Tuesday, September 22, 2020


Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Due to changes made by Google to the blogger.com site, I've not been able to publish the blog Ferry Cabin News as had been the case since April of 2008.   

Over that approximately 12-year period I managed to publish 384 blog posts, almost all of them with accompanying photos or illustrations of some sort.  A typical posting took a good two hours of my time, with photo selection (or taking photos), managing the template provided, downloading them in the approximately correct positions (with results not always what I had hoped for, but I sometimes settled for "best effort.") 

With the "new and improved" Google changes I encountered  August 4, when I went to publish a new blog, I was unable to download images to the page.  The inability to illustrate text with color photos took the wind out of my sails, so to speak.   Same for the klutzy new way of working with the revised template.  

So, thanks for your reading of these entries over the years.   I did them out of enjoyment, with some pleasant feedback, also mindful of the "time capsule" they present in terms of Washington Island's history.  Occasionally --- but not too often, I hope --- I climbed onto a soapbox, or I applied self-centered opinion.  Not always the best of writing moments, but they do happen, along with much middle-of-the road commentary.

Unless this blog creation format returns to what it had been, this will be the last such entry for Ferry Cabin News, one that I started to herald the 25th anniversary of the Island's Stavkirke.  

I hope that, if you're so inclined, you may still be able to find worthwhile information and entertainment in sampling the older blog entries.  I've done that myself from time to time, in fact, in order to refresh myself on names, dates or events. 

Best wishes -  Dick Purinton

Sunday, July 19, 2020


Completion of first round trip, 10:45 am Sunday.
Load consisted of 10 Segways and 27
autos.  (Purinton photo) 
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Saturday's thunderstorms moved on, the last occurring during the early morning hours around 4 pm, and a warm westerly breeze settled in.  It seemed to Hoyt, Rich and Erik Foss like a perfect opportunity to run the Madonna on her first official revenue-making runs.  It was to be a chance to get used to the vessel, practice handling, see how the various ramp locations matched up, and to help out with the line of traffic that was "around the corner" at Northport by 10:00 am.
Meeting Arni J. Richter in the channel as we depart
Washington Island.  At this point, all five ferries
were underway.

Capt. Erik Foss took the wheel for the first of several runs
on the Madonna's first outing.  (Purinton photo)

We arrived at the Island dock in time to see the first round trip unload, with 10 Segways and 27 vehicles disembarking at the Island dock.  Then, an easy load of 24 vehicles were flagged aboard.  Next door, at another ramp, the Eyrarbakki began to load.  After replacement of several nav light bulbs, the crew of this 1970 vessel, christened 50 years ago (nearly to the day) joined in the sequence.

For the first time in quite awhile, five ferries were underway at one time.

A few white clouds and white sails dotted the horizon as
we crossed the Door on the second official round trip.
The smoothness and quietness of the ride were two very noticeable characteristics, as was the roominess and choices of vantage point for passengers who chose to get out of their vehicles and observe their surroundings.  The blue sky, the green of nearby shorelines, and numerous white sails of competitors passing through the Door, racers in the "Hook Race" that started Saturday in Racine and ends today in Sturgeon Bay, added greatly to the color - and, may I say, the excitement - of the crossing.

Among the passengers enjoying the ride on the Madonna's
upper deck were Marty Leibforth and Katherine Gordon. 
Ferry Washington nears the course turning point
off Plum Island.
On board were Rich Ellefson and Hoyt Purinton, this time working in the capacity of deckhands, while Eric Foss got time at the controls from the Pilot House and bridge.  Heavier, and longer, there is a learning curve to mastering this ferry, and it will take some time to obtain comfort and confidence in operations, but Eric did a great job of easing in to the piers at a variety of locations, both backing in and bow-first approaches.   Upon reaching Northport Pier, and with the end of the line still not yet visible from the upper deck, a quick 28 vehicles were loaded on board, seven per lane, with room remaining at either end of the lanes, and between lanes.

Completing a 28-car load proved what had been
laid out on paper, and it was accomplished in about the
same time as a 19-auto load on our smaller ferries.
Perhaps it is the solid structural members, the added length, and the CAT 32, V-12 diesels that run so smoothly, but most likely a combination of each of those elements in concert.  The overall effect makes Madonna's performance underway seem superior from a ridership standpoint of any of our ferries.  In fact, I would put the ride experienced this morning with any of a variety of passenger vessels I've had the pleasure to ride aboard from U. S. or foreign ports!

