Thursday, March 24, 2011


Northport Pier, Door County, Wisconsin -

The best part about Wednesday's snowstorm was the sunrise that came afterward, as we drove north at dawn to meet the ferry at Northport, and later, as we crossed the Door waters.

When we headed south to Sturgeon Bay on Tuesday, the sky had been gray and heavily overcast, then by early afternoon, light sleet began and the NE winds picked up speed.  (By this time, it was a white-out in Green Bay, we were told.)

I attended a workshop Tuesday afternoon along with three other co-workers from the Ferry Line.  Later, we walked across the street to dinner from our motel through slush.  That evening, as cars pulled in from the highway for the night, islanders were among them, and there was speculation if they might get home the next day.  (My answer?  "I don't know!")  

Familiar faces circulated through the lobby of Sturgeon Bay's Maritime Inn like snowflakes under a street light.

By morning, a wide blue band that represented heavy snowfall on the TV Precision Weather Forecast ran west-to-east, South Dakota through Green Bay, Wisconsin, and on toward Detroit.  It was clear there would be little chance for a ferry home Wednesday.   40 MPH winds were whipping the snow, and that was the ultimate factor for not running the ferry that day.

We greeted a dozen or so island neighbors at breakfast and a few more as the day wore on.  City streets were plowed by noon, sort of, but the main highways up and down the peninsula weren't good, although a few did try driving north anyway, on the chance that winds would drop and the ferry might run.   But, it never happened, not on Wednesday.

So, through our cell phones we planned for an early departure from the motel to catch the extra-early ferry that was specially scheduled to absorb the backlog of traffic, mail and freight.  We met a couple more islanders we hadn't known about as we exited the Maritime Inn to our snow-covered car.   After a quick stop at McDonald's (windows were frozen shut so we went to the counter instead of the drive-thru), we were on our way to catch the extra-early ferry.

As we passed through Gills Rock and wound through the woods toward Northport and the ferry, the  sunrise was worth the drive.   Orange light over white snow and light ice.   A small raft of black ducks huddled in the crook of the breakwall.  With wind down to a mere draft, the half-full ferry backed away and took the short-route home, around Plum Island's north side, with not even enough sea to toss spray on deck.

By 8 o'clock, our familiar snow shovel was in hand, as we tackled a drift wrapping around the back door to our home.  Then, we unpacked from two nights with a snowstorm on the mainland.

  - Dick Purinton

Underway, Captain Erik Foss was one of ARNI J Richter's
several crew, who also got his quota of shoveling
for the day when decks were cleared. 

Monday, March 21, 2011


Steel tubes for TPAC support columns were unloaded from a
Boldt Construction truck March 10, and have
since been installed.  (Chapman photo)

-             Main Road, Washington Island, Wisconsin

Washington Island’s Wilson and Carol Trueblood Performing Arts Center, referred to as the “TPAC,” is undergoing repairs at the present time, with a projected completion date of late May, in time for a Memorial Weekend event. 

Remediation is perhaps a much better word than repair to describe the work being done, because collectively this work will remedy, or stop, deterioration of the building from elements over time.  It will also make it a safe and sound structure after the work is completed.  

If you imagine a “repair” as removing a faulty part and replacing it with a new part, as you would with an auto repair, that is not exactly what is being accomplished.   Here at the TPAC the same, essential components will remain more or less in place, but they will be modified, supported, wrapped, better-drained, or in other ways treated so that the final, long term result will guarantee public safety, with a building that will not only be physically sound, but efficient to manage.  This remediation may also serve to greatly improve the outer appearance of the facility.

What are these remediation efforts, then, and why were they deemed necessary in the first place? How will they be accomplished?  Answers to these question will be the topic of this piece.

How we got here

The legal mediation process involving the TPAC, the original architect and original contractors, ended in an agreed upon settlement in October 2010.    Settlement funds were then transferred to an escrow account to be used for structure remediation. The challenge before the TPAC Board moved quickly from the legalities of the mediation process to the remediation/repair process, examining details for solutions that would lead to approvals from the State Department of Commerce, the agency responsible for Wisconsin's public building safety standards. 

