Monday, February 21, 2011


Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

The Winter Festival drew a number of people from off the island, for ice fishing, to see the Island Players version of Our Town, and to enjoy both indoor (chili cook-off, bingo) and outdoor activities.   It was also an opportunity for Islanders to kick up their winter bootheels.

Saturday afternoon a large crowd assembled to celebrate a birthday party (not Lincoln or Washington) on Detroit Harbor and circled around a bonfire with food, drink and camaraderie.   Youngsters bounced, skidded and resisted centrifugal force as a four-wheeler towed them in a large satelite dish, about 8-ft. diameter, encircling the ice party.  The rumble of the metal dish over the hard, sometimes irregular ice surface, could be heard from afar nearly all afternoon, until fireworks and low sun signaled a slowdown to the afternoon's events.

The Island Lions members organized many of the past week's ice fishing activities, as they do each winter, but this party was for Lee Franzen's birthday, and it drew as many as 100 persons, with some 40 cars and pickups parked nearby, plus 4-wheelers and snowmobiles.  

Further out on the harbor,  steadfast ice fishermen tried their luck ice fish in the 20-degree weather.   Large northern pike and perch had been caught throughout the week, with others bobbing after lawyers on the west side.  Saturday's weather was ideal for this social event on the ice, as well as for fishing.

The drama Our Town played Friday evening, a Saturday matinee, and again Saturday evening, with roles filled by local actors with a range of acting experience from first-time to seasoned veterans.  This was an excellent production, theater in-the-round at the Trinity fellowship hall with island townsfolk surrounding the performers.  There were memorable, standout performances.

Ice Access

I couldn't help but think how fortunate it was that the temperature had dropped since last Thursday when accumulated snow melted so rapidly that one fisherman described the swirl of meltwater running down his fishing hole as resembling a "toilet flushing."  The ice returned to a glare surface overnight with Friday's return of high pressure and colder air, and the mucky, rutted shoreline where fishermen entered and exited the ice froze hard over night.  It made the transition from Main Road's blacktop to the harbor ice once again negotiable.   Had temperatures remained above freezing through this weekend's activity, the muddy ruts would have worked even deeper under pickup tires, eventually becoming impassable.  Fresh access routes might have been created further down the beach.

With the Island's annual winter fish derby, plus private social gatherings on the ice as witnessed Saturday afternoon, drawing people of all ages, the importance decent public access to the harbor is underscored.  
At one time, there were many access points at various island shoreline locations, but many of these have now vanished, absorbed as private property, built upon, or otherwise no longer maintained by the Town.

The south end of Main Road remains the most heavily used water access in winter, but it's also a point for viewing in warm weather months.  If the Town has in the past prompted the Department of Natural Resources for permission to add aggregate to this stretch of beach and been refused, this past week and weekend's activities should encourage further attempts at access improvement.

Several loads of coarse stone, approximately 16-ft. wide, might actually reduce traffic impact over the present day "driver's choice."   As an inviting, safe access to Detroit Harbor, it would not only be winter sportsmen who would benefit.  There are occasional loads of materials headed to Detroit Island that are trucked over the ice.  Detroit Island's property owners, who ask for little and receive less direct return for their township taxes, like to occasionally snowmobile, cross country ski, or drive across the ice for a winter weekend retreat at their cabins.  Such access improvement would assist them, too.

While it may not be a given right to drive motorized vehicles across harbor ice, it is important to the island, to our limited winter economy, and for the sport and recreation of its citizens.  We estimate daily usage this winter as 50 vehicles (on the low side), to well over 100 passages from road to beach on a busy Saturday when fishing pressure increases.  We've looked out the window at midnight (and even 3 a.m.) and observed headlights out on the ice (probably not fishing!).   So, we would consider usage of this Main Road access as high on a daily basis, and nearly around the clock.

Low Lake Levels

Adding to the problem of ice access is the wider beach brought on by a very low Lake Michigan.  The current level is within inches of the record low, despite last summer having shown signs of a gradual, two-year rise.  The amount of exposed beach and harbor bottom is considerable.  Shallow areas utilized by bass and other fish for spawning in the early months of summer are exposed.  I walked over frozen mud flats today, routes never possible when water levels were higher.

Already this winter's cover of bay ice has, for all purposes, broken up and is on the move.  The fact is, it had never set up, except in sections of the upper bay.  (The lower bay, south of Chambers Island, was solid, shore to shore, by early January.)  There has been continual shifting of the ice fields with the winds, aided by large lake vessels still sailing to the Escanaba ore docks through early February, then heading south in the bay to Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay.   Already, as of this week, several lake freighters already fitted out will resume their regular runs from Escanaba to Indiana's steel harbors.  It is highly upper Green Bay's ice will ever re-freeze this winter.   Lack of an ice cover over upper Green Bay waters also allows evaporation from those same waters, not insignificant over many square miles of surface.   With the snow pack in the Lakes Michigan-Huron watershed currently negligible, we can only hope for more snow accumulation and heavy spring rains to help restore the supply.

