Wednesday, May 22, 2019


New ferry details discussed:  Ferry Line and Fincantieri principals
( L to R)  Todd Thayse, Rich Ellefson, Justin Slater,
Steve Propsom and Hoyt Purinton.

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

The big news of this past week has been the announcement of a new ferry for Washington Island, to be named MADONNA.  Measuring 124 x 40 x 10'8', and with a pair of 800 hp CAT diesels, stainless ice class wheels, heavy framing...this vessel has winter capabilities.  That is not to say it will be THE winter ferry, for there is already one, very capable ferry vessel for that purpose, the Arni J. Richter, which at 104-ft. LOA, can maneuver well in confined areas of ice, wind and current.  The MADONNA will be a back-up, and as her capabilities become better known, may take over in certain times of the winter as need arises.

Gathered to witness the signing of the new ferry
contract were:  Justin Slater, Hoyt Purinton,
Todd Thayse, Rich Ellefson, Steve Propsom 

and Ryan Hoernke.

A question already asked several times:  Will you sell one of the other ferries?

The answer is "No."  There is need for additional vehicle capacity, above our present capacity, that this new ferry will bring.  The Eyrarbakki, oldest of the fleet (50 years in 2020), is still a very useful and able vessel, and the cost to build new, or to rebuild an older vessel, as we've found out through research and comparisons, is significant.  So, while the machinery, and even the basic layout, may beg for updating at some future date, we'll continue to operate the Eyrarbakki as she is presently, with upgrades when and where necessary.   But to consider selling this or any of the other ferries is not in the picture at the present.

Now, on to other things!

 Eyrarbakki on a sunny afternoon.

How many of you are thinking of going to Iceland in June 2020 as a part of the Washington Island 150th Celebration Delegation?

Please raise your hands by way of letting us know through the email site      Bill Schott and I will tally up the rough numbers to gauge the level of serious interest to date.

There are several reasons for learning how many of you, and who exactly, may be interested in
such a trip.  For instance, there is one traveler who would like a travel companion.  Knowing in advance who might be traveling will aid in this individual's search.

During the past several months we've determined that the approximate dates of intended
celebration in Eyrarbakki, Iceland, have been confirmed by our Icelandic counterparts.

Those dates will be: June 9/10 in Eyrarbakki, Iceland;     October 6/7 for our Icelandic guests to visit Washington Island.    Two days have been set aside, for further refinement as we close in on those dates and expand upon the celebration itinerary information.  

You will certainly want to broaden your Iceland experiences apart from planned IcelandicCelebration2020 activities, such as touring the magnificent countryside, and visiting historical and cultural attractions found there.   As we approach Late Spring in 2020, I should think that either one large group or several smaller groups may be formed to organize additional tour options.  But the main event, the planned celebration in Eyrarbakki, we think will be a highlight of experiences for Washington Island-connected travelers.

Thorlakshavn harbor offers protection to fishing vessels and is the primary
port forferries departing for Westman Islands in non-summer months.
 Located approximately 15 miles southwest of Eyrarbakki.

You need not commit at this time to going, but we'd like an indication of who is seriously considering traveling at this time.  And, we would suggest that by September / October of this year you will have begun to firm up your Icelandic lodging and flight plans.   Remember, if you don't wish to make your lodging or tour arrangements, the website "Hey, Iceland!" is one to look at.  The folks there will take good care of you in making such arrangements.

Looking like a movie set for an industrial plant, this is a "backlot view" of the
 most modern geothermal 
power plants that provides Reykjavik
and suburban areas with
 hot water and electric energy produced
from steam piped
 from underground sources, powering steam
turbines.   This proved to be an extremely

interesting stop, unexpected and enjoyed by all ages in our group.
So, now that you've given it a bit more thought, raise your hands in the air and let us know if you'll be among those folks with Icelandic / Washington Island ties who will help make history as a part of the 2020 Celebration.

Send an email to and give us your name(s).  With your permission, we will begin a list of participant names and email addresses.

Ask questions.  Provide suggestions.  If you think others might appreciate your experience, knowledge, research and comments, then let us know those things, too.

-  Dick Purinton

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


Several winters ago, the approach to Northport Pier's south ramp was
extended.   Work is presently underway to install new ramp sections
to provide an easier grade for vehicles boarding and exiting ferries.

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

In addition to extensive pier modifications to meet the challenges of Lake Michigan's high water levels, on top of typical spring tasks of fitting out, painting and dressing up of each ferry before the summer season begins in earnest, Hoyt Purinton and Rich Ellefson, Ferry Line President and Vice President, respectively, have been busy pursuing a major Company goal:  planning a new ferry.

Monday morning, May 13, a contract agreement to build a new auto / passenger ferry was signed with officials of Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding (formerly Manitowoc Bay Shipbuilding) in Sturgeon Bay.  This new ferry will be christened MADONNA and will measure 124 x 40 x 10-8.  With heavy structural members and shell plating, this ferry will be capable of winter ice work.  Its dimensions will provide a platform for up to 24 autos in the summer, when demand for capacity is greatest.   Upper deck, outdoor seating and a climate-controlled mezzanine deck cabin will provide accommodation for up to 150 passengers.  Restrooms will be located on both the Main Deck and the Mezzanine Deck.

The Sturgeon Bay shipyard, which also constructed the Eyrarbakki (1970) and the Arni J. Richter (2003) will place the order for steel, and the Ferry Line will finalize an order for a pair of (owner-furnished) CAT-C32 diesels with Twin Disc transmissions.   All vessel construction will take place indoors, within the yard's large fabrication shed.  A late-spring launch is anticipated, to be followed by finish work, fitting out, sea trials and U. S. Coast Guard approvals, with an estimated delivery date of the new ferry for late May 2020.