We're hoping that, over time, similar experiences can be enjoyed by all who travel regularly between the Island and the mainland peninsula.

-   Dick Purinton

Saturday, July 18, 2020


Madonna shortly after departing Bay Shipbuilding Friday
afternoon, enroute to Detroit Harbor on delivery run.
(Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding photo)
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

When a vessel is designed, constructed, launched, sea trialed, and then sailed home, the hope is always that it will be right: feel right, look right, handle right.  Each step along the way, including the components chosen, contribute to the overall product:  engines, gears, shafts, propellers, electronics, seating, flooring, deck coatings.  If one or two elements miss the mark the whole can seem off and create disappointment.  And until the whole is assembled, sea-trialed and sailed, judgement cannot be properly given.

Madonna shadowed by Washington Island Coast Guard's
SAR vessel as she entered port.  (Tyler McGrane)
That is a part of the mystery of shipbuilding: built upon science, improved from existing examples, and put together by those who know their trade well.  Still, always a bit of a gamble as the whole comes together.

A portion of the small fleet that trailed in the Madonna's
wake.  (Tyler McGrane)
In the case of Madonna, the new ferry designed by Seacraft Design and built by Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, both Sturgeon Bay entities, the process and the product thus far speak of great success.

Added to the characteristics listed above is functionality, its acceptance and trust by those who sail her, by those who stand upon her decks as passengers and enjoy her services.

We know some unknowns await to be answered, but many major hurdles have been crossed.  Gauging by initial crowd reactions, for there were several hundred who came out last evening by boat and by car to see the new ferry, it meets the criteria of a winning vessel so far.

Madonna and Coast Guard escort.
(Kim Toro)
Last-minute items had been sorted out during this past week, a press to resolve "head scratchers" such as improvement of the steering system (check!) and the suction for pumps that energize the fire mains and sprinkler systems (check! yet again).   Yard personnel, vessel designer, and WIFL personnel put their heads together to best resolve those issues.

A Certificate of Inspection was granted by the U. S. Coast Guard, required before carrying vehicles and passengers.  A check was exchanged, a signature of ownership given to mark the transfer. and hands were shaken by Todd Thayse, Fincantieri General Manager and Vice President, and Rich Ellefson, WIFL Construction Representative and Company Vice President.  That was late on Friday morning.

A mild breeze blew from the south as Rich
Ellefson made his approach, then swung the
Madonna's stern 180 degrees to nail this first
landing at the Island dock.  (Jim Rose photo)

By 2:00 pm a number of vehicles were run aboard the car deck, mooring lines were cast off, and Madonna headed north for home port.

On board were Hoyt and Rich and their two young sons, Magnus and Brody, observer Terri Moore (who in a "normal summer" would drive the Cherry Train), and a number of key Bay Shipbuilding personnel.

Among the latter was Steve Propsom who was on a "final lap" over the waters of Green Bay aboard his last project assignment as shipbuilder and project manager.  Upon mooring at the Island, lines were made fast to the Island pier and Steve's 46-year career in local shipbuilding came to a close.  Retirement adventures would next deserve his full attention.

Along with approximately 15 other small craft, we on the Moby Dick fell in behind the Washington Island Coast Guard in helping to escort Madonna in her last mile to port.  We were thrilled by the sight, and we absorbed each authoritative air horn blast as Rich Ellefson issued the "long salute".  Such moments in one's life (and career) are rare, especially when they happen on such a beautiful Friday evening, joined by several hundred onlookers. We sensed community pride in product, and not just our own.  We are convinced this vessel will continue to meet expectations.  

Madonna, positioned for backing in to south ramp.
Rich stands at the stern controls, but there's also
great PH 
visibility, should the operator chooses to remain
in the wheel house throughout the landing evolution.

(Jim Rose)
No sooner had Rich swung the Madonna's stern to the pier, pressing the rub rail against the dock tires, and the ramp was lowered and vehicles on board were driven off.  Dozens of folks on the pier, most wearing face masks and mindful of the Covid-19 threat, had by that time lined up to come aboard for closer inspection.  This parade of viewing lasted for the better part of an hour, before the crowd thinned.  The crew then removed pallets of paint, lube oil and spare parts from the deck, stores intended for future maintenance and repair projects, before laying the new ferry port side to the pier for the evening.

