Friday, March 4, 2011

March - On The Water

Gillnet tug Faith, Lyle and Larry Voight peering out the door, in the Door
(March 3 - photo by Joel Gunnlaugsson)

Death's Door and Washington Island - 

We're at the point in winter when we wish it would just go away.  If we could only have an early break-up of ice, with rain and warmer weather to help get rid of the snow.  Well, we're in the midst of an early break-up, it seems, although its still a good month or more before we're likely to enjoy true spring weather.

I noted the ice on the Northport breakwall Tuesday, formerly a thick covering over the stones and entrance lights, had diminshed greatly.  A few cakes of dirty ice floated in the harbor, swept along the lake shore by swells and currents, bobbing among pieces of cleaner, offshore ice.  All were signs of the gradual breakup process taking place in Green Bay.

Ice enroute hasn't been much of a problem this winter for the ferry Arni J. Richter.  But Thursday, thick pieces of broken ice, nearly three feet in thickness, flowed through the Door on a northwest wind, most likely brought down from Big Bay de Noc or the upper shore of Green Bay, formed early, then undisturbed, made thick through January and February's cold.   Such heavy bay ice, except when layered in ridges under pressure of the wind, had been seen for several years in the Door.  

The spacing between these cakes was loose and generous and it was easy for the ferry to keep moving.  But the much lighter hull and shallower draft of the fish tug Faith of Gills Rock, rather than parting the cakes in her way, foundered on top of one piece.  Her rudder was partly out of the water, with not enough propulsion to overcome the buoyancy of the piece beneath the keel.  A pull on a tow line from the Arni J. Richter was enough to settle the suspended tug's hull back down, allowing the Voight brothers to regain forward movement. 

A shift of wind Thursday evening to the southeast then cleared the heaviest ice from the passage, pushing it westward, back into the bay.   A few more wind shifts over the next few weeks, with sunshine and ever warmer temperatures, and these pieces will become progressively smaller, melting or turning into slush.   

This morning at the Potato dock, located outside the entrance to Detroit Harbor, loose ice filled the channel, but it was different ice, not thick, and the Koyen's fish tug See Diver could be seen heading out to lift nets in the lake.  Ice patterns change daily, and on the whole large openings far outweigh the amount of frozen surface as the bay gradually rids itself of ice.  As average winters go, these signs mean early open water and easier navigation.

Rich Ellefson and Nathan Andersen worked aboard the dormant Robert Noble setting steel base pedestals for new, aluminum benches.  These benches are being fabricated for us by Hi-Tech in Sturgeon Bay.  The aluminum benches will replace the original wooden-slatted benches from 1979, and customers will hopefully find them more comfortable.  They will also be easier for our crew to maintain.   Part of the impetus for replacement now is our plan to take down to bare metal all paint surfaces on the upper and lower outer decks, replacing the existing layers of older oil-based paint with new, more durable, epoxy coatings.   The grinding and welding associated with installing these new bench foundations will be completed in advance of that paint work.   

-  Dick Purinton

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