Profile drawing of ferry MADONNA by Seacraft Design, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

A vessel's name can be of lasting importance, and so the choice ought to be made with care!  Following is a brief background behind selection of the name MADONNA  for this newest ferry.

                   MADONNA - New Washington Island Ferry 

Schooner Madonna was owned and sailed by Ole Christiansen, and many
Island men, including Ole's sons, were crew, from 1895 through the 1914
season. It was then abandoned in Detroit Harbor.

A new ferry vessel will soon be added to the Washington Island Ferry Line fleet.   A contract has been signed with Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, Inc. of Sturgeon Bay, with delivery scheduled for late May 2020.  When placed in service, this ferry at 124’ loa x 40’ beam x 10’-8” draft will become the largest, with the most deck capacity, of any vessel in the Ferry Line fleet.

Prior to being placed in service, she will be christened Madonna, a name taken from the schooner that frequently sailed from Washington Island harbors over 100 years ago.  The name has significant historical and cultural connections.  

“In choosing the name Madonna, Mary Jo and I wish to recognize the Island’s maritime ties with the schooner Madonna,” Richard Purinton, Ferry Line CEO, announced.  

Two views of Ole Christiansen's Madonna, aground 
and abandoned in Detroit Harbor.  Ole's home was 
nearby, at the south end of Main Road, today the 
Hanlin residence. 
Kirsten and Ole Christiansen and their 
horse "Frank." Photo from Over and Back (1990), 
furnished then by Esther Waal, Christensen daughter.
MADONNA, sailing career ended.  Taken by a Koken
family photographer from perspective of the
Kalmbach/Koken property (Circa 1915-1920).

Madonna departs from past ferry christenings in that it is a feminine name.  Increased recognition and emphasis on respect for women makes this name—Italian for “my lady”—fitting and just.  It is impossible as well to consider the nameMadonna without its direct reference to the Mother of Jesus and her image as venerated by Christians, scholars and artists over the centuries.   She will become a great addition to the Ferry Line fleet.”  

The original schooner Madonna (76 GT) was built in 1871 by the Aylward shipyard of Milwaukee.  She measured nearly 80 feet length overall, with a 24-ft. beam and 6-ft. draft, centerboard up.  She was a frequent sight in Island harbors, loading sawn lumber, cordwood and Island agricultural products, such as potatoes.  Her cargoes were transported to major ports along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Her captain, and Madonna’s second owner, was Ole Christiansen (b.1861 - d.1937) who emigrated from Norway at the age of 20 with his wife and one child.  Ole became an Island resident and an entrepreneur.  

An example of the enterprise of Ole Christiansen and his schooner can be found in one Door County Advocate entry of 1895:

   The schooner Madonna just came off the stocks last July, after a thorough rebuild, but still Capt. Christianson (sp.) is finding something to do on her this spring in getting her ready to battle with the wind and waves.  The Madonna is the packet that was entitled to carry the broom last season out of this place.  From the first of August till the middle of November she made trips to Sheboygan, Milwaukee and Chicago, most of them during the heavy weather prevailing last fall and cleared for the owner about $300.  This is a grand record in comparison to the rest of the fleet, some making from eight to fifteen trips only during the whole season of ’94 and consequently coming out behind financially.  As the Capt. thinks of getting a square sail and raffle next season for his ship we would advise him to rub her bottom well before starting with some non-combustible stuff, as the terrific friction might ignite the planks, and—well—be careful, Ole. 

Christiansen built a pier on Jackson Harbor’s NE rim from which he shipped timber products.  Later, Ole maintained a small shipyard with marine railway where he hauled vessels.  He also repaired vessels and motors. His shipyard was adjacent to the structure known today as the “Standard Oil” pier.  Ole's family home was near the south end of Main Road where he established a sawmill and a machine shop.   A small rowboat moored to a nearby dock on Detroit Harbor provided him with access to his own Madonna, as well as other vessels requiring his services.

It was in Detroit Harbor’s shallows, late in the year 1914, that Madonna was abandoned and stripped of useful hardware, her sailing days over.   Over the subsequent 43 years the derelict Madonna deteriorated, until in1958 above-water remains were burned. 

This model was commissioned and then dedicated in Trinity Lutheran
Church during the tenure of Rev. James Reiff.

A six-foot long model of the Madonna by model maker Donald Gospodarek of Institute, commissioned for Trinity Lutheran Church, was dedicated in August of 1981 and then suspended from the church nave.  Such practice of displaying a vessel model was common in Scandinavian churches, for intercession and blessings on those who sail and those who depend on maritime commerce for trade and transportation.  It was also a memorial to Kelly Jess, young son of Karen and Butch Jess, who died of cancer a short time earlier.  The model continues to honor the Island’s maritime past.

A plaque mounted  on the north wall of the church reads:   

The schooner “Madonna” is dedicated to the glory of God; the memory of Kelly R. Jess, and in grateful appreciation for the lives of all Island seafarers, past, present and future.

   The “Madonna” was built by the Aylward Shipbuilding Company of Milwaukee in 1871. A sturdy vessel, “Madonna” was 72 feet long at the water line, and weighed 76 tons (gross).  Her beam was 24 feet, with a 6-foot draft (with the centerboard up).

   The “Madonna” was owned and operated by Norwegian immigrant Ole Christiansen and tramped around the Great Lakes carrying cargoes of opportunity such as fruit, pulp wood, fish, dry goods and salt.  Gallant to the end, “Madonna” finally sank in Detroit Harbor in 1915.