First line over, secured by Hoyt Purinton, approximately 6:30 pm.
(Jim Rose)

This morning, as a line of thunderstorms approached, Mary Jo and I got up early, still dreaming about the evening before.  We drove out to the ferry dock to see if the Madonna, a longtime dream, was still moored securely at the Island pier.  She was.

We returned home satisfied, but excited for her future appearance on local waters.  We look forward, as do crew members of the Ferry Line and our many customers, to its first regular service.

Steve Propsom (Bay Shipbuilding), Magnus and Hoyt Purinton,
and Rich Ellefson, upon arrival, relieved and satisfied at successful
delivery, and to be joined by well-wishers.
(Kim Toro photo)
Madonna is about to enter dedicated ferry service, for what we anticipate will be decades of faithful operations--winter and summer--for Washington Island, its residents and visitors.

All off this has happened during the 80th anniversary of Washington Island Ferry Line, Inc., an additional reason to celebrate.

      -  Dick Purinton

PS -  I was busy steering the Moby Dick last evening and wasn't able to take photos.  Thanks to all who sent me a selection from which to choose.

Steve Propsom with author.  Steve retires after
46 years in area shipbuilding.  One note: this writer also
celebrates 46 years with the Ferry Line, in late October.
Jim Rose, WIFL employee (and the photographer here)
reminded us that his first day as a Ferry Line ticket seller
was the
 day of the Robert Noble christening, June of 1979.
Steve began his career as a part of the Peterson Builder's work
force on that ferry project.
We've each had the pleasure of observing the bay freezing
over--and then thawing once again--
many times.    

Wednesday, July 15, 2020


Capt. Joel Gunnlaugsson with Fincantieri
Senior Project Supervisor Steve Propsom, upon
return to port after sea trials.  Broom signifies
a "clean sweep", the satisfaction of
requirements for U. S. Coast Guard Certificate
of Inspection.  (Purinton photos in all cases)

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Having been absent here for a few weeks in reporting on construction, during which time the christening took place at Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, we're now back to continue the story, with particulars of where the new ferry Madonna stands in terms of finishing and delivery.

First, we need to update statements regarding the steering system, because the first assessment for remedy didn't prove out.

One of many details added in the past weeks:
a step for crew to reach and tie mooring lines.
During Builder's Trials, a test run of the vessel's systems, its engines, electronics, etc., it was discovered that steering responsiveness seemed to lessen over time.  Greater revolution of the pilot house helm was required to move the rudder just a few degrees. The cause was determined to be hydraulic oil heating and thinning with longer running time time.  The probable fix appeared to be reduction of heating by means of installing a lower volume output hydraulic pump, and by enlarging the diameter of the piping from pump/reservoir to pilot house and to the steering rams back aft, a rather long run with many angles and turns in the piping.

Fincantieri pipe fitters began work right away and installed larger inside diameter piping.  But as for a lower output, CAT engine-compatible hydraulic pump, none was found in the marketplace.  Instead, a flow valve was installed, along with an oil cooler (fed by the same pump that flushes stern tubes). During a second Builder's Trial, performed two days ago on Monday, July 13, the steering seemed to perform well.

As can often happen with more time spent underway, a few more items also came to light, and they were highlighted on the punch list.

After Monday's successful underway trial, a second sea trial was then scheduled for Tuesday, July 14, this time with a U. S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment observer on board.   This sea trial fell almost exactly 1-1/2 months beyond the original estimated Madonna delivery date, a point of secondary importance to getting steering, as well as other vessel functions, to where they needed to be.

In this photo, you're looking up the ladder
that leads from engine room to main deck.
Madonna engine room has come a long way:
a complex space of piping, wiring and machinery,
but with room to move about.  A Bay Ship
mechanic can just be seen between generators,
monitoring fluids and temperatures.
Clean bilge; CAT engine control boxes;
bilge piping manifold beneath.  One example of
well-laid out, yet separate, systems.

We departed the Bay Shipbuilding slip at 10:00 a.m. and proceeded to the outer bay, with approximately a dozen yard personnel plus five Ferry Line representatives on board.

