Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

A meeting between Coast Guard and harbor users took place during the early afternoon today.

Current buoy types and locations,  limitations on buoy placement due to depth and available equipment, changes to the buoy numbering system, possible change to the entrance light lens color, and one new and different buoy location were among the items freely discussed.

One new idea proposed by the Coast Guard was renumbering in order to conform with typical, progressively numbered designations (right now several buoys have the designation "Alpha" as part of their description, usually meant as a temporary marker).  A significant proposed change would remove buoy 2A from its present location opposite the tripod, with a new nun located further south, near the start of the deep channel.  That relocation would permit the Mobile Bay and its buoy barge to install and maintain a larger sinker and a year-around, ice class buoy.   If this idea proves doable, it might lead to further refinement with a lighted buoy next season.  This new buoy would then be numbered "2," and the buoy designations of the others would be changed accordingly, ascending into the harbor in numerical order, the tripod becoming #3.

A question was posed about changing the color of the tripod light to green from present white, and this brought comments both for and against.  

But, while general consensus on many of the issues may have been reached at the table, for the present the ideas discussed remain only ideas until broader input is obtained, including a response from the command of the cutter Mobile Bay.

Slight position adjustments for the foam buoys beyond the ferry dock received input from the Shipyard's Lou Munao, whose experience reflected what seems most intuitive and useful for recreational boaters.

All ideas advanced today, of course, will be published in Notice to Mariners when they are officially adopted, and presumably they will also be open to public comment.  Meanwhile, the Detroit Harbor waterway survey is still ongoing, and anyone (but especially users of the waterway) can comment on these matters.  My personal impressions were that the Coast Guard representatives we met with today were not only completely open to suggestion, but they also proposed several excellent ideas that had not previously been posed.  Quite informal, this meeting was characterized as one of mutual respect, with interest in making the harbor safe and accessible for users.

 Representing the U. S. Coast Guard were:  two representatives, Two Rivers Aids to Navigation (responsible for foam buoys);  BM1 Ryan Beddes, Sturgeon Bay Coast Guard Station and Supervisor, Station Washington Island;  Doug Sharp, Marine Information Specialist, Aids to Navigation (Ninth District, Cleveland); and Chief Warrant Officer Jon Grob, ATON Officer (Sector Lake Michigan, Waterways Management).

Local input came from five licensed Washington Island Ferry Line operators, and from three representatives of the Shipyard Island Marina whose customers have experienced difficulty negotiating the buoy system while enroute to the marina location.

- Dick Purinton

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Friday, October 19th.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

It's been a rainy, gray week on the island, with temperatures consistently in the 40s, or low 50s at best.  But we're about to turn a corner, it appears, with sunshine and warmer days ahead.  Mixed with more rain, which in the scheme of things isn't all bad.  There are but two days, today and tomorrow, left with Cherry Train tours for this season.  Terri Moore has done her best to keep her passengers interested and warm, despite the dampness, and it goes to show what business might have been if skies had been sunny.  Our beautiful fall colors melted with the rain sometime in the past days, and now half of that color lies on the ground after pummeling winds. 

One qualification to the last blog:  I showed two photos of Kap's Marina's north section, which is currently very shallow.  What I failed to explain is that the entire south portion of the marina, toward the U. S. Coast Guard station, has adequate depth throughout, including the entrance, for all types of craft.  Thanks to extensive dredging last winter in preparation for the new Coast Guard vessel, including approaches to the fuel supply, no boater will have a problem in that part of the marina.  

Island Outpost receives commendation:   Our Wisconsin Assemblyman, Rep. Garey Bies, was on the island Friday morning to visit and also to present an Assembly proclamation to Jim and Debbe Anderson of the Island Outpost, in recognition for their successful 40 years in business.   A brief history of the Island Outpost appeared in the Island Observer in late summer, which recounted the use of the property by several owners for fishing, and freighting, before a shop was first opened in one portion of an old net shed by Cal Davidson.   One year later, with military service recently behind him, Jim opened up the Island Outpost, and it has been a landmark of Lobdell Point ever since.
  Rep. Bies, a U. S. Navy veteran, will be guest speaker for the annual Veteran's Day Program at the TPAC, Monday November 12th at 10:30 a.m.