  The model of the “Madonna” was constructed by noted Great Lakes Model Ship Builder Donald Gospodarek of Door County. This splendid remembrance of God’s love for his people was generously donated by:

                                               The Orville Jess Family
                                           Dr. and Mrs. Joseph D. Weldon
                                           Professor and Mrs. Martin Marty
 End -  Dick Purinton, ferrycabinnews blog   

Wednesday, May 1, 2019


May 2nd - Lake Michigan's level nearly overtops bulkhead at ferry dock.
Extensions to mooring pipes and raised fenders--work
accomplished in the past year, now prove essential.
essential under such conditions.

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Yet another dirty, windy day.  Winds continue from the ENE, currently spitting moisture in gusts of 30 mph or more.  Not a good day to rake, garden, golf or participate in outdoor activities, including a short dash from house to car, from car to grocery, or from car to post office.

Of course, there are workers who must be outdoors and perform their duties through the day, and they include the ferry crews.

Spring, if it will ever come, has been reluctant to show itself.  Temperatures have consistently been in the low 30s to mid 40s, and we've even seen flakes of snow on occasion.  But we're not alone here on the island.  Snow accumulation occurred in past weeks throughout Wisconsin, south and north.   I stopped one day at Home Depot in Green Bay, and I couldn't help but smile at the line of mowers covered in snow.  Rushing the season, I wondered?

Home Depot in Green Bay in early April

Looking down the waterfront, in particuar at the Island ferry landings, the rise in water level is inescapable.  Nearing the high water marks  recorded in the late 1980s, and with ferry decks considerably above the level of our docks, changes have to be made for ease and safety in loading.

In order to provide means of proper adjustment, steps were recently taken to raise the main ramp located at the end of the Island pier.

Contractor Mike Kahr, in coordination with Ferry Line crewmen, removed that ramp section and installed hinge beams to which the inboard end of the ramp is connected.  Concrete adds (a temporary measure, we hope) slope to meet the new ramp height.  Such changes are time-consuming, add to operational costs, but hopes are that this solution will serve our purpose, and that even more extreme future measures will not be necessary.  Who can predict if this high water mark will be the maximum?

Work will continue to provide the public with greater ease and safety in boarding, with the avoidance of extreme slopes on ferry ramps at Northport.  That plan will call for removal of the short ramp located on the pier's south side, and in its place sections of the ramp formerly located on end of that pier will be installed.  Those two 20 x 20 ramp sections will be joined strengthened for a longer approach on the south side.  New piling foundations will be required to hold this structure in place.   (Previously, for the past 35 years or so, electric screw jacks were used to adjust the south ramp angle.)

All such work, it is anticipated, will be completed prior to the busiest traffic season, when increased passenger and vehicle traffic demands usage of multiple landing points.

Jon Mann, Jed and Rich 
Ellefson and Hoyt Purinton shovel and level
cement from Martin Andersen's truck.

Sunday morning pour - Saturday's 20 x 20 pad was enlarged
with another, sloped section.  Location of pour
was complicated by two ferry ramps in close
 proximity to one another.

Jon Mann clears chute as Martin
Andersen, driver, prepares to reposition

In addition to such waterfront projects, an upgrade in Island terminal restroom flooring and partitions, a new water cooler with water bottle fill option and new carpeting, have been installed in late March, early April.  Not something one often notes as a highlight when traveling, but the results should make for a more pleasant experience overall.

What else goes on here in spring, you ask?

I've recently completed several carvings that I call "medallions," intended for application to the interior of the Stavkirke.   Initially inspired by a Norwegian pendant worn by Connie Sena, I expanded that design to a 12-inch diameter line drawing.  As this carving neared completion in early April, I found other pleasing designs of either Celtic or "Viking" origin.  (Such designs are, for the most part, culturally interchangeable, artistic motifs that were incorporated in ancient jewelry, weaponry, stone and wood.)  Included here are the examples thus far completed, installed in the Stavkirke.

Bottom design taken from Connie Sena's
Norwegian pendant.

With the activity of wood carving plus other repeated physical motions, I developed, temporarily, I hope, signs of bursitis in my right elbow, and later, finger joints. Better now, I can type on this computer, and I've even taken up the carving tools once again.  Summer, sunshine (but probably not raking) lie ahead, and I look forward to working outdoors once again.

-  Dick Purinton

Monday, April 8, 2019

More Signs of Spring

Snow banks were reduced further in late Sunday's
rain, and in the morning's warmth mist hung over
Lobdell Point Road.

Detroit Harbor -

Always a slow process, the cool weather of the past several weeks slowed up melting of snow banks, and the reduction in bay and harbor ice.   Ever so slowly it disappears and softens, but it was only Saturday, March 30, a little over a week ago, when the bay broke up and fields began moving.  Large pieces headed toward the Door passage with the potential of blocking, or halting, the ferry in its movement. The last scheduled crossing of the afternoon was called off.  Patience proved a good thing as ice piled against the shoreline on the Green Bay side of the Island, providing spectacular shoves in the late afternoon, we were told.  By morning, ice movement had eased, and broken fields lay to the west of the Door Passage.

Otter's unmistakable profile was an early morning surprise.

We've often observed evidence of an otter having passed through the Bayou area, leaving characteristic sliding and tail marks behind in the snow.  Similarly, it often left behind unmistakable piles of excrement loaded with shells, crawfish parts and fish scales.   Two days ago Mary Jo spotted an otter crossing the harbor ice, harassed by three crows as it scampered its way to the nearest hole in the ice.  This morning while having breakfast, grandson Zander saw the otter on the ice south of our home.  I fetched my camera, guessing it might swim for the next opening to the north.  It did.  Quite elusive until now, I think he or she's making a home nearby.  Could be a rough time in store for the small mouth bass that spawn in this general area later in spring.