Enroute to sea trials, Madonna passed
Cason J. Calloway, inbound to Bay
Shipbuilding for repairs.

At the conclusion of several drills and with Joel Gunnlaugsson
at the wheel in the pilot house:
Rich Ellefson, Steve Propsom, Jeff Cornell, Dan Petersilka and
Hoyt Purinton.
By the time we reached Sherwood Point light, having passed port-to-port in the entrance channel the Cason J. Calloway, inbound to the shipyard for repairs, the Madonna's engines and fluids were warmed to anticipated operational temperatures.  Steering maneuvers, the shifting of generator loads, "crash stops" (full back while carrying typical forward momentum), a man overboard drill, and demonstration of good water pressure on main deck fire hydrants, were among items checked off during the several hours underway.  The sea trial was termed a success, and the number of items on the "to-do list" were trimmed even further.

A man overboard drill was conducted using a dummy
designed for such an evolution (approx. 150# with water
weight).  Shown:  Coast Guard observer Tom Hunninger,
Jeff Cornell, and Hoyt Purinton on bow ramp.

Another day or so will be used to tie up remaining loose ends, and to reconcile our standing with the Fincantieri yard regarding "who pays for what."  Those discussions may continue for some time, but a general understanding must be met in order to transfer ownership, and satisfy builder and owner product expectations, contractual items met, and with an appropriate USCG Certificate of Inspection forthcoming (like having a motor vehicle license plate, only with particulars of operation spelled out in detail).

A view of mezzanine cabin passenger seating.

When can we expect Madonna to be underway for Detroit Harbor?  Perhaps Friday.  We'll have to see.

  -  Dick Purinton

Upper deck passenger seating and pilot house.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Karen Jess smiles upon successfully breaking champagne bottle on the
Madonna's second deck
  She was coached by Project Supervisor Steve
Propsom (alongside) and Foreman Dan Petersilka.  In keeping with safety 
protocol, Karen wore protective glasses and gloves.   All
event participants and workers wore masks, a Fincantieri company
requirement since early May. (Purinton photo)
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

The new Washington Island Ferry Madonna was properly blessed and christened at the Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding facility Monday, June 29, before a crowd of several hundred masked and socially scattered workers.  They were joined by approximately 60 invited guests, many of whom were key in the vessel's development and construction.

Rev. James Reiff, pastor at St. John's Lutheran Church near Oshkosh, and a former pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, Washington Island in the early 1980s, provided the christening blessing.  Karen Jess of Washington Island did the honors by breaking a champagne bottle upon the new, 124-foot Madonna.

Rev. James E. Reiff, who provided the christening blessing,
with Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding Vice President and
General Manager Todd Thayse.
Karen and her late husband Butch Jess, along with Rev. Reiff, commissioned a model of the Ole Christiansen schooner Madonna as a memorial to Kelly Jess, who lost his life to cancer at the age of 14, in 1980.  That ship model has hung high in the center of the nave in Trinity since 1981.  It was that model, and the historical connection with Ole Christiansen's Island trading enterprise, that brought about the decision to name the new ferry Madonna.

Several Fincantieri workforce on uppermost deck
during Monday's christening event at Bay Shipbuilding.
Setting was both dramatic and colorful, flanked with large
lake ships on either side.
(Helen Bacon photo)

Yesterday's event at Bay Shipbuilding came at a late moment in the construction of the Madonna. She is about 95% complete.  The christening celebrated the multi-skilled workforce of Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, and also contributions by key product vendors and service providers.  As an example, there were representatives of Seacraft Design (Mark Pudlo, Naval Architect), Nicolet Bank, and Palmer Johnson Power Systems (Twin Disc gears) present.   Ferry Captains Joel Gunnlaugsson and Erik Foss were also on hand, as were each of the Ferry Line's Directors, plus many owners and representatives of the Richter family.

Hoyt Purinton, Ferry Line President, thanked
the many people responsible for a high
quality vessel, including members of the
local U. S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office
who inspect and assure quality in compliance
with federal guidelines for domestic
small passenger vessels.
(Helen Bacon photo)
Monday's christening ceremony also provided an opportunity to publicly describe the successful conclusion of building a specialized product for local use, the third WIFL ferry built at Bay Shipbuilding since 1970, and the seventh in a string of ferries going back to 1950 with the C. G. Richter.  Each were built by Sturgeon Bay shipbuilders and designed by Sturgeon Bay naval architects.