At some point as ferry operators, we may become concerned that our dredging projects of 2007-08 may not be sufficient for unrestricted ferry access to landings.                               - Dick Purinton

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Shoreline Show

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

After driving steel pilings along the shore near the former Ship's Rib late Monday, island contractor Tom Jordan tried to drive his Volvo excavator from the ice surface.  But the climb from ice to a rock-filled wooden crib proved too much of an angle for the excavator to negotiate.  Tracks spun, ice buckled, and the machine soon wallowed into the mucky bottom.

That is how Jordan's excavator spent the night, with exhaust pipe and top of the motor slightly above water level.   Help was on the way on the Tuesday morning ferry.  Jordan had contacted Harbor Construction of Baileys Harbor who offered to lend a hand by pulling with their larger machine.   It took nearly an hour and a half of tugging, trying different purchase points before the solution was found that offered enough leverage to lift the tracks from the muck and level the machine.   But still, the partially-submerged machine wouldn't skid or roll up and over the sharp ledge.  The excavator's tracks simply would not turn, not without applied power from the motor.

The morning's activity had proven to be an excellent diversion from ice fishing, from work, or from just about any other island thing going on, and a crowd of onlookers had gathered along shore to see when and if the extraction would work.   About the time a few of the spectators broke for lunch, a better purchase was obtained with one excavator arm chained to the other.

Hoping for a long-shot, Tom checked his excavator's motor fluids to see if it was prudent to start up the machine.  After several bursts of compression followed by puffs of white smoke, the Volvo was running, surprising, considering its submergence in the murky, icy water the previous twelve hours.

The final step went smoothly:  the combined pull from two upland machines, plus power applied to his excavator's tracks, brought Jordan's machine up and over the ledge to solid ground on the shore.

Above:  Started and under its own power, the Volvo crawls toward the beach;
Below:  Tom Jordan expresses thanks to the Harbor Construction crew.

Dick Purinton -

Wednesday, February 9, 2011



What a week this has been!

We drove to St. Louis to attend the 40th Anniversary of the Passenger Vessel Association, spending one extra day in Brookfield, WI shoveling snow from a massive midwest storm.

Our convention coincided with Super Bowl Sunday, and we knew there would be a great deal of excitement surrounding the Packers / Steelers game, including a bit of jousting with friends from Pittsburgh who operate the Gateway Clipper fleet.  Nothing brought more immediate excitement, however, than spotting the Packer Mobile parked alongside the snowbank as we rounded the corner to our St. Louis hotel Thursday afternoon.

The two die-hard Packer fans shown above, Dieter "The Snowman" Sturm, and Mark "The Iceman" Madson had stopped to warm up, with the Arch as their backdrop.   Without knowing a great deal about their car or their trip, we just assumed they were enroute to the Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas.  We had driven through -6 F temperatures near Rockford earlier that day, and temperatures had warmed only slightly by the time we crossed the Mississippi River and drove into St. Louis.  Given the weather forecast then for southern states, we knew these two would not find the going any easier in their convertible as they neared the Cowboys stadium.

But then the traffic light turned green, and with cars lined up behind us we drove around the corner to the Hyatt Hotel.  Later, I kicked myself for not stopping and wishing them well and taking a photo.  Later, in the hotel, we looked them up online and watched several videos they had already posted about their trip on their website...       ...and we learned more about these two fanatics and their road trip from Lambeau Stadium to the Super Bowl.

A Second Chance-Encounter

Fast forward five days, following many meetings in hotel conference rooms and the Championship Super Bowl win by the Green Bay Packers Sunday evening celebrated in the hotel sports bar.  We began our drive back to Wisconsin at noon Tuesday, Feb. 8.   Less than one hour  from St. Louis on I-55, Mary Jo spotted the Packer Mobile as it exited the off-ramp near the town of Staunton.   Not wanting to miss this second opportunity, we followed close behind, driving several miles west of the interstate to downtown Staunton, where the Packer Mobile stopped opposite the Subway restaurant.

Although the Packer Mobile's occupants had been riding almost continuously in their 1978 Eldorado convertible for over a week, covering the 1300-mile route to Dallas with the aid of warm clothes and flexible heater hoses shoved up their jacket fronts to keep them and their faces from freezing, The Snowman and The Iceman graciously posed with us and talked about their trip.

The Packers organization has a strong fan base, but there aren't more dedicated fans than these two men.  Neither had a ticket for the big game or expected to get one.  They had met only recently at the Chicago Bears / Packers Conference Championship game and they decided to share their similar Packer passions in a way different than most by rallying others around their car and their crazy goal.   It was the thrill and enthusiasm of participating in this momentous sporting spectacle that drove them along through some of the Midwest's most miserable winter weather.   [You will want to follow along by viewing their many video blogs posted along the way.]

As we headed north toward Rockford, IL, late that afternoon, the outside temperature dropped to +4 F, then to +1 F.   Due to an overturned semi carrying ammonia blocking the interstate, we were routed along with hundreds of other vehicles on a long detour through the countryside.   We thought back on our second chance-encounter with the Packer Mobile and wondered if our friends, too, were snagged by this detour?

The Iceman and The Snowman could handle it, we knew, as we inched along between the rural snowbanks and lines of rerouted traffic, slowed by at least 90 minutes over the expected driving time.  It would take more than a back road detour to slow down those two Packer fans.  

  - Dick Purinton