As dark crept in yesterday afternoon and rain fell, lowering visibility, 37 sandhill cranes made an appearance on the harbor ice.  They landed one pair at a time, in intervals, as if signaled to do so from a control tower.  There, they congregated on the ice for the night.  This morning they were still together, only farther out, across the harbor, closer to Snake Island.  A variety of ducks, Canada geese, eagles and now the first great blue heron are among the visitors making an appearance each day as the openings in the ice enlarge.

In terms of human activity this morning, members of the ferry crew found ideal conditions to prepare the Washington for the season.

This part of the harbor happens to be ice free at the moment, but up in the shallows there's soft ice.  Fields of ice, given the right push by wind, could still cause challenges.  But, for the most part, reductions in ice will increase.  Wind and rain are now the best thing to speed up the process.  A bit of rain tonight is forecast, then snow Wednesday night into Thursday.  Maybe our last significant snow of the season?

Jeff Cornell buffs fiberglass benches on
the Washington passenger deck.

Pete Nikolai touches up with a wire brush while Tully Ellefson steadies the raft, an annual task to keep the hull and exterior bulwarks in good condition.  Above, on the upper deck, Jeff Cornell buffed fiberglass benches.  Soon, more ferries will be in use, underway, as one-by-one each is cleaned, painted and readied for the season.

Pete Nikolai (L) and Tully Ellefson man the painting
raft in this morning's calm.
 -  Dick Purinton

Monday, March 11, 2019


Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Note:  Since posting this a few hours ago, and having trouble finding a website based on the address I found in the booklet below, I asked Jonas Thor what current web address should be used.  He answered:  Hey Iceland!    So, that is a site I recommend to get information, and further, to make plans for your travel to Iceland. -  DP

IcelandicCelebration2020 is but 15 months away, and for those who wish to consider travel to Iceland as a member of the (unofficial) Washington Island delegation, and meet with Icelandic counterparts, advance planning should begin.   Each traveler will be responsible for making his or her own air and lodging plans and also tours or sightseeing plans, apart from the planned group visit to Eyrarbakki.  As of this date, that event is planned for Tuesday, June 9, or Wednesday, June 10, 2020, depending upon our Icelandic hosts' preferences and schedules.

We recommend submitting your email information if you're interested in this event, whether you decide to travel to Iceland, or wish to participate in welcoming for Icelandic travelers when they arrive here in early October of 2020...or just wish to stay informed of plans.   To register your interest go to:
Bill Schott is maintaining a list of interested persons, and you will then be included in group communications as plans develop.

As a traveler to Iceland in 2020f, you might desire to plan extra, "personal" days prior to the celebration date, or afterwards, in order to tour on your own or with friends.   It could also happen that a group "leader" will emerge over time, and if so, group outings might be planned with costs shared by participants.  Such activities are yet to be undertaken, and as I'm staying will be someone else who does that planning!

With today's internet capabilities, trip planning becomes easier, although personally I find it a bit daunting to do such planning online.

Here's another recommendation I heartily endorse!   In the lead-up to our family trip to Iceland in June 2015, a good ten months in advance I contacted Iceland Farm Holidays Association (IFH) - which you can now access at "Hey Iceland!" - and I was assigned an associate who then "held my hand" through the process. This organization is a cooperative of lodging members located throughout Iceland, many of whom offer B&B experiences on working farms.  This becomes an excellent way to get to know Iceland from the inside, with personal, often family contacts.

I made a rough outline for what we wanted to do, and dates for where and when we wanted to stay:  two nights in Reykjavik to get acclimated and to learn about that city, and to meet with relatives;  several nights in rural settings in southwest Iceland;  then, one final night in Reykjavik as our trip came to a close, to return our rental bus and prepare to fly home the following day from Keflavik airport. (Which is an approximately 45-minute drive from downtown Reykjavik.)

Waterfalls are abundant, and at this park you can walk
beneath the waterfall.

I began making our arrangements through our IFH contact and took her suggestions as we planned together.  As a result of our email communications we made these travel arrangements:  airport transfer to Reykjavik upon arrival (and return one week later);  all lodging arrangements (multiple rooms were  required to accommodate our 11 family travelers);  a rental bus that we picked up on our third morning.   All such reserved services were paid in advance, which then guaranteed our rooms upon check-in.  I should note that our flight brought us into Iceland in the early morning from Minneapolis, and we were "beat."  Our rooms, however, were not available until about 3:00 pm, later that afternoon, a rather standard practice.  You might consider an alternative:  rent lodging for one additional night so that you can immediately go to your room and catch up on sleep.  But, at the time that seemed unnecessary to me - and too expensive - and as a result we snoozed in the lobby confines until our rooms were ready.

At our rural hotel, Evy encountered this small lamb that
had wandered wandered away from its mother
In late afternoon, at this same lodge, dozens of horses and
riders arrived for a weekend stay, a riding club
out of Reykvakik.

IFH does not make air reservations, nor will they reserve ferry tickets to Westman Island (Vestmannaeyjar), where we made a one-day excursion.  I think such arrangements are best made by the consumer, direct with the provider.  

We did well with our 14-passenger rental bus decision (room for luggage on rear-most seats).  Driving rules are similar to the
U. S. with the driver seated on the left side.  Roads are (generally) well-marked and in good condition, and you can get around quite well on your own.  Travelers are warned, however, about off-road driving, as these roads become exceedingly rugged and you may then wind up lost.  Request a GPS for your rental vehicle.  There may be considerable distance between towns or points of interest, and many miles of farms or open, natural landscapes.