Rich Ellefson followed the Madonna project
closely from day  one as on-site
Company representative.  He came to know
many of Bay Ship's workers and supservisors,
and to respect their expertise in shipbuilding.
(Helen Bacon photo)
Bay Ship's work list has a few items left to tie up, including installation of a hydraulic steering pump, a specialized (not an off-the-shelf item) pump that must mate with one of the Caterpillar main engine drives.  This pump will supply  proper flow and pressure to steering rams and components.

When completed, this task is expected to be followed with a U. S. Coast Guard underway sea trial, and upon acceptance, a Certificate of Inspection.  The new ferry should be ready to sail north to Detroit Harbor sometime in the next two-to-three weeks.  

In the meantime, out of Detroit Harbor the remaining four ferries of the WIFL fleet now sail the Door at half-hour intervals.  Since Friday the 26th, the more frequent ferry "summer" schedule has been implemented.

Over the past several weeks, vehicular traffic, along with some bicyclists and a handful of "walk-ons," has shown great promise in picking up the Island's tourism season at a critical time.

We hope that the numbers of Island guests plus residents will follow prescribed and sensible measures, helping to limit the possibilities for Coronavirus spread.  Wisconsin and Washington Island in their rather concentrated tourism season will need everything to go right in order to bring economic success to businesses relying on solid numbers.

-  Dick Purinton

Friday, June 26, 2020


Fortunately many good photographers were on hand
when the Arni J. Richter was christened at the Island
dock May23, 2003.  This one was taken by Bruce McKay
and captured the Island Festival Chorus, led by Dan Hansen, 
 and the Festival Orchestra, led by Stephen Colburn.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

We've covered considerable ground reminiscing about Washington Island Ferry Line christenings.  Our previous blog (June 23) brought us to the ferry Washington's christening in June 1989.

The Washington design was much different than any previous WIFL ferries by incorporating a large upper deck, and a "sun deck" above that, supported by both the side curtain structure and the pedestal - or trunk - located at the vessel centerline.  Fore and aft stairways offered access to upper deck spaces, including the pilot house that was elevated several feet above the passenger deck for best pilot visibility.  As with any design, kinks needed to be worked out.  Those that could not, or would not, accept modification became something we've gotten used to over time.

As an example, the 100-ft. auto deck length allows a rather easy five vehicles per lane, with four lanes, for a total of 20 vehicles.  If there are a good number of small cars, that totalcould be increased to 21 autos without too much strain.   However, those lanes squeezed alongside the center trunk tended to be narrow.  When loading large or bulky vehicles, two cannot be parked side-by-side.  Large campers, straight trucks, or semis would automatically reduce vehicle capacity in those lanes.   For semi trucks it is often a tricky maneuver to get the truck's last set of wheels as far outboard as possible, so that rear sets of wheels will track through the ramp opening during the unloading process.  Overhead dimensions were meant to accommodate standard semi trailer heights, but we soon found out that many newer over-the-road trucks pushed 70 feet in length and occasionally exceeded 13'-6" in height.  Sprinkler heads located on the main deck overhead have often been raked by those high trucks, requiring replacement.

But overall, this ferry proved to be a great addition to the fleet.

Ferry Arni J. Richter

After the one-time experiment with a center pedestal design on the Washington, in 2002 we began considering a new ferry design that reverted back to a main deck superstructure, this one tucked as tightly to starboard as possible.   This enclosure included a main deck passenger cabin, a unisex head, fore and aft stairs, an engine room access - all within that starboard structure.  While there would be two car slots forward and to starboard, the remainder of the vehicle deck had ample width for three lanes, 104 ft.  x 10-ft. width, each lane.  Vehicle loads could now consistently reach 18 units, even when a couple of straight trucks, boats on trailers, or campers boarded the ferry.

A most important feature of the new Arni J. Richter was its intended use in winter. Adequate cabin and pilot house heat (also AC), insulation and tight windows, helped support that.  Main propulsion would require ample horsepower, with stout framing, heavy propeller shafts, and stainless, ice-class propellers. Heavy rudders followed behind them.

