Thursday, November 14, 2013


Jim Rose took this photo this morning, with Roen work and material
barges moored adjacent to the main ferry pier's
south side.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The Roen barge alongside our regular ferry pier tells the story today, the second straight day with no dredging activity due to strong SW winds and seas that make maneuvering barges difficult and dangerous.  We've been able to make our ferry trips in the southerly winds, all right, but the work of unloading spoils has been temporarily halted because of high SW winds.  There is a roll that comes into Detroit Harbor, even sweeping around the end of the Potato Dock

On Monday, this most recent Veterans Day, our ferries made only several of the scheduled trips.  Two boats carried cars and passengers at 2:00 p.m., and that was the day's last run.  After the early trip, the other morning trips were cancelled.

Monday's cancellations were, I believe, the first such scheduled runs cancelled in 2013.  That day, because the winds were from NW, sea conditions in the Detroit Harbor channel remained smooth, despite gusts, and the Roen crews continued dredging.  In fact, we had several days of quite tolerable weather early this week - though cold - during which dredging operations went full-bore.  But then, when a warming trend brought swings in temperatures of twenty or more degrees, the southerly air flow increased to the point dredging operations were halted. 

Hazards of trucking typically don't
include deer, butduring his last run of the evening
several days ago a deer tried clearing Dave Hanlin's truck
hood.    This photo by Jim Rose shows Hanlin's truck
at Northport, awaiting a replacement windshield.
In the marine construction business there is always something to fix on a weather day, and the Roen crew busied themselves with a generator project yesterday.  But as the clock ticks and the season advances, production must continue or else we'll surely be looking at a prolonged dredging project well  into 2014.  That's not in anyone's best interest.  

Following discussions with Roen and Foth, we will likely permit the offloading of spoils at our regular dock until working conditions improve.  With the swinging of mud and stone in buckets, and the movement of trucks, there is an associated mess and mayhem, which we prefer to take place at the Potato Dock, out of the way of ferry traffic.  But we also realize the necessity of keeping this project moving along, so our main ferry pier may become the temporary offload site until winds abate. 

Gordon Lightfoot's lyrics that paid homage to the men of the Edmund Fitzgerald, lost in a Lake Superior storm November 10, 1975, and to Great Lakes sailors in general, brings to mind storms of historical proportions.  There was the Armistice Day blow of Nov. 11, 1940, to which Arni Richter often referred, etched into his memory.  The November 1913 "White Hurricane" was another, which carried vessels into dire straits in local waters over a period of several days:  the Louisiana, Halsted, and Plymouth.   Winds were recorded exceeding 70 mph during that storm.

Joan Hansen reminded me last week that this year was the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana coming ashore in Washington Harbor, its crew managing to safely reach shore in a lifeboat after a night on board, while the hull burned, eventually to the water line.  The Louisiana was light after unloading cargo in Milwaukee, enroute to Apena, Michigan, and had dropped into Washington Harbor for protection from the wind and seas.  When the wind direction shifted, it dragged anchor with seas bringing it progressively closer to the beach.  That was November 8th.

On the 10th of November, with the storm still raging, it was the lumber barge Halsted's turn, and it landed after many hours broadside on a ledge near shore.  Later, in calmer weather, it would be pulled to safety with the help of a dredge and steam tug, to continue its service.  No lives were lost on either the Louisiana or Halstead.  

One account reported the boiler of the Louisiana salvaged in 1920 by the Leathem Smith Company of Sturgeon Bay.  The compound steam engine was also removed later that year, it is believed.  

North of Washington Island, however, the barge Plymouth had been towed into the bay, possibly seeking the lee of St. Martin Island, towed by the tug Martin.   The tug's Capt. McKinnon indicated later that he was towing toward Washington Harbor when he determined the strain of the tow cables was too much. The tug had itself already taken on much water through leaks in its hull and was in danger.  McKinnon feared that both tug and barge might go down together, and so a decision was made to let the barge go.  Shortly after the tow cables were cut, according to an account, the barge sank with seven men still onboard.  Another account had the Plymouth anchored for a time near Gull Island, with the tug, helpless, a distance away.  