A rather typical scene with farm building against backdrop of mountainside,
on southern coast on route to Vik.

One added feature of IFH services are their featured, pre-set, self-drive tours.  IFH will arrange your lodging in the geographic section of Iceland that most interests you.  Perhaps you'd like to drive around the entire island?  They will arrange that, too, for 11 nights, 12 days.   IFH featured tours can connect you with such diverse activities as mussel picking; horse riding; working farm experiences; bird watching, and so forth.   There are a great variety of activities to choose from, more than an average visitor generally has time.  Our interests tended toward museums and cultural points of interests, and as such they probably fell in line with interests shared by typical American tourists.   I made certain we had significant time - one day set aside - for our Eyrarbakki visit, and so we stayed in lodging roughly 40 minutes away, north of Selfoss.  Our lodging choices tended to be more of the "resort" or "hotel" variety than farm B & B.  We were pleased with all of our lodging arrangements.

Not everyone's idea of sightseeing, but
interesting fishing vessels and a major 
fishing processing center 
at Thorlakshoven, a port about 45 minutes west of
Eyrarbakki. A high stone break
wall offers
protection from the North Atlantic and  
also serves as a port for ferries to Vestmannaeyjar
 (Westman Island) in winter months.

My introduction to IFH was through Jonas Thor, an associate who has worked with IFH for a number of years and who most recently visited Washington Island in 2014.  He brought with him a box of the IFH 2013 booklets.  I still have a few copies left and will make them available to anyone who asks.  I recently asked Jonas if it would be OK to recommend to our prospective Island travelers the services of the IFH staff?

His reply:  "By all means recommend IFH. We can plan everyone's trip in detail!"

So, while there's plenty of snow still on the ground, why not get started by going online to check out IFH and activity options in Iceland?

Just go to:    Hey Iceland!
-  Dick Purinton

Friday, March 1, 2019

Icelandic Celebration 2020

Husid, the Danish trading center's home for its manager 
in years gone by, when Iceland was a Danish protectorate.
 Museum Director Lydur Palsson and staff members greeted
 us as their guests during our 2015 visit.  The IcelandicCelebration2020
 will make this Eyrarbakki visit a trip highlight.
Photo was taken in early June, similar to the time period
contemplated for the Sesquicentennial Tour.

Detroit Harbor -

The year 2020 will be the 150th anniversary of four young Icelanders arriving on Washington Island.

The area encircled in green refers to the region in Iceland in which
we concentrated our travels during a 2015 trip.  Both Reykjavik and
Eyrarbakki lie within this circle, an approx. 2 hour drive apart.

Already established here were residents - farmers, fishermen laborers and merchants - who were of German, Irish, Norwegian, Danish, English, and other national origins.  But, the fact that this was the first settlement of Icelanders in North America made it significant for those who followed.

During the ensuing four decades, 1870 to 1913, approximately 20% of the Icelandic population emigrated to North America.  Some came to Washington Island, as we know, but many more settled in western Minnesota, northeastern North Dakota, and the Red River Valley area near Winnipeg, "little Iceland" in Gimli, Manitoba, and so forth.

Yet, the establishment of homes, farms and businesses here on this island by Icelandic pioneers was significant, and it continues to be recognized as such by today's Icelandic historians who are eager to trace their family tree to descendants in North America.

Historical photo of Eyrarbakki at the turn of the last century when
stone and turf dwellings were commonplace. Eyrarbakki then was a leading
seaport for southern Iceland, and besides exporting wool and codfish
this seaport is where first emigrants departed by sailing vessel for Denmark,
then on to North America, in the early 1870s.   

The 100th Anniversary of that Icelandic immigration event was ably observed here in 1970.  There were Icelandic officials in attendance, and descendants of Icelandic immigrants.  Gertrude Andersen, first-born child to Icelandic immigrants in 1874, was 96 when she struck a bottle of wellwater against the steel of the brand new ferry, Eyrarbakki.   That water was drawn from a well in Eyrarbakki, then flown from Reykjavik to America by Iceland Air for the occasion.  A fish boil brought also people together for (we imagine) a few toasts and speeches.

Gertrude Andersen christened the new ferry Eyrarbakki
 in 1970.  Grandmother of Christine Andersen, she was
born in 1874, first child of Icelandic immigrants born
on Washington Island.

A sperm whale tooth, carved with the likenesses of early Icelandic settler Gudmander Gudmundson, and his wife, Gudrun Ingvarsdottir, was presented to the "People of Washington Island" from the Icelandic Association of Chicago.  Haldor Einarsson, best known for his furniture carvings for C. H. Thordarson, carved the likenesses of the Island's early Icelandic settlers.  Einarsson had by then returned to his homeland of Iceland after a career based in Chicago as a wood carver.  (photo of this commemorative gift is attached; you may see the actual item on display in summer at the Jacobsen Museum at Little Lake.)

Water drawn from a well in Eyrarbakki was flown by
Iceland Air to New York, then to Chicago, and driven to
Washington Island for the christening of the
ferry Eyrarbakki.

All of the above is background for why a 150th Anniversary Celebration ought to be seriously considered by the Island Community, and by anyone connected by heritage or simply
personal interest in strengthening our ties with Iceland.

In order to begin planning, a small number of us have met as volunteers of an unofficial steering committee to determine the best ways in which this event might be honorably celebrated.  We've come up with a broad outline, knowing that more details will need to be filled in as we proceed, and believing that more individuals will express interest and ideas as participants.  Today's blog, then, becomes just the first of many communications. We encourage others to digest the information and the possibilities, while considering their inclusion in 2020 whatever extent possible.