Naming the 2003 ferry for its owner and president of many years was a foregone conclusion.  Arni Richter and his father, Carl, had purchased two wooden ferries in 1940 from William Jepson.  Over 60 years later, Arni was still intimately involved with the company, and he offered many suggestions in design and detail (some taken, some not!).  We had the extensive background and expertise of the Tim Graul Marine Design team, and that helped in designing a vessel we needed, one we intended to operate for many decades in these waters, for four seasons of the year.  Tim and his staff had already engineered many modifications on each of our existing ferries. This new ice breaker would receive their input of experienced ideas.  (Mark Pudlo, naval architect, would later purchase TGMD when Tim Graul retired, and continue his services under Seacraft Design, in Sturgeon Bay.)

The christening ceremony was held at the Island ferry dock May 24, 2003, after the boat had been delivered to WIFL, and it was attended by a largest crowd of any christening ceremony to date, some especially invited, but most just Island people who "showed up" to witness the event.  The series of photos below capture a good part of that day's crowd.

Someone photographed the crowd during the AJR
May christening.  How many people can you
identify in the photos? (unknown photographer)
The Island Festival Choir, led by Dan Hansen, sang, and members of the Island Music Festival orchestra accompanied them, besides playing several other numbers.  Island school children had been invited earlier to participate in a coloring contest.  An original poem about the new ferry Arni J. Richter was read by Bill and Liz Jorgenson's son, Dale.

After nearly an hour of remarks, music and testimonials on the new ferry's future, Arni stepped to the side gate and smashed the bottle to christen his own vessel.  (A second swing of the bottle was required to do the job!)

Arni J. Richter christens the Arni J. Richter.
(photo by Bruce McKay)
For these past 17 years, the ferries Eyrarbakki, Robert Noble, Washington and Arni J. Richter have been essential in carrying people, vehicles and cargo on a daily basis across the Door.  During the latter years of that time span summer traffic gradually increased, with long lines building at Northport in the mid-day, and the same on the island side in late afternoon.

Our WIFL Board of Directors, after considering several remodeling options, decided to build a new ferry.  Seacraft Design was chosen to provide the engineering and blueprints, and Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding was selected to build the new ferry.  It would be named Madonna, for delivery in late May, 2020.  That date is now extended into late June, and possibly July, due to parts needed to satisfactorily complete the hydraulic steering system.

The christening ceremony is now scheduled for June 29 at the Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding yard.  Only a small number of guests will be invited due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns.

More on this event in a few days.

-  Dick Purinton

Tuesday, June 23, 2020


Madonna name boards ready to go,
in basement workshop. 

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

The act of christening a vessel is an ancient tradition, intended to bring good luck, safe voyages, and blessings to those who sail on board.

Not necessary?  Maybe...but who would like to take the chance?

Then, too, there is the awkward choice to go against tradition by denying a vessel to be properly christened, blessed and named.

For centuries this ceremony preceded the launch, a time when the vessel first transferred from land to sea.

Traditions change with the times.  The laying of a keel was once of great shipbuilding importance, not so many years ago, particularly in wooden shipbuilding when the keel member became the basis of construction.  Today's vessels - especially those made of steel or aluminum - can be constructed upside down and  in modules.  There is no recognized singular moment when a full-length keel is accomplished.  Instead, recognition has been given to the first cuts of plates and frames as a noteworthy start to construction.

Monday, June 29th, there will be a christening of the new Washington Island Ferry Line vessel Madonna.  This public recognition of the vessel's completion, and its given name (in this case, it will have religious connotations for the Mother of Jesus...but not for the Paul McCartney song, Lady Madonna, or for the pop singer from Bay City, Michigan, Madonna Louise Ciccone.)

This new ferry's name derives from the schooner of the same name, built by an Irishman, Aylward, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1871.  Quite certainly he took the name in reference to the Holy Mother of Jesus. Not just any "My Lady" but the Lady.

One intended reference in the christening of our Madonna will be a tip of the hat to Ole Christiansen, Norwegian immigrant, and his schooner of the same name.  He bought the shooter from Aylward in 1894.  As a merchant vessel, Christiansen's schooner carried commercial products, lumber and potatoes mostly, between Detroit Harbor and other Lake Michigan ports.

In order to properly honor Ole Christiansen and the original Madonna, we asked his family if they could nominate a representative to perform the christening.  We received a "Yes" from Sarah Maines-Bandiera of British Columbia, in early March.

