island Passage and beyond, into the partially-open lake.  This event occurred just days after the suggested curtailment or postponement of lake freighter operations came from the Ninth Coast Guard District that anticipated such heavy ice conditions.  (See previous blog.)

I spoke this afternoon with Randy Holm, Rock Island State Park Ranger, to find out what was happening on Rock Island.  He makes a few trips over to Rock each week he says, by snowmobile, to check on buildings, and campers.

"Campers?" I asked, surprised there were people interested in winter camping, much less on Rock Island.  Three groups have camped there so far, according to Holm.  He's generally notified in advance - and he tries to leven their experience with useful information, such as low wind chill predictions, pending snow storms, and snow depth.  Last weekend about 45 snowmobilers gathered in the shelter house on Rock Island, during a pleasant afternoon group outing from Washington Island.

Randy's partner, Melody, he said, recently slipped on a patch of ice in their drive while getting out of their truck, and she struck her head sharply against the running board.  Bruised, and now with stitches in her head, Randy suggested she consider safer activities than birding and photography.  We hope this won't slow her down for long, as she's often captured great bird photos.

Oldy, moldy -

Contemplating this winter's snow and ice cover (although it is raining this Friday afternoon as I write) made me think back to several occasions when I've snowmobiled to Plum Island.  In even the coldest of winters we've observed, the Door Passage and even the waters near Plum Island in the Back Door can remain open.   For that reason, crossing the ice in the area of the Door is never recommended.

But, there are always exceptions to a general recommendation.  In 1979, when the ferry C. G. Ricther's gear went out, coupled with a long stretch of cold weather and heavy bay ice, I snowmobiled with Nathan Gunnlaugsson to Northport.  Our first trip was a sort of test run from Washington Island to determine ice thickness.  At that time, solid ice spread from the Bay well beyond Pilot Island to the lake itself, and this ice never moved in the ensuing weeks.  We chose to cut across Plum Island, from the Coast Guard life saving station to the Rear Range Light, as much for the novelty as anything.  Crystal clear ice in the Door was a bit unnerving, but trapped bubbles indicated that it was 10 or more inches thick, and this ice cover continued to build in the ensuing days.  For 19 days, in fact well into March, no ferry runs were possible.

The Cutter Acacia nosed up to the Northport dock (prior to the break wall, 
of course) and Coasties formed a grocery brigade, passing stores from the 
Shannon delivery truck to the ship's deck. Once groceries, passengers and the
 reduction gear replacement part (a piece that weighed in at #400) were loaded, the cutter 
headed for the Potato Dock, where the process was reversed.   This time, 
however,passengers walked an improvised gangplank and the 
ship's crane swung the cargo to shore.  This was the last time the
 Acacia was seen for several weeks, as she worked her 
regular assignment keeping ore boat traffic moving.

First, repairs had to be made.  The cutter Acacia, home-ported then in Sturgeon Bay, made an emergency run to bring across the weekly allotment of groceries for Mann's Store, and also the Twin Disc transmission part, which had been flown from New Orleans to O'Hare Airport, and then was picked up by Arni and Mary Richter.  We had no idea then, that even after repairs were accomplished, we would not be able to get under way again for some time due to heavy ice in and beyond the Door.

From L to R:  Bill Schutz, Bill Jorgenson, Mark Dewey, Rich Ellefson, 
Kevin Kruegerand Hoyt Purinton.  (I was the photographer)

Kenny Koyen drove his Dodge Power Wagon to Northport daily, picking up bulk freight for Island businesses.   We made daily runs with snowmobiles, too, towing sleds for the U. S. Mail and United Parcels, and whatever other freight we could manage.  On one run, as I recall, Nathan and I picked up Bob Rainsford and Ruth Wilcox, and their suitcases, passengers for the return run.  Most islanders stayed put, but for those who chose to travel, their first leg was by snowmobile, and then a friend's borrowed car at Northport.  A few arranged flights to or from the Island Airport.

Then (in 1995, I believe it was) a group of six from the Ferry Line, plus Kevin Krueger, made a late afternoon trip over the ice to Plum Island.  Daily, we'd watched a hole in the otherwise icy crossing near the Plum Island green can #1 as it closed up, getting smaller and smaller each day. Finally, it froze over solid.

I was convinced it would be safe going to Plum Island from Willow Point, near the Rutledge home on Green Bay Road.  We headed west for half a mile or so, and then came ashore close to the lagoon and away from the long, shallow reef, and we had no problems.  We rode single file in deep snow to the range lights, took a few photos, and then headed back to Washington Island, taking a tour along the west shore where Jack Hagen, among others, fished through the ice.