Fortunately, we've had direct (email) communication with several Icelandic individuals, friends and relatives, with whom we are well acquainted.  We also respect their passion regarding the 1870 emigration that began from Eyrarbakki.  They've also traveled to Washington Island and know us.   Through them I've been able to pin down timing for key events.

In addition (and here lies perhaps the most exciting and potentially significant part of the plan), we believe there will be interest from a group of Islanders to travel to Iceland in early June of 2020.  Likewise, from indications we've received from our Icelandic counterparts, a group of Icelanders may then travel to Washington Island in early October of 2020, rounding out the 2020 celebration experience.

Such an exchange would symbolize our mutual interest in a 2020 celebration.  It would further help to establish - or reestablish - ties with the Icelandic nation that might further ongoing, future relationships.

Gudmunder Gudmundson and his wife,
Gudrun (Ingvarsdottir)
Carved sperm whale tooth, gift to the Island
people in 1970.
Carved by Haldor Einarsson, Iceland.

Following, then, in Q & A format, are some of the particulars to consider.  I will anticipate there will be chat discussions, questions being asked, and ideas to aid in this celebration.  We - members of the initial steering committee - will try our best to keep up with your questions and comments, and to help organize various ideas.

1.  When would the exchanges take place?

By initial agreement with our Icelandic counterparts, we anticipate a contingent of Washington Island folks traveling to Iceland June 9 & 10, 2020.   That is when actual travel to Eyrarbakki, and perhaps a gathering of sorts with Icelandic relatives, might take place.  Of course, travelers will want to see sights and do things, either on their own, or as a group.

We would be hosts to a group from Iceland in early October, with planned activities to be held in the mid-week, Oct. 6 & 7.  A variety of events can be planned for their visit, including local points of interest, and opportunities for formal and informal exchange.

A walk along the seawall in Eyrarbakki, which was Iceland's
leading port for export of wool and fish in 1800s.  Later, this emigration
movement included citizens from other regions and
other Icelandic seaports.

2.  Where do I sign up to go to Iceland?

You will travel as an individual, or as a family, or group of friends, by making your own flight and lodging arrangements.

One possible scenario:  Fly to Iceland on Sunday (arriving early Monday morning in Iceland).  Take a day to acclimate, catch up on jet lag, visit points of interest in Reykjavik.  Gather and meet up with others at an appointed location, then travel as a group to Eyrarbakki on either June 9 or 10.  (TBD) Participate in a group dinner one evening.  Visit with Icelandic relations, either on your own or as a group, when such is organized.   Sightseeing should also be high on your list, and there are many tour opportunities,. both in Reykjavik and for the outlying countryside, to points of historical and cultural interest, to museums and the like.   But, we wish to emphasize that being a Washington Island representative to Iceland remains the key purpose for this trip.  We expect to further guidance from our hosts as more plans are developed.

Note:  Not to be discounted are the services of a professional travel agent.  However, for many, this becomes an extra step.  We as a committee of volunteers are not capable of providing travel booking services as would such a professional, or one's self!

At a certain point, by early July, we'd like to know:    Who wishes to travel to Iceland as part of the 2020 Celebration Group?    Who wishes to help host Icelandic guests on Washington Island?
Who is interested in both, but not likely to participate in either event?   We'd like to get an idea of what our planning and obligations might entail as we move ahead.   But, there's plenty of time, still.

Gulfoss, largest waterfall in Europe, discharges tons of
glacier meltwater each hour.

3.  Can I then also be an Island hosts to receive Icelandic guests in October?

Yes, this is an equally integral part of this celebration exchange.

Aside from visiting points of interest such as Rock Island, museums, Stavkirke, the Wickman home, etc., we anticipate hosting our Icelandic guests to at least one, if not more, social events, where personal exchanges of "Welcome" can be made, official proclamations or gifts presented, and perhaps enjoyment of local entertainment based around the Icelandic immigration theme.

Our Icelandic guests will likewise need to determine their travel dates, their places of lodging, and so forth.  We can assist them with suggestions.  We have no ideas as to numbers of visitors expected at this date because planning is still in its earliest stages.

4.  How can I determine my Icelandic lineage?

In Iceland there is great emphasis placed on genealogy, and they have a number of available websites that may prove very helpful ( is one example).  Our Island Archives is about to embark on updating our genealogy records.   An informational meeting to get this effort started will be held in early summer, and not only for families with Icelandic ties, but all Island families, in order to extend the base of knowledge in our Archives.  

Above all, anyone of Icelandic heritage ought to update their family information soon.  This, in turn, will help tie you to your ancestral roots in Iceland.  Who knows?  You may find a new cousin living  here in America, or in Iceland.

5.  What about funding for this whole thing?

At this point, the planning and execution is by individuals, out-of-pocket.  We think this is the way to go because today people can easily access travel information by the internet and create their own plans.   The variations in personal plans, credit card incentives, travel and lodging wishes, is more than a volunteer is willing to undertake.  You will likely find help and advice via internet, however, as you begin this process.

As for presentations to acknowledge and thank our Icelandic hosts, and later, to present our meaningful expressions of thanks to our Icelandic visitors, we perceive offering gifts that are meaningful but that do not necessarily require major expense:   framed photographs;  a momento of an immigrant family;  a dinner for all that could be pot-luck, or out-of-pocket, these ideas are to be encouraged.

Entertainment ideas have already been proposed, to include local talent and participants (perhaps members of the Island Players), slide photos from the Island Archives, etc.    If specific opportunities are identified for sponsorship, we would not hesitate to solicit financial aid from local businesses or service organizations.