Certain hurdles needed to be overcome, including setting a date when the ferry might be finished and ready to christen.   After it would be launched, delivered and then moored in Detroit Harbor, it would await christening before placement into regular service.  That was tentatively planned for the end of May, or early June, so we hoped.

Then Covid-19 came along and it no longer seemed prudent to plan a public christening event, or to ask Sarah to travel a long distance for a short ceremony.  Pandemic travel rules created more hurdles.  We both agreed to reconsider, and instead we named Sarah as our Honorary Guest for the christening.  Then we began looking closer to home for another candidate who might perform the christening.  (The name of our stand-in will soon be publicly revealed.)

Sarah Maines-Bandiera, great granddaughter of Ole
Christiansen, graciously accepted our offer to christen
the new
 Madonna...until the pandemic made that an 
improbable plan. (photo by Sarah)
There is also the matter of finishing this vessel completely, to the required and agreed upon standards, fit for service and acceptable to the U. S. Coast Guard federal guidelines and owner expectations.

As the weeks passed by in spring, the estimated delivery date was pushed further back into June.  This later date wasn't of great concern to us, because we wanted the vessel to be right and not rushed or lacking in completeness.

Here we are on June 23, with a soft "maybe" for sea trials later this week.  Current status centers around a steering glitch: three steering options under two, completely separate, systems.  It is complicated, and not easily resolved.  The answer may require more parts (and expertise), with lead time in order to rectify.

One way or another, whether the ferry Madonna comes home this coming week or not, we will join Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding workforce Monday in a combination ceremony.

There will be two parts to this event:  one will be to recognize the Bay Shipbuilding workforce for their achievement in turning out a great product, the ferry Madonna, that will sail in these local waters for the next half-century or more.  The second will be to christen this vessel, a formal, prescribed occasion in which we ask for God's blessings on this vessel, its crew, passengers and cargo in years to come.

Sprinkled throughout this blog and one to follow we'll post a number of photos recounting christening events for Washington Island Ferry Line vessels.

A synopsis of past WIFL christening events

The first ferry built and launched for WIFL, Arni and Carl Richter owners, was the Griffin, built at Krauss Kraft in Kewaunee, Wisconsin in 1946.  I've never come across a christening photo for this ferry, only pre-launch snapshots of owner Arni Richter standing on the shore with the Griffin in the background.  I believe Mary Richter had a hand in naming this ferry, as she was an avid follower of local history.

Then in 1950 the C. G. Richter, named for Carl Godfrey Richter, was built by the Sturgeon Bay Ship Building and Dry Dock yard. (This yard property was taken up 20 years by Bay Shipbuilding Corporation in 1970.)  Just prior to the C. G. Richter launch, cousins Carol Richter and Jeannie Leasum shared christening honors.

1950 christening of C. G. Richter prior to launch:
(top)  Maggie and Carl Richter; Carol Richter and 

Jeannie Leasum; Arni and Mary Richter; Margaret Leasum; 
Em andPaul Richter.  (unknown photographer / WIFL files)
Ten years later, in 1960, on nearly the same waterfrontage in Sturgeon Bay, Richter twins Adele and Estelle did the honors for the new ferry Voyageur.  A professional photographer (perhaps Herb Reynolds) captured the moment the champagne bottle smashed against the bow, prior to launch, a classic in WIFL "christening annals." As far as we know, only family members, and perhaps a few friends, were on hand for this occasion.  The Voyageur was launched following the christening that day.  It would be weeks before the ferry was finished, at homeport, and ready for operation.

Adele (L) and Estelle Richter performed the Voyageur
christening at the SBSB & DD yard prior to launch
in 1960.  (Herb Reynolds / WIFL archives)

In 1970 WIFL shifted from a private christening ceremony in the shipyard on launch day to a public ceremony held at the ferry dock in Detroit Harbor, Washington Island.  The occasion that brought about this change was the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the first Icelanders coming to Washington Island.  The new ferry's name, Eyrarbakki, would draw attention to this Island's many familial ties with Iceland.  Gertrude Andersen, then 94, was considered the first child born here of Icelandic immigrant parents, and she broke the bottle that day.
Gertrude Andersen swinging bottle against 
king post of Eyrarbakki in 1970.