A new architect of record, Jendusa Engineering Associates, Inc. of Milwaukee, and a new Owner’s Representative, Terry Patrick of Professional Project Services, also of Milwaukee, were hired.   Patrick had been extremely helpful when hired as a forensic engineer to represent the TPAC during mediation.  

Referring to TPAC safety, Straus said, “This will be one of the more thoroughly inspected structures in Door County.   The State is very interested in this project.” 


There have been misconceptions about the TPAC going back to a time period that preceded the actual closing.  Some of these misconceptions grew from the void of hard information.  Not keeping the public fully informed wasn’t necessarily of the TPAC Board’s choosing, it turns out, but instead a result of the several years of ongoing legal embroilment that required confidentiality.   It can also be said that from the onset, no one knew for certain what the causes or solutions were until experts were called upon,  tests were conducted, and problem sources could be evaluated.  For a time, this list of apparent problems continued to grow, a period of great darkness for both the community and the TPAC Board as pressure increased to resolve the mess.  During this time, and even since, public misconceptions flourished. 

As a way of introducing the problems and their remedial solutions, here are some of those misconceptions:

Misconception #1 -   The TPAC walls were about to crumble due to faulty mortar or lack of re-rod. 

Faulty mortar or lack of steel reinforcement rods are not the case, although it took a while to eliminate elements of this claim. 

According to TPAC Building Committee member John Chapman, at one point the walls were x-rayed to determine placement of steel re-rod in the single-block walls.  The results were positive:  the rebar was where it was supposed to be.  

Then, “prism” samples of intact block and mortar from each wall were cut, bundled, and shipped to an independent lab using state certified methods for testing.

Conclusion:  The mortar between blocks is strong; it met lab strength tests.   

The ability of the mortar to resist water penetration, however, was a slightly different problem. 

Moisture during heavy rains had been observed running down inside TPAC walls, more than could be attributed to condensation.  This mortar deficiency was a problem of a different nature, caused by the lack of a waterproofing additive used in the mortar mix.  Only after attempts to reseal the roof cap joint at the top of the wall proved unnecessary, was leakage determined to occur by means of capillary action, through the mortar joints and not through gaps at the roof line or from other locations.   This elimination process took time to fully determine. 

Knowing then that moisture was finding its way through mortar joints brought suggested solutions such as the application of waterproofing products to the exterior.   But, this type of fix was rejected by the TPAC Board because the product life was relatively short, and it would require re-application every few years.  

The “wrapper system” currently planned for installation was then selected because it was a more permanent solution for waterproofing, and it will boost the R-factor from R-4 to R-24.

The wrapper system will consist of steel “hat-channels” fastened to the building, which creates a ¾” air space.  Then 3” thick, metal-skinned foam panels the height of the building will be stood upright, joined by a tongue-and-groove sealed joint, and clipped and screwed to the hat-channel, a process that Chapman says ought to go as quickly as a crane can set them up.  Chapman also noted that these panels alone are so substantial that some manufacturing structures have used just the composite panels for exterior walls. 

This huge step forward resulted from the close examination of walls which were then found to be sound, but admitted moisture through capillary action.  In the end, a major gain in function and appearance will be achieved. 

Misconception #2But, isn’t the building sinking into the ground?   Can it withstand snow loads and high winds? 

There was great concern for the stability of the TPAC structure, especially the potential for heavy winter snow loads.   That’s why, given the uncertainty, the TPAC Board elected to close the building in the fall of 2009 and cancel future events until the issue could be properly resolved.   This is also why, several weeks later, the State Building Inspector placed the red-tags on the entry doors, forbidding access to persons other than specifically authorized contractor or TPAC representatives. 
It should also be stated that during the investigation of water through the walls, a second major problem that was a major design flaw was discovered as each responsible party reexamined structural design and engineering. 

This design flaw concerned undersized bearing plates that supported the two, deep-webbed steel trusses that divide the chamber roof roughly into thirds.  When these trusses were installed, their ends were set into the block walls and then secured with steel plates that carried the roof loads to footings.  It was the undersized steel plates that were determined to have potential for failure.  These would require remedy prior to State approval for reopening the building to the public. 

