Friday, November 30, 2012


Bench on Gills Rock ferry dock.   (Purinton photo)
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Weather this time of year swings between snow and freezing cold, bright sunshine and clouds, wind and calm.   Of course, the general trend is cooler, both by day and night.   One week ago, Friday Nov. 23, heavy water, solid at times, flew over the pier and nearby buildings in gale force winds.   Ice formations were left behind as the temperature dropped and winds diminished.  (Before that, everything within 75 feet of the sheet piling was awash.)

This is also the time of year when many birds have begun their southward migration.   We're not exactly sure why this peregrine falcon chose to rest near the ferry terminal on Washington Island.  Sightings are not uncommon to Wisconsin, but on the other hand, the presence of such a bird was an event.  The photo below was taken by Margaret Young with a telephoto lens during the noon hour, Monday the 26th, after the bird was first spotted sitting high in the cottonwood tree south of the ferry terminal by Bill Jorgenson.  (I also took photos, but I didn't have the lens power of Margaret's camera.)

Peregrine falcon. (