From left:  Rep. Garey Bies, Jim and Debbe Anderson

What the heck? and other, similar, thoughts have run through the minds of people I've encountered since my nose surgery at the dermatologist's Thursday.   The Moh's procedure was performed, in which a thin slice of tissue is removed, then examined in the lab to determine if cells are cancerous.  After the second round, I asked the doc, "How big is it?" and he replied, "Smaller than a dime."  After the fourth, and final round, I asked again, "How's it looking?" and he said, with humor (I think), "It looks like someone stood on your nose and took a swing with a golf club."  Well, given the divot removed, it took a skin graft to fill, and with that, additional bandaging to secure the whole shebang in place, which I now wear for one week before removal.  Encounters since then have produced many humorous and expected remarks, like:  "Halloween's just around the corner", and "I'd like to see what the other guy looked like."  Personally, I think back to the Polanski movie, Chinatown, in which investigator Jack Nicholson gets his nostril sliced by a sharp knife from a tough guy, then wakes up in bed later and the camera angle shows the stitches up close, pointing toward the ceiling.   It was a classic, and I hope this nose will also return to classic form in a few week's time.

In the meantime, I had the pleasure one day later to parade my new, ridiculous face in front of a kind and attentive audience at the Clearing.  I had been invited by Norb Blei to speak for a bit on Rock Island and my current writing/history project on Thordarson.   Norbert's class had spent the previous week on various authors and sources that represented Rural Writing, and that was the point of my appearance.  (Julian Hagen visited the previous afternoon and spoke about his local, island inspiration for song lyrics.)  Anyhow, it was a pleasure to have been asked, and after the initial introduction, all eyes were on my nose - or so I thought.   Actually, it went very well, and afterward at least three people mentioned they had undergone similar treatment in the recent past, and all had emerged on the other end in good health and restored appearance.  My appreciation once again, for Norb Blei to think of me, and to extend that opportunity which caused me to organize my viewpoint on where I stand with the Thordarson project (maybe 2/3 of the way, at this point.) - Dick Purinton

Better days ahead!

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Scene at Kap's Marina Friday, Oct. 12.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

The Army Corps of Engineers report from the internet (which they update weekly due to general interest) shows that we are "zero" difference from the all-time recorded low water of 1964.   In other words, we're at the bottom of the recorded lake level curve, a statistic that took almost another fifty years to reach once again.

I stated in yesterday's blog that we had dropped approximately 8 inches in the several weeks I was away, and I believe that to be true, although it was based on casual observation rather than accurate readings from known benchmarks.   According to Hoyt, who used a line painted on sheet piling, the loss since September 1 has been 16 inches.   During northerly winds, which we have had of late, the levels drop more noticeably, what might be referred to as a "basin effect," where pressure of wind forces water from bays and shallows in the direction of the wind's flow (lower Michigan).

This fluctuation is serious for us, but it is all relative, of course.   If we lived where there were daily tidal movements of several feet, we would be equipped to deal with such phenomena, or would locate essential water services where there was less chance of being adversely influenced by the tides.  (Floating stages for loading are common on rivers and coasts, especially for boarding passengers;  more elaborate, longer sections of ramps are used for boarding vehicles.)

At the dinner table on our trip we visited with a man from a large inland lake in Texas, an area hit hard by drought of the last year, where cattle have been shipped to northern feedlots due to lack of hay, and where his lakefront has seen an 80-foot drop.   He laughed when we said we had experienced a drop of several feet in recent years, and that the historic fluctuation between high and low was in the range of six feet of lake level.

Hard to get sympathy and understanding with those figures, and we didn't even try.