For a structure that ought to last a lifetime without need for drastic engineering changes – perhaps 100 years and more - this finding was a major setback.  But, to the credit of the responsible engineering firm, the error was reported as soon as it was discovered, and costs associated with repairs are being picked up by that firm. 

Boldt worker at bottom of excavated foundation,
measuring for installation
of tubular steel column.  (Chapman)

In order to remedy the undersized bearing plates, Oscar J. Boldt workers cut through the thick interior concrete walkways adjacent to the seating area and stage to reach the foundation below. Piers of high-density concrete were poured, tied by heavy steel bars to the foundation, upon which 8” x 8” tubular steel columns were erected.  Those tubular columns were set by Boldt ironworkers during the week ending 3/18 and welded to the trusses, prior to the transfer of partial roof load from walls to foundation.

This shifting of load from walls to steel columns was actually accomplished on this date, March 21, and was witnessed by the State Building Inspector.   With the steel columns in position, jacking screws raised the columns ever-so-slightly, just enough to take pressure from the sidewall fastenings, then shims were placed under the supports.  Later, a non-shrink grout will be poured under each column base to complete that phase of the project.

Detail showing one of four steel tubes
in place prior to being secured.

Below, the support at north side of stage has
been welded to the truss.  (Chapman)

Chapman has been duly impressed with the work done by Boldt, their rapid progress as well as their attention to detail.  Stage curtains were removed prior to the start of foundation work (the curtains will be cleaned, then treated with a fire retardant product);  the tall, red wing curtains were not removed, but were instead wrapped in plastic to keep them from dust;  all cement saw cuts inside the chamber were done using a concrete wet-saw and a vacuum;  seats were wrapped in protective plastic, and before welding and cutting took place, that material was replaced by another spark-retardant covering.   Soil excavated from beneath the floors, piled on tarps, was later backfilled.  Nearby floors were swept and mopped afterwards.  In many respects, according to Chapman, it was a cleaner building than when Boldt had arrived on scene.
Misconception #3 – The TPAC sits atop a swamp, or at least, active springs.

While this area might indeed be mushy, especially in the spring, no evidence of springs are to be found.  

When the Boldt crew excavated inside the TPAC foundation in four different locations, soils underneath the building were found to be completely dry.  There was no indication of moisture emanating from beneath the building floors or seeping under the foundation walls.   This was very good news, given the fact that public opinion had the TPAC sitting over active springs, or in a swampland.

Said Chapman, “In springtime and in late fall there is definitely a rivulet of moisture that can be seen on the parking lot pavement, running from north to south, coming from the direction of school.  So there is runoff of some kind going on there.  But springs on the TPAC property aren’t the cause, and none of that moisture appears to be found under the building.  There, it was perfectly dry.”  

John Chapman checks for water in the inspection pipe
on the TPAC north side as Dick Clancy looks on.  (Purinton)

[I might add that when the school was built in 1986, it was determined that a thin layer of clay-like material, post-glacial deposit, lay several feet under the surface.  This acts like an impervious membrane which surface water seems unable to penetrate, and because of this the grounds have a very soggy feel following spring thaw or after very rainy periods.]

A further proof that the soil beneath or near the TPAC structure is not a source of water can be found at the inspection tube on the building’s north side.  Chapman noted that this six-foot deep culvert pipe, in which a sump pump is located, was installed in November 2010 when water diversion from the saddlebag roof and along the foundation wall perimeter was being addressed.  Until this recent March thaw, the tube hadn’t exhibited signs of significant water at its bottom, and then still not enough to reach the level of drain ducts, or enough to activate the sump pump.

This shows both the effectiveness of the drainage measures taken around the building foundation, as well as the lack of moisture from underground sources. 

In addition to the installation of foundation insulation (4" of blue foam board), the 26” diameter supply and return ducts that run underground from the HVAC units to the building were retroactively insulated with foam board, too, providing an R-20 value.   Chapman also noted that the air supply and return tubes directly below the HVAC units need further insulation, which will be added later this spring. 