As with travel to Iceland by members of the Washington Island contingent, we would encourage  personal visits with Icelandic relatives and friends.

We'd like the involvement of our Island school children as an educational and cultural opportunity.  Ideas are also welcomed to further this goal.

Dramatic walk in Thingvellir, between rifts in the Atlantic and
Europeantectonic plates.  Ruins of "booths," or shelters, at site of
oldest republic in the world lie in foreground.

6.  So, I'm interested in going to Iceland.  How do I start my planning?

There's no single way to go about this, but if you're thinking of joining in the Iceland travel portion of this celebration, you might begin by blocking out that second week of June, 2020.  Check out air travel, the options and approximate pricing. We think Chicago may be the easiest airport for departure, with Iceland Air being a major carrier, but Minneapolis is another option.  There are also frequent flights out of Boston  (only 3+ hours flight to Iceland.)  Cheaper seating may be available on "second tier" airlines, but beware of smaller planes, tighter seating, and extras for luggage, plus more commonly delayed departure times, etc.

As for lodging, there are many hotels in Reykjavik, also Air BnB's.  By checking back and forth with friends and relations who are interested in this trip, you may open up new ideas.   You might want to join in the same lodging location... or not.

All of this planning begins some 15 months in advance of the proposed June travel date, which ought to be time enough to consider your options carefully, and to correspond with others for advice.

        *       *      *     *

In the meantime, let us recommend introductory experiences through film, books and internet that might help you in making choices (and to familiarize yourself with Icelandic culture for when you become the host).

Two films we highly recommend that give you a good flavor of Iceland:
      Rams                          ....  on Netflix   
      Of Horses and Men ...   Amazon Prime

A book that captures the struggles, and the spirit, of Iceland's farmers in the years leading up to WWI, by Nobel Prize winning author Haldor Laxness:   Independent People
                                        Hannah Kent:      Burial Rites
                                        Nancy Brown:      A good horse has no color

Many Icelandic sagas exist, tougher reading for sure, but interesting in cultural and historical background, from the perspective of 8-900 years in the past, as Iceland developed identity as an island nation.

Evy Beneda has several Icelandic blog sites that she follows and recommends, including the following:

Finally, stay tuned to this blog.  Give your email information to (Bill Schott & me) at this email address:    This will put you on the mailing/notification listing for pertinent information.

In mid-May (date to be determined) we'll plan another public function to discuss plan developments, and to view slides of Iceland, or other information that will educate and invigorate your planning.  All are welcome, and you need not be an Icelandic descendent to enjoy and participate in these events!

-  Dick Purinton.        [NOTE ONE:   I was recently notified that the email address I provided in the next-to-last paragraph for celebration notifications did not work.   I made the correction 3/7/19.   Thanks for the several comments that pointed out my error.       SECOND NOTE:  I should not be quick to discount the aid and services of travel agents, for we used a great source, the Icelandic Farm Holidays Association, when we planned for our family trip in 2015.  In my next posting, I'll give some particulars based on our very positive experience working with an Icelandic agent of this tourism cooperative.]

Sunday, February 10, 2019


"Notice how the lights now seem brighter?"

A joke, of course, but Hoyt may have correctly put his finger on the future dependability of the Island's power source.

As of 1:00 p.m. Friday, Lee Engstrom reported, the Island's power shifted from the old submarine cable to the new cable, and without a hitch.  Both men serve as directors of the REA Board, and they, as well as Manager Robert Cornell and other REA crew and Directors, should feel both relieved and proud of this accomplishment.  Lee accompanied contractors daily during cable repair and cable laying activities in order to properly document with photos this past year's events.

Monday, Feb. 4, Wisconsin Public Service crew spliced
new cable, connecting both old and new supply cables 
to this switch box, and to the line that runs underground,
leading to theElectric Co-op sub-station. 
 Lee Engstrom is at right, with camera.

Problems began with the unanticipated underwater cable failure in June, and the need to repair that break as quickly as possible.  This initiated multiple steps in logistics and timing:  underwater divers; a cable splicing crew; a work barge with tug to lift and cut the failed section and then reset the repaired cable back in place.

In the fall of 1980, cable arrived on a barge, but so had
winter, and it would be spring before weather permitted
laying the first underwater electric cable for the Island.

The checklist was long, the cost was unexpected, and the long-term outlook, given the old cable's status, remained one of uncertainty.

That cable had been laid in spring of 1981, but given the low draw compared to its rated capacity, and given exclusive use in fresh water, expectations were for it to have a longer life span.  However, along the relatively flat rock bottom west of Plum Island, and at a depth of 40 feet, ice nevertheless had shoved and abraded the cable over time.  Fortunately, this break resulting in an instant power outage on the Island occurred at the start of our summer and in warmer weather.  This made cable location and repair easier than if it had been mid-winter.  Generators were then started and placed on line, but at a significant cost in daily fuel consumption.  An emergency CAT generator had to be located and trucked to the Island when one of the two REA units suffered failure of an air intake casting. This series of events even further compounded the main cable repair challenge and stretched limited resources of the Co-op team.

