Friday, August 31, 2012


Detroit Harbor, north end - 2:30 pm, August 31, 2012
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The low water today marked a low for the year, as far as we're able to determine, and it raises serious concerns regarding loading and unloading of ferries at the island and at Northport.

If memory serves us well, the lake levels generally go even lower on a gradual basis, from this point to approximately the end of the year.   How much lower is anyone's guess.  Recreational boaters, and I am one, have already noticed the drop in lake level.  The sailboat that I thought would easily get in or out of the harbor scraped mud Wednesday when I motored toward open water.  Today, I would not be able to depart or return.  I'd run aground trying.  The key for my sailing will be to wait for a strong, very strong southerly wind that will push along enough water into Detroit Harbor, so that "the next time" will lead to haul-out for the season.  But that is a problem that doesn't impact others, except for fellow boaters.

Algae line shows unofficial drop of around ten inches since season high.

What we'll do with the ferries when water drops even lower may mean special loading considerations, until we're able to adjust ramps further.  Doing so may mean knocking out concrete, cutting steel, and looking ahead to a new low level several months from now.   Better yet may be to consider a much longer-term solution, but that will require permits and some expensive, time consuming construction to provide greater flexibility in loading.  Were these requirements for passengers only, it could be done using a floating stage.  Even with autos, the requirements aren't overwhelming.   But when heavy semis are considered, the ramp situation becomes both an engineering and financing challenge.  And, none of the shore ramp modifications address what could ultimately become shallow maneuvering area.

Stern ramp of the ferry Robert Noble is lower than the other ferry ramps, and the air gap shown
here between underside of ramp and the concrete of the pier 
reduce to zero clearance with a full vehicle load and associated passengers standing aft.
Our ability to load ferries, one right after the other or simultaneously, speeds up the movement of traffic on busy days.   This feature of service may be lost until ramp improvements have been addressed, or water levels rise.

Fortunately the successful passing of this weekend will mark the start of fall, a period of operation with a slower pace and a lesser ferry schedule, a breather in which to better assess our options.

-  Dick Purinton

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