The strongest memory from that trip?  Bill Jorgenson riding his dad's (Walt's) Polaris, a snowmobile without padded seat, just a plywood board!  Bill taught us the meaning of "tough sledding."

Another form of tough sledding -

In the recent Peninsula Pulse we received in today's mail, Steve Grutzmacher, who professes to love numbers and statistics, reprinted three years of Door County township and village income.   The numbers he used, taken from public tax records, were in columns headed "Adjusted Gross Income" (for the townships) and the Adjusted Gross Income (for taxpaying individuals), which is more or less a per-household figure.

The figures were quite astounding.  Washington Island was listed in 2011 as averaging $32,240 per household, and 2012,  $37,700.   Although those two years' figures are somewhat comparable, in the other year cited, 2007, which may be considered "pre-recession," the figure was $73,155.  (This seems like an anomaly, a printing error.)   Among Door County's 14 townships, in 2011 and 2012 Washington Island placed dead last.

It is no secret that winters bring hard times, when many are scrambling to make ends meet.  Summers, for all our tourism and economic well-being, are too short to make up the difference.  When home starts lag, as they have for a number of years, ancillary businesses suffer, too.  People are resourceful, but the reality is that making maple syrup, cutting wood and plowing snow keep one busy, and maybe help stave off bill collection for a bit, but there is a tendency to go into the hole deeply during long winters.

No answers are readily apparent, other than, let's get on with summer and put some positive $$ back into those bank accounts.  I might add that this is true for a larger business, like the Ferry Line, just as it is for a mom and pop operation.  Earlier springs have generally brought with them more travelers, and folks who open their seasonal homes, less so when there are still snow banks in the woods.

Noxious Weed tamed, slightly -

If you somehow thought I might be commenting here on the prospect for medical marijuana in Wisconsin in this column, I have no desire to do so!

Instead, this is meant to further broaden Nikki Weed's apology via public forum.  She wrote this letter, we'd like to think, in heartfelt response to the many letters written when she dissed Washington Island and its people in her earlier Roundel, BMW owner club magazine, column.

A copy of Weed's response was tacked to the bulletin board at Mann's Store, and Hoyt took a cell phone photo of it, which is how I received this information.

Also published by Roundel,  just above Weed's apology, was Kerrie McDonald's well-written letter to Weed.  This also appeared, I am told, on Kerrie's Facebook page along with photos she's taken of Islanders.  Here is the text of Kerrie's letter:

"People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for"
Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird

Ms. Weed,

I read your scathing column about Washington Island and, having grown up there, I can confidently say that you have sorely misjudged and misrepresented us.  Our community relies on tourism and your column is an offensive disservice to that industry.  

I hope that you will visit again but, until then, here is a glimpse of the people you so fiercely and unabashedly criticize.  The beautiful woman in photo 1 is the wife of ferry captain Joel.  The laughing children in photo 2 belong to ferry manager Rich.  The smiling deckhand in photo 3 is my brother Conrad.  The pictures surrounding them contain just a few of the many beautiful and intelligent people that make up the Island community.  

It seems to me that you came to Washington Island looking and listening for all the wrong things.  Life is more than BMW's and "reasonable good looks".  
Island people understand that and I hope that one day you will too.

Kerrie McDonald

The following is Weed's response: 

Posted at Mann's Store...
Nikki Weed replies:  As a former resident of Wisconsin, I apologize.  My mother and I drove up to Door County and had nothing but high hopes and dreams for what we would find on the island.  However, I did not plan ahead, and found many of the sights we wanted to see closed. Rather than take the opportunity to discover the natural beauty that is in abundance on Washington Island, I brooded about my mistake - and compounded that mistake when I wrote my column.  I meant no disrespect to Washington Island or its residents;  I can see now that what I meant to be an account of my own inner demons and foibles could be seen instead as an attack on a place and its way of life, and I am sincerely sorry. - NW

Apology accepted.

Now, if you'd care to bring a BMW car club to Washington Island some day, and infuse our local economy, we'd be happy to oblige you with information, a tour, and activities that might provide positive memories.

-  Dick Purinton

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Birds, like this lone duck in an opening over a small spring, have had
 a hard time of it with this winter's extended cold, and ice that restricts
their ability to feed.  Their survival rate should improve rapidly in the
coming days and weeks.  Dozens of duck have expired - even along Island
roadways - in the recent weeks, weakened by cold and the inability
to dive for food.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

After our first 50-degree day of the year yesterday, it seems like winter may finally be ebbing.  Inland locations, even around northern Wisconsin, reported temperatures in the 60s, and in a few cases, 70 degrees.