Almost as soon as cable failure occurred and simultaneous with the on-going repairs that would stretch to ten days' time, the REA's plan of action was exercised, led by the Electric Co-op's manager, Robert Cornell.   It called for the procurement of a new cable, to be manufactured by an east coast firm.  It would be of length based on a new route, different from that previously used.  Rather than route the cable around Plum Island as was previously done, a route that might once again subject the cable to shoving ice fields, this time the cable would be laid inside a polyethylene sleeve and trenched to at least 20-foot depth, and it would run from Northport to Plum Island.  Then the cable would cross Plum Island underground, using less expensive, land-based cable material trenched in soil.  Near the old Plum Island Life Saving Station it would reenter the lake and from there cross to Washington Island. It would come ashore alongside the 1981 electric cable, in an easement adjacent to the former Goodwin Berquist property.  Now, a new switch box links both old and new underwater cables to terminals that can connect to the underground cable leading inland to the REA distribution center, on Main Road.

Island lineman Mike Jorgenson with Public Service splicing
crew, Feb. 4.   New switch box shown.  Ferry Arni J. Richter
is a dot near the horizon, background. 

Like any large project, timing is everything:  to obtain needed cable from manufacturer before freeze up, when ice covers the lake and makes waterborne construction impossible; trenches dug from shore into the water at four locations, with a ten-inch polyethylene sleeve buried and ready to accept the cable at each entry point; and also, to lay the Plum Island segment of underground cable while landing there with men and equipment was still easily managed.

The new cable arrived by truck in Sturgeon Bay, later than expected and promised, on enormous reels.  It was loaded on contractor Roen's work barge at Bay Shipbuilding.  This delay in cable delivery pushed back laying new cable until the middle of December.  But then, by good fortune, a series of windless, warm days permitted the Roen crew to successfully lay the two segments of underwater cable.  Only a few hundred feet of surplus remained on either side of the runs, in the event of course deviation while tug and barge laid cable.

A separate company monitored the laying of the cable with underwater cameras to assure the new electric cable did not pass over large, sharp rocks, or suspend, unsupported, over wide crevices.

Dec. 15 - A brief return of warm weather and light air enabled Roen 
Construction to lay the two underwater cable sections without a hitch. 
Divers connected cable ends to a loom attached to a heavy wire rope, 
then helped feed the end into the conduit as it was pulled ashore 
through the sleeve by Tom Jordan's excavator.

The splicing of cable segments to one another, and to the Wisconsin Public Service feed at Northport, was completed, then, this past week, with the new cable becoming "live" early Friday afternoon.   The old cable remains energized, just in case, under a greatly reduced load, in order to remain dry and usable.

  Sections of plastic conduit were bolted together into approx. 
500-ft. lengths and laid out on the Potato Dock prior to being 
towed into position and sunk into trenches dug at each exit/entry point.  
Red conduit is for fiber-optic cable. (Taken in early December.)

Congratulations on a major effort, a "well done" to all involved.

Now, what about the fiber optic cable laid alongside the new electrical cable?  It's caused Co-op manager Robert Cornell the least concern, up until now.   As this project winds up (some back-filling still necessary where the cable enters/exits near shore at Northport) it, too, will get attention.

 -  Dick Purinton

Thursday, January 31, 2019


     Detroit Harbor, Washington Island  - A snowstorm blew through the upper Great Lakes Monday, driven by 30-40 mph winds.  Because of drifting, snow amounts were hard to estimate, but I'll guess we received around ten inches, some of it lake effect snow picked up by the southerly flow.  Monday's midday temperature was eight degrees, and that made being outdoors for any length of time a miserable experience, although you wouldn't know it from the expression of ferry captains Joel Gunnlaugsson and Erik Foss.  I waited on the pier as they walked toward me, to the AJR after lunch in the ferry terminal, and it was hard just to see them, given the blizzard in progress.

By webcam that morning, I observed the ferry at Northport, the loading of Mann's grocery truck and the mail van and one other car.  Most vehicle reservations resulted in either cancellations or no-shows.  Now, at 12:45, smiling despite crummy conditions, Joel and Erik posed long enough for me to take their photo before starting up the engines and preparing for their second run of the day.  On this trip they would carry the U. S. mail van and one car with passengers.  Other reservations, understandably, had once again cancelled.  Joel said that he heard that the hill on Hwy. 42 in south Sister Bay was closed, at least to truck traffic.

Summer is a picnic by comparison, for both passengers and ferry crew, working in shirtsleeves in mostly pleasant conditions.  I asked how the ice conditions were in the Door and inside the breakwater.  "Slush ice partway through the Door," Joel answered.

"Was it hard to turn around inside the break wall, given the strong southeast winds and ice, as it appeared on the webcam?"

"Not bad," Erik said. "We made the turn in one swing."

They would have another opportunity in the coming hour to do it again, this time bringing FedEx and UPS packages back home, but probably not much else.

School closed on the Island Monday, as they did in most of northeastern Wisconsin, but the Island school reopened for one day, Tuesday. This turned out to be a brief back-to-normal school day, while road crews and shovelers worked to clean up the previous day's mess.

However, Wednesday's forecast for below zero temperatures closed schools once again, and it discouraged travelers.  The same held for this Thursday morning, when our thermometer read -18 F.

This turned out to be our coldest morning so far, and as of noon the temperature was still in the minus column.  Social and community activities cancelled once again.  Some Door County schools remained closed during the entire week.

Despite this cold air, we anticipate mid-30s by the weekend, even rain, perhaps, in some locations.  That would be a shame, since there's decent snow cover now, and winter outdoor enthusiasts have earned the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors after withstanding days of harsh weather to reach this point.

While I waited for the 1:00 p.m. ferry to depart, I noted the ingenuity of Kenny Koyen who moors his gill net tug Seediver in the adjacent ferry slip.  Winter mooring lines become frozen, and knots are almost impossible to untie.  But with this clever arrangement, the dock line is spared chaffing, and the line can be cast off by slipping the stick from the loop.

  - Dick Purinton