Access to the marina's slips and launching ramp may be for
canoes only, given reduced depths.
But the real difference, I think, is that he could still exit his front door, on the highway side of his house, and drive to work with no real impact from his dried up lake frontage.   Here, that's not an option.

And, there is the matter of our getting used to a routine, one that was based on stable lake levels, where use of harbors and other natural shoreline features led to the development of both shoreline and upland properties.  There is no law that says today's level couldn't be the new normal lake level, but we happen to have faith that precipitation will sooner or later cause a net gain in lake storage over the next few years as has happened in the past.

The immediate future, though, will cause us to examine how we operate ferries, and what contingencies we will adopt during the interim.

-  Dick Purinton

Saturday, October 13, 2012


This was taken during a "lull" in the morning's rain.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

What can you do on a day that is only 40 degrees, raining, with a windspeed approaching 25mph from the south?

Find an activity indoors, enjoy the warmth of a wood fire, and wait for the water levels to stabilize are my personal recommendations.   Yesterday was a day of brilliant, blue sky which made the autumn leaves standout.  The island is about 50-75% in full color, with only a small percentage of leaves on the ground.  This may change after today's wind and rain, but the colors are later, and the leaves on the trees longer, than most years.

The water level continued to drop during the time I was away for two weeks.   During that time, the lake level dropped another 8 inches or so.    We're contemplating modifications not only for the approaching winter, but also for the coming year, that will enable us to load vehicles - especially low or heavy trucks - with the low water extremes.  Dredging in certain areas will also be a part of that plan, which will require a state permit and lead-time to get into motion, not to mention planning for project costs.

The ferry Robert Noble which has the lowest deck height in relation to the water, is now sidelined and is likely moored for the remainder of the season.    Additional concerns are with the ferry Arni J. Richter with its draft requirements (nearly two feet greater than that of the other ferries when loaded).   Rich Ellefson and Con McDonald began preparations at the Potato Dock, just in case, lowering tires used as fenders, improving to the dock surface, and welding braces.   There is also a need for dredging to ensure maneuvering in the dock area.   Continued drops in water levels could make the Potato Dock an option, and yet a lack of good all-around facilities at the Potato Dock would mean that small trucks and autos could be off-loaded, but that long semi-trucks might not be accommodated, should it be the only landing available.  

Channel depth will also be a concern in the late months of the year, when breaking seas can cause the ferries to dip in a trough when entering port.  This could easily mean the difference between running or not, in order to avoid the possibility of touching bottom in a surfing condition.  Prudent judgement in daily operation will need to be exercised to prevent occurrence of such an incident.

A good news item is that the steel ice hull buoys #2 and #6 were reset in the harbor by the Muskegon Coast Guard crew.  They came, reset, and headed back across the lake while the weather was good.  An October 23rd "pow-wow" on the island with Coast Guard representatives regarding Detroit Harbor aids to navigation has been scheduled, we have been told.

Outstanding maple on the post office corner, taken Friday Oct. 12.

Friday, October 12, was bright and beautiful (though still in the 40s for temperatures).  The Selvick towing company towed a McMullen & Pitz work barge to the U. S Coast Guard facility here to begin work Monday on a new pier for the Coast Guard's recently acquired 45-foot patrol vessel.   Of course, the local station is now closed for the season, but this dock work, contracted to the Manitowoc marine construction company, is intended to be ready for the coming season.

The Selvick tug towed the work barge as close as depth allowed,
then headed back to Sturgeon Bay.  A small boat then
pushed the barge into position.
Today, while hundreds of visitors mill about in Sister Bay during their annual Fall Festival looking for places to get out of the wind and rain and keep warm, we're seeing a small fraction of the traffic we'd typically serve who are bringing their autos to the island.   Today's forecast was for 100% chance of rain (and they were right), and for tomorrow it will be a 90% chance of rain.   Coupled with the rainy business bust of last weekend when it also rained, October's tourism numbers will be well off  the anticipated tally.

The good news is that it is raining hard, and if this trend should continue we may have some of our lake water back.

-  Dick Purinton