Building Committee members Dick Clancy (L) and John Chapman
examine one of two HVAC units that supply heat and ventilation to
the TPAC facility. (Purinton)

The excavation work to install the plastic drain pipe and foam board insulation around the foundation and over air ducts was relatively inexpensive, and those costs were assumed by the TPAC apart from state requirements and the settlement agreement. 

Misconception #4 Frozen walls? 

It has been said that if the TPAC walls were soaked through during heavy rain, surely the pockets inside the blocks had filled with water, and if they’ve been frozen, they will begin to deteriorate.

This one may be a bit harder to disprove, because visually we can’t see into each pocket, but the observations of two people regularly on the scene, Emmet Woods and John Chapman, help to dispute this viewpoint. 

Had the walls actually been “filled” with water, and had the heat been turned off, this could indeed lead to a disastrous consequence.  However, painstaking measures were taken to ensure this would not be the case.  Heat was kept at a sufficient level within the TPAC at all times, so that any moisture absorbed by the blocks and mortar would be drawn out. 

In a measure of economy, the building heat had been turned down in past winters to save on the LP and electrical bills.  However, meters were installed by Emmet Woods that measured and recorded temperature and humidity hourly, and readings were observed regularly to better monitor the building.   The winter building temperature has been maintained between 40 and 45 degrees F, and recently a bit higher with Boldt people working inside.

What about mildew and molds?  Will they be a problem? 

Here is a response from John Chapman:

  “Mold is an ongoing concern, and it is being dealt with.  Last summer, the building had been closed for ten months.  Mold was visible on the bottom of some backstage curtains and on bathroom and furniture surfaces.   An environmental company was hired to evaluate the TPAC for mold.  Interestingly, the first stage of the evaluation was a survey of moisture levels through the building.  The levels were high, likely because of water passing through the walls.  Mold needs moisture to grow.  The mold test was straightforward.  A known volume of air is drawn through a filter, which is then evaluated for the type and quantity of mold present.   The types of mold found are common to the island.  They are the same inside as outside the building.  However, the level inside the building was elevated.  The building was opened and aired out for several days in July.  The bathrooms and furniture surfaces were cleaned.  The AC units continued to run through the summer.  To date, no further mold deposits have been observed, possibly due in part to the low humidity of the winter months.

   “So, the first step is to reduce moisture levels in the building.  The wrapper system will do this.  Heat and dehumidifiers will accelerate the drying-out process.  The second step is to clean the building for a fresh start.  Funds from the settlement have been designated for building clean-up, which will begin shortly after the interior structural work is completed.  Air quality will be reevaluated before reopening.”

Also, as a part of their contract, Boldt will clean the entire building interior surfaces (likely to be subbed out to another party), for both construction dust and debris.  It is believed this thorough cleaning process will further aid in the restoration of the interior spaces to that of a highly functioning public space.

Misconception #5 – The TPAC is broke.  It can no longer function, given the cost of these many remedial items. 
Well, this is false, too, although Doug Straus admitted that this facility, like all similar facilities, must and will perpetuate itself through significant financial support from its community.   Receipts from the various performances are a part of balancing operating costs, but they don’t begin to offset long-term capital expenses of building management and upkeep. 

The TPAC funds remain, more or less, intact.  They are sufficient, according to Straus, for this non-profit organization to move ahead with what the TPAC Board believes is resuming an important role in the community, including activities with the Schools.   A sum from the TPAC endowment was used to help defray professional legal and engineering costs. The TPAC Board is anxious to put this phase behind them and again emphasize programming and use of their space. 

There will likely be more to add to this ongoing story.  But for now, public knowledge of the fact that there is quality work being done, and public confidence that there are skilled and dedicated people working in the best long-term interest of the TPAC, should go a long way toward restoration of the facility and its importance to the community. 

Although the dollar figures can only be guessed at, it is difficult to deny the economic impact this facility makes to the island’s economy when it is fully functioning, much less the cultural contribution it is capable of making through its offerings. 
-  Dick Purinton

Monday, March 14, 2011


TPAC Building Committee members Jay Ward (L) and John Chapman
review details of conditional State-approved plans.  These men, plus other Board
members, have volunteered hundreds of hours to bring successful resolution
 to a building that has been unusable since late fall of 2009.
(Purinton photo)

 - Main Road, Washington Island, Wisconsin


A remarkable process is underway at the Wilson and Carol Trueblood Performing Arts Center located south of the school campus on Washington Island’s Main Road.  

