Monday, September 5, 2011


Late Sunday afternoon, ferrying traffic
from island as quickly as possible
given strong winds 
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

If there is one weekend that takes on more importance than any other in the tourism calendar, it is Labor Day Weekend.

First, it represents the last of summer for many:  fishing, camping, swimming, motorcycling, horse riding, family picnics, music, late night parties and the fun that gets crammed into a three-day weekend.  For businesses that depend upon tourism, and that means nearly every island and Door County business, a solid Labor Day weekend can go a long way toward helping pay the bills, setting up what could be a good fall.

Second, more than just coincidentally, it seems, Labor Day weekend is often accompanied by changeable weather, sometimes extraordinary gale-force winds.  This is the time of year when cold Canadian highs collide with moist gulf air over the upper midwest.  Maybe its not a rule of thumb, but it seems to have a frequency greater than 50% of past Labor Day weekends.  Maybe its because of the volume of traffic that our concern causes us to remember the inconveniences brought about by high winds.

It happened last year on Friday night, when ferries just  barely could keep going, and trees were knocked down over power lines.  This year - after a summer with hardly enough rainfall to measure in a gauge - we had a rainy Friday, a drizzly Saturday morning, and following a beautiful, sunny and fresh Sunday morning, a rain squall at 2 pm that created momentary pandemonium.   People sat on the Cherry Trains awaiting the start of a tour wearing clear, plastic trash bags given out for protection.  Rains were wind-driven, but it didn't seem to deter those who had already made their decision on this last week of summer activity.

Depending upon perspective, a long
Labor Day line can be frustration,
or a sign of a healthy island
tourism economy. 

Charlie Voight's Island Clipper, after running  an island trip despite northerly winds, called it an afternoon when the squall hit. Approximately 100 of his passengers went back on our ferries through Northport.  

Thanks to good ferries with skilled crews and the protective harbor at Northport, our Ferry Line was able to continue to operate, even during the 2 pm rain squall when winds swept rain sideways and it gusted in excess of 30 mph.   This velocity stayed consistent through the evening as cold air flowed in from the north.

The usual Labor Day trend is for a long line of returning traffic Sunday afternoon, a queue that consists of both day-traffic and those who have been here longer, including island home owners.  Sunday's winds made for slightly longer ferry crossings, and the traffic volume remained consistent right up to the last of the afternoon.  120 cars were yet in line to leave the island at 5:30 pm.

Approximately 18-20 cars were loaded per ferry, with four ferries loading and leaving as quickly as possible, and still more cars came out to the island dock, even in the later hours of the afternoon.

Monday brought still more traffic, a time when the island seemed already emptied out.   But, this is a steady and orderly queue.  Despite winds that are still northerly, the sun is shining through puffy cumulus, and it is a very manageable situation as all four ferries shuttle as fast as they can, with hopes of catching up to the exodus by mid-afternoon.

  - Dick Purinton

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