McKinnon had apparently tried to turn his tug around in order to save the men in the water, but he was blown away from the site of the wreck.  It is unclear why so many men were onboard the Plymouth, an unpowered vessel, while it was under tow in heavy weather.  The helplessness of the men aboard the unpowered barge was compounded when the cables were cut. Their loss of life was reported November 12th, 1913.

This photo of the Robert Noble taken by Peggy Olson several years ago serves
as a reminder that when one of our ferries behaves like a rowboat or small
runabout, it isn't a good time to be underway.  In this instance, winds
were westerly and crossing the Door itself was the greatest, though brief, challenge.

 Each day's conditions - wind direction, sea state,
air temperature, ice  (if any)  - can impact the decision to operate

or not.

LOUISIANA - Nov. 8, 1913

The other day at the Archives, Kirby Foss asked, had I ever read the accounts of the Louisiana and Halsted in the Wreck Log from the Plum Island Life Saving Station?  He promptly found them for me, and here are the main portion of neat entries, official accounts for the Louisiana, followed two days later by the Halsted, made by Williamson Robinson, Keeper:

Nor Shellswick with team to haul Beach Apparatus to scene of wreck.

At 6:30 a.m. I received a telephone message from Washington Harbor saying that the steam barge Louisiana had dragged her anchor and was on the shore with the crew on board and that they needed our assistance.  The wind was then blowing a gale form the N.W. with blinding snow storms and it was not practicable to take the life boat to Washington Harbor as it would take hours to reach there.  We loaded the gear of the Beach Apparatus into the life boat and took the boat to Detroit Harbor where I had engaged a team to carry us to Washington Harbor.  We left the station at 7:50 a.m.  It took us some time to load the gear and to launch the life boat in the heavy sea.  We arrived at Detroit Harbor at 8:40 a.m. where I learned that the crew was on shore, that the vessel was on fire and that no assistance was needed.  I was informed that three other vessels in Washington Harbor were in danger of dragging ashore.  We continued our trip overland to the scene of the wreck.  The crew of the Louisiana was ashore and nothing could be done to assist the burning vessel but three other vessels were in danger.  We spent the day & night patrolling the shore. 

 From the Wreck Report entry a few days later, Nov. 10th, 1913, of the Halsted, also entered by Williamson Robinson, Keeper:

Nor Shellswick with team to carry gear of beach apparatus.

We arrived at Detroit Harbor at 9:30 a.m. on our way to wreck of Louisiana.  We learned that the Louisiana needed no assistance but that several other vessels were in danger in Washington Harbor.  We continued our trip overland loading gear of Beach Apparatus on a rig I had previous engaged for that purpose.  On arriving at scene of wreck we found that the Sch. Halsted anchored about 3/4 mile from head of Harbor was dragging ashore.  We patrolled the beach all day and night, building fires for signals to the vessel.  We expected the Halsted to come ashore at any time as at times she would drag a considerable distance and then would hold for an hour or more.  At 5 o'clock Monday morning the Halsted dragged within 60 feet of shore.  We shot a line over her and got the whip aboard.  The water is very bold at that point and the Halsted was hard against a shelf of rock.  We were ready to use the breeches buoy when a heavy seas lifted the Halsted upon the shelf.  It was then so close to shore that the men on  board hung a ladder over her port bow and we assisted them to shore.  When daylight broke we used the whip to bring their clothing ashore.  We could render the Halsted no further assistance but we remained at scene of wreck as a small vessel was in danger of dragging in.  At 3 p.m. the wind went down slightly and as the vessel was in no further danger we came to Detroit Harbor intending to return to Station.  As our boat was covered with ice we remained there overnight, removing ice form boat & returning to station at 11 a.m. Tuesday morning.

-  Dick Purinton

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