Sunday, December 20, 2015


A Christmas-time scene at the Ferry Dock, 1994.  L to R:
Arni Foss (who now sails as a Captain for the Interlake Fleet on the
Dorothy Ann/Pathfinder); Jon Gunnlaugson (deceased);  Mark Dewey
(Scottsdale, AZ);  Dave Johnson (retired); Erik Foss (Ferry Captain, active);
Bill Schutz (Office Manager, active); and Al Thiele (retired).


After pestering from Erik Foss to put out another blog, and then another, it so happens we've featured him several times in recent posts, and now once again.

The crew that posed that day by the old Ferry Line office had their photo taken in a setting of fresh snow covering the roof, garland and ground.

Arni and Erik are two of four Island brothers.   Dave (not shown) sails as an Engineer for Interlake.  With the dumping of foreign steel and lessened demand by U. S. mills, a number of Great Lakes freighters are tying up early this season, rather than running into January or early February as has become customary in recent decades.   Arni and Dave are home now, enjoying the Christmas holidays with their families.  Kirby, the fourth and oldest brother, who is retired from his career with the Wisconsin DNR in park management, is a Town of Washington Supervisor and farmer.

With unexpected warm weather, the past two days having been an exception, there is hardly any ice in the shallows of the harbors, and none to speak of around the bay of Green Bay.   Three days ago the NOAA water temperature map for Lake Michigan reported a large section of warm water that extended from mid-lake to the shoreline near Traverse City, Michigan, a substantial warm pool of water with water temps between 46 and 48 degrees F.  This wasn't only a warm topmost layer, but apparently a consistent temperature top-to-bottom.  (Hoyt noted this wasn't too far off summertime temperatures.)   Quite extraordinary to see such temperatures in early winter, and its a sure sign that even if the lake temperatures cooled dramatically starting tomorrow (which isn't in the forecast), we should not see floating or solid ice for several more weeks, at minimum.  Such a warm winter start would have made for relatively easy, late season sailing for the lakers, especially those occasions when they transit the narrows, shallows,  and sometimes ice-choked currents of the St. Mary's River while on their typical upper lake runs.

See more detail and additional Lake Michigan information

Generally speaking, mild December weather doesn't mean a lack of wind altogether, and so we still anticipate weather patterns with strong winds, such as Christmas Eve may bring a few days from now.   Best advice to Christmas ferry travelers?  Plan ahead and travel early to avoid possible difficulties with sailing delays or cancellations.    Ferry reservations become effective tomorrow, Monday, Dec. 21st.

Another Foss photo

On Thursday, I greeted Rev. James Reiff as he stepped off the ferry Washington for a brief Island visit.  Jim was Trinity Lutheran Church pastor from 1981 to 1985, and this was one of only a couple of Island visits since his tenure here decades ago.  My invitation for this visit had to do with the Stavkirke 20th anniversary year since its dedication, and with the instrumental involvement Jim had in getting that idea off the ground.

We drove to the Stavkirke where I took several photos and Jim refreshed his memories.  While we visited, Erik Foss dropped in.  Erik was one of Jim Reiff's confirmands back in the early 1980s.   When details came reluctantly to mind for Jim Reiff, Erik was able to complete a name or date quite easily, prompting further memories of the project.  This sort of recall isn't surprising for one who frequently displays the Foss family trait of a steel trap mind where local or maritime history is concerned.

Erik Foss with former Trinity Pastor Jim Reiff.

Needing to warm up from the chilly air, we walked over to the church itself and met Trinity's current Pastor Alan Schaffmeyer, Church Secretary Joan Hansen, and other familiar faces, before making a quick swing through the nave.   Hanging above the pews there is a beautiful model of the Island freighting schooner, Madonna, hailing port of Detroit Harbor on its transom.

This model was dedicated as a memorial to the young Kelly Jess, son of Karen and Butch Jess, and Jim Reiff was instrumental in obtaining the model, a symbol very typical in Scandinavian churches, Jim said, and something often positively commented about by visitors.

Some years later another sailing ship model, a Mackinac schooner made by carpenter John Herschberger as a memorial to his wife Patty's sister, Deborah, was hung in the knave of the Stavkirke.

With background information from Jim Reiff, and with details provided by others closely associated with the planning, construction and use of the Island Stavkirke, my goal is to assemble photos and supporting information into booklet form, to be available for the 2016 summer tourism season.

-  Dick Purinton

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