After having been closed for fifteen months, solutions to the various physical building problems identified by the State and the TPAC Board are being addressed.  Provisional State plan approvals have been given, contractors were selected, and repairs are now well underway to restore this structure as a useful, vital island facility.

The Trueblood Performing Arts Center (TPAC) had been closed since November of 2009.   At that time, a Wisconsin Department of Commerce inspector red-tagged the structure after water had been observed seeping through the single-block walls and a critical structural design defect had been identified.   Once red tags were posted on entry doors, no one except remediation engineers, contractor representatives, and representatives of the TPAC Building Committee have been allowed inside. 

Several weeks ago, three men from the Oscar J. Boldt Company, headquartered in Appleton, WI, including hands-on supervisor Greg Voss, began the strengthening process for key structural components.  All of Boldt’s work could be accomplished from within the building, despite winter weather, thanks to painstaking engineering and planning.  Because of their ability to work daily inside the building, Boldt's team will complete their phase of repair work by the end of March, after excavating through existing concrete, pouring several new concrete piers, and installing 8" x 8" steel columns that will accept the load from the two roof trusses. 

And before Boldt arrived on scene, island contractor Tom Jordan had completed most of Phase I, which consisted of digging away fill material in order to insulate the foundation’s exterior.  New plastic piping was also laid, adjacent to the building’s north and south walls, to divert problematic ground water.  Signs of concentrated roof runoff and ponding was discovered, believed to be a source of moisture discovered within underground heating and air conditioning vent ducts.   These problems have now been addressed, along with improved insulation for air handling components.

Tom Jordan dug a trench in November along south TPAC wall, observed by TPAC Board member Emmet Woods looked on.  Two-inch foam insulation was buried, 24" deep against the foundation and 16" outward, as frost barrier.   Exterior metal bracing will be removed prior to the erection of
foam panels and metal wrap system in April.

(Progress photos by John Chapman)
North TPAC wall with insulation added to foundation, and drain pipe
(green plastic) buried to divert runoff from "saddlebag"

roof that formerly flowed from single, white roof drain pipe
onto a splash board.

The final phase of repairs will begin in early April on the exterior walls as spring weather improves.  Structurally, the blocks and mortar of the exterior walls were determined to be sound through exacting lab "prism" testing.  Capillary passage of moisture through mortar joints, not gaps or obvious openings, had permitted penetration of rainwater through the walls.  All  solutions considered pointed toward waterproofing the exterior of the building's walls.  At the same time, improved insulation will be obtained.

The outer walls will be “wrapped” in 3-inch thick foam panels.  The metal-clad foam panels, in turn, will be covered with unique metal sections of deep-corrugated design.  This outer wrapper will shed water and further eliminate the transfer of air, reducing heat loss.

One further benefit of the new exterior metal covering is an opportunity to improve the building’s exterior visual appearance.  Through the use of darker panels on the top half, and the horizontally textured corrugation that will de-emphasize height, the building should become more attractive.  Current concrete block walls are rated a paltry R-4.  With the new foam panels plus metal barrier, in essence a windproof and waterproof wrapper, an additional R-20 rating will be gained.

Repairs Follow Months of Behind Scenes Negotiations

It was only after mediation brought about an agreed upon settlement at the end of October 2010, and funds (of an amount undisclosed to public) were transferred to a TPAC escrow account, that actual repairs began.   

The TPAC Board, led by Doug Straus (who is also interim administrator for Washington Island Schools), has established an Escrow Subcommittee that will monitor repair costs as they come in.  Members of the TPAC Building Committee worked closely with new engineers and the State of Wisconsin to obtain conditional certification, prior to moving ahead with actual repairs. 

It has been a long road, with much of the activity until now having taken place away from the public's eye, because of uncertainties and the need to remain confidential during negotiations. 