Special invited guests had connections with the Icelandic consul in Chicago.  Well water from Eyrarbakki, Iceland was flown for the christening, rather than using champagne. It was a meaningful day for the Island, and it was also a great day for Arni and Mary Richter who sought to expand and improve Washington Island's tourism through marketing.  This Iceland tie was both genuine and unique. (This year's plans were dashed by the Covid-19 pandemic, but we remind readers of that christening occasion, just as we now highlight the 150th Anniversary Celebration in 2020.)

Estelle Richter took this launch photo of Hull #709 at
the Manitowoc Corp. Bay Shipbuilding yard in
1970.  This vessel was among the first to be
completed by the Bay Ship yard after the move
to Sturgeon Bay from Manitowoc.
The acceleration in tourism traffic would soon include fishing boats on trailers, motor homes, and larger vehicles in general - vans and pickup trucks - and the timing seemed right in 1979 to build a new ferry with increased dimensions over the Eyrarbakki of 1970.  Arni fondly looked at the photos of vessels sailed as ferries by Robert Noble across Sturgeon Bay, and he decided to name the new ferry for that first mechanically propelled ferry in Door County, Robert Noble.  Of course, there was also the unforgettable story of the struggle of Noble who tried to cross the Door at the onset of winter in 1863, and who lost his fingers and lower legs to frostbite.

The new Robert Noble was completed at Peterson Builders, Inc., ion June of 1979, and it heralded a  shift to a different builder, due in part to the building boom in large bulk carriers being constructed at the Manitowoc Bay Shipbuilding yard.  They had no more building room, and no need for a small ferry contract, whereas PBI was just winding down naval contracts and was open to general commercial work.

Harrison Noble, in his early 90s, spoke before
christening the ferry named for his uncle, Robert.
(photographer not known.  WIFL files)
The ferry came home to Detroit Harbor in early June for the christening.  After a bit of sleuthing, we located Robert's nephew, Harrison Noble, a retired County Agent in his early 90s, who lived in the Stevens Point area.  Harrison came to Washington Island, and he became the first male to christen one of our ferries, the new 90-foot Robert Noble.
Arni Richter, Ferry Line president, with
author on day of christening in 1979.

Light drizzle fell, but despite uncooperative weather that day, dozens of people turned out to witness the occasion.  A photo was taken of guests gathered that afternoon on the main deck, looking upward toward the speaker, and it provides a real challenge to the memory.  Naming as many people as possible in the crowd is a fun activity. (I'll add that photo when I find it!)

Mary and Arni Richter are between Mert Dedecker,
Mary's sister, and Bob Thompson of Tim Graul
Marine Design, naval architects for the
Washington.  (Arni Orman photo)
We'll take one more event before breaking the story into a second part.

Peterson Builders was awarded the contract for another new ferry, launched in 1989.  The Washington would be larger in deck and passenger capacity than any previous WIFL ferry, a fact that remains true today for automobile loads of a certain mix.

She's not a winter ferry, as she doesn't have the necessary structure or power for ice breaking, but it has been used more and more into late fall-to-freeze-up, and again in early spring.

This ferry was launched in late April, and it arrived on the Island in early June.   Our daughter, Evy, at age 13, christened the new ferry that year.  One of the notable events that day was the Boy Scout Troop from Maplewood, under scoutmaster  Dennis LeFevre, that led the Pledge of Allegiance that day.

Boy Scout troop from Maplewood led guests in
the Pledge of Allegiance prior to the christening.
(Al Belz Jr. photo)

That christening crowd was the largest to date, with many people onboard, on the pier, and a few in their boats nearby.  The weather was beautiful.  Congressman Toby Roth of Appleton, who was good friends with Islander Sarah Magnusson, sat next to her that day, on folding chairs set up on the main deck.

Evy Purinton broke the champagne bottle
against the Washington's kingpost in 1989.
Future ferry captain, Town Chair, County
Board Supervisor and father of four,
Joel Gunnlaugsson, stands in middle
(photographer unknown)

In another seven years, PBI would be out of business.  It would be a number of years after that before the level of seasonal ferry traffic, our need for a new winter replacement ferry, and our ability to handle the cost of a more expensive ice breaking vessel, would converge to a point where a new ferry contract would be signed in 2002.

(To be continued...).  Dick Purinton