But, there is lots of snow and ice yet to be melted, and already there are concerns in certain cities and towns of impending flooding due to frozen culverts and streams that jam up with broken ice, backing up an abnormally brisk spring runoff from field and wood.

The Great Lakes commercial navigation season is typically back to a regular pace by now, but that's during the years when there's been scant ice to contend with in shipping lanes.  Although some of the vessels wintered at Bay Shipbuilding already fired up and broke out for their first loads, running the more-or-less navigable route between the Escanaba ore docks and the mills south of Chicago, the U. S. Coast Guard's Ninth District issued a friendly suggestion in a letter of March 7th addressed to the American Great Lakes Ports Association.  We received a copy courtesy of the Port of Green Bay's information release.

Rear Admiral F. M. Midgette, Commander, Ninth Coast Guard District, warned of challenges ahead in his letter addressing shipping concerns and the resumption of Great Lakes shipping.  Available ice breaking assets will include all nine Coast Guard icebreakers ready for deployment, plus one additional icebreaking tug, for a compliment of six of the Bay-Class tugs.   Ninth District anticipates the Canadian Coast Guard will bring an additional icebreaker into the  Great Lakes.

ADM Midgette's letter warned:

   "Breakout will be long and difficult.  Transits in current ice conditions are slow and arduous.  Just this week, a vessel under icebreaker escort took over a week to transit St. Mary's River.  Another vessel required an escort all the way across Lake Erie.  The USCGC HOLLYHOCK encountered ice conditions in the St. Marys River and Straits of Mackinac beyond its capability.  And we expect conditions in Lake Superior that could exceed USCGC MACKINAW's capability.  According to the U. S. National Weather Service, temperatures are expected to remain below normal through March."

His letter ended with this request, due to ice conditions, which I believe is a message unprecedented in recent times:

   "I understand some industry stockpiles are low, and shippers are anxious to resume cargo operations.  In spite of that, we anticipate ice conditions worse that what caused some of you to lay up early in January.  Consequently, I urge you to consider delaying sail dates and curtailing early operations where possible until ice conditions improve."   

If memory serves, following a very cold winter in 1979, numerous lakers came in to the yards for structural repairs due to ice damage.   These are massive vessels, but their steel shell and structure weren't designed for repeated encounters with heavy ice.  There appears now to be more ice breaking vessels available to assist than in previous years, but broken fields of thick ice, wind-driven, can still challenge with unusually deep, dense ice at times.

Our ferry crews operated daily along the edges of heaviest bay ice this winter, with nary a hitch, but that, too, can quickly change as larger fields break into ever smaller pieces and jam up, or stream through, the Door passage.

On the nature trail

Deep snow and colder temperatures have been ideal for snowshoeing this winter, and we've managed to create several interesting loops in the surrounding area.

Some would suggest that snowshoes shouldn't be necessary when the wearer's boot size is 15, but that's a tread-worn joke that doesn't begin to describe the difficulty of tromping in snow several feet deep!   Even with snowshoes, and poles for added stability, this activity can be a challenge.  The reward, however, is a good workout that offers pleasant observations of the outdoor world.

Above the small islands, the bright, red growth of white birches stood against a deep blue sky.  In the topmost branches, scarlet dots of cardinals added further accent.

In the late afternoon hours, my treks have been accompanied by an owl's hooting from deeper in the swampy woods.   Deer tracks show the deer taking the easiest possible trails, sometimes old snowshoe tracks, then jumping from one point to another in belly-deep snow when necessary.  Their activity under cedars shows many more prints where the snow is generally not so deep and food is available on overhead branches, for those deer that can reach.

One afternoon, winding through the woods on my snowshoes, I happened to spot at eye level the bulging bark of a large cedar, what I think may be the start of a super-burl.   The tree itself is about 16 inches in diameter and nearly 35 feet tall, and by my estimation it appears healthy.  How rapidly its bark will continue to expand like a tumorous growth, and whether the tree becomes weakened by this abnormality, will be interesting to follow over time.  I've not generally noticed cedar burls, although they seem to be quite common with other tree species.

And maybe, I'm thinking, I only noticed this one because my eye level was a good 18 inches above the usual height with the help of the snowpack.

-  Dick Purinton