The Board’s goal, as stated by Straus, is to have the facility open for Memorial Weekend.  Confident that date will be met, the TPAC Board has begun adding event dates to its calendar, including such noted events as the Island Forum in June and the Island Music Festival in August.  

Said Straus, “The decision to close the facility was probably one of the most difficult I've seen a group of people have to make.  We all took that seriously, knew it would be damaging, embarassing, knew what the public perception would be.  But we had a commitment to return the building to a quality building."  He later added, referring to the current repair project, "We think we have a good solution to a complex problem.”

This shortened version of events as outlined above hardly does justice to the very complicated problems faced by the TPAC Board, the many physical deficiencies that had become gradually more evident during the life of the six-year-old TPAC building.

But, it took time and expertise to establish what the exact problems were, and as the list of defects grew in both number and complexity, there was never a clear guarantee that affordable solutions might be reasonably found.  Given their limited funds, the non-profit TPAC was hard-pressed to make their case for restitution.  The building’s original contractors seemed reluctant to pay for remedies for problems that might not be entirely theirs, with solutions that could be expensive. 

There are details the public may never be party to, given terms of the eventual settlement, but on the other hand, the general story with its significant volunteer effort is worth publicizing, because the alternative to a satisfactory settlement and a repaired building would likely have been… a major blight on the island landscape and hole in the island community. 

Detail of foam panels shows interlocking joint -
a bead of non-hardening caulk sealant will be added.
Panels are to be installed vertically, with metal clips and long screws
securing panels to hat-channel style grid.
 (Purinton photo)

Mediation success

The original TPAC contracts were written on standard American Institute of Architects (AIA) forms that included the requirement for an aggrieved party to file a claim.   If the claim for redress isn’t settled amicably between parties, the unresolved problem then moves to mediation. 

During mediation, a selected mediator moves between the dissenting parties to gain consensual approvals for a solution, a technique partly dependent upon the skill of the mediator, partly on the willingness of the parties to compromise.   Only when the mediation process fails to produce a satisfactory result does the process move to an arbitration process, whereby one or more arbitrators hear evidence and issue a decision which the parties are bound by the process to accept.

Several good things came about from the TPAC mediation process.  First, all parties and their insurance companies participated in the mediation, rather than requiring the TPAC to deal with each party separately, as would have been the case had the matter gone to arbitration.  This fact simplified the process and it reduced potential TPAC legal fees.  Secondly, the mediation proved successful, in that differences were satisfactorily resolved.  That is, the TPAC was ultimately supported through mediation in its goal to fully restore the structure, using quality repair measures, to an acceptable state of repair and purpose as a year-around facility. 

This last point was key, in that merely accepting any repair “fix” would not do.  The building had proven substandard in so many different ways that glossing over real problems by taking the cheapest or most expedient approach was unacceptable to the TPAC Board.  Fortunately, the TPAC team included an excellent forensic architectural engineer and expert legal representation.  One member of the Building Committee, who is a retired specialist in construction litigation, played a critical role at the final mediation session. 

It should also be stressed that mediation did not allow for “improving” the structure beyond the original designed concept, other than to fix the shortcomings found to be substandard in such a public building.  “Upgrades” would, therefore, not become a part of the agreement.  Walking the fine line to determine how far a solution ought to go, and yet remain essential as a repair, became one more challenge in the negotiating process. 

The TPAC representatives worked hard to demonstrate need for redress, and they were rewarded with a settlement that recognized their efforts.  In actual practice, the two mediators hired to “knock heads” rotated through separate rooms, representing the positions of the several parties.  As the legal costs rose rapidly for each party involved, the necessity of settlement became more clear.  Cost of continuation became the ultimate hammer in bringing reality to each party’s position.

TPAC Building Committee member and attorney Jay Ward also credited the several legal representatives for the parties involved, and their insurance companies, for bringing a high level of ethical professionalism to the negotiations.  He believes that also contributed to a positive process. 

In the settlement there is a “disparagement clause” that obligates TPAC Board members to not speak untruths about the other parties.  TPAC representatives Straus, Ward and Chapman are careful to honor that tenet and see no reason to do otherwise.  Each stressed that they believed in being positive, moving forward, and that disparagement of the negotiating parties – or anyone connected with the TPAC's history, for that matter - wouldn’t serve them well as individuals or serve to improve the TPAC’s future. 

State Approved Repairs  
Details surrounding the actual repairs will require more column space.   They’ll be  outlined in a companion piece that will center around “solutions.” 

What can be said here in summation is that those solutions appear to have been extremely well thought through, almost elegant in nature, some of them, and that October’s settlement date allowed sufficient time for the development of engineering, plan details, approvals, and the opportunity to begin those repairs early in 2011. 

What will it take to restore this facility to a position of prominence?  
When economics of the island community are considered, the TPAC facility plays an extremely important role in drawing people to the island, and in providing an island experience to anyone who enters its doors.  A facility that has been vacant for fifteen months has likely reduced the public’s confidence, perpetuating a reputation already bathed in rumors that were based on skimpy or erroneous information regarding its closure.

[In Part II, we’ll describe the various repairs in greater detail, attempt to correct misinformation, and indicate the intended long term results for the TPAC rebirth.]  

-  Dick Purinton

Friday, March 4, 2011

March - On The Water

Gillnet tug Faith, Lyle and Larry Voight peering out the door, in the Door
(March 3 - photo by Joel Gunnlaugsson)

Death's Door and Washington Island - 

We're at the point in winter when we wish it would just go away.  If we could only have an early break-up of ice, with rain and warmer weather to help get rid of the snow.  Well, we're in the midst of an early break-up, it seems, although its still a good month or more before we're likely to enjoy true spring weather.

I noted the ice on the Northport breakwall Tuesday, formerly a thick covering over the stones and entrance lights, had diminshed greatly.  A few cakes of dirty ice floated in the harbor, swept along the lake shore by swells and currents, bobbing among pieces of cleaner, offshore ice.  All were signs of the gradual breakup process taking place in Green Bay.

Ice enroute hasn't been much of a problem this winter for the ferry Arni J. Richter.  But Thursday, thick pieces of broken ice, nearly three feet in thickness, flowed through the Door on a northwest wind, most likely brought down from Big Bay de Noc or the upper shore of Green Bay, formed early, then undisturbed, made thick through January and February's cold.   Such heavy bay ice, except when layered in ridges under pressure of the wind, had been seen for several years in the Door.  

The spacing between these cakes was loose and generous and it was easy for the ferry to keep moving.  But the much lighter hull and shallower draft of the fish tug Faith of Gills Rock, rather than parting the cakes in her way, foundered on top of one piece.  Her rudder was partly out of the water, with not enough propulsion to overcome the buoyancy of the piece beneath the keel.  A pull on a tow line from the Arni J. Richter was enough to settle the suspended tug's hull back down, allowing the Voight brothers to regain forward movement. 

A shift of wind Thursday evening to the southeast then cleared the heaviest ice from the passage, pushing it westward, back into the bay.   A few more wind shifts over the next few weeks, with sunshine and ever warmer temperatures, and these pieces will become progressively smaller, melting or turning into slush.   

This morning at the Potato dock, located outside the entrance to Detroit Harbor, loose ice filled the channel, but it was different ice, not thick, and the Koyen's fish tug See Diver could be seen heading out to lift nets in the lake.  Ice patterns change daily, and on the whole large openings far outweigh the amount of frozen surface as the bay gradually rids itself of ice.  As average winters go, these signs mean early open water and easier navigation.

Rich Ellefson and Nathan Andersen worked aboard the dormant Robert Noble setting steel base pedestals for new, aluminum benches.  These benches are being fabricated for us by Hi-Tech in Sturgeon Bay.  The aluminum benches will replace the original wooden-slatted benches from 1979, and customers will hopefully find them more comfortable.  They will also be easier for our crew to maintain.   Part of the impetus for replacement now is our plan to take down to bare metal all paint surfaces on the upper and lower outer decks, replacing the existing layers of older oil-based paint with new, more durable, epoxy coatings.   The grinding and welding associated with installing these new bench foundations will be completed in advance of that paint work.   

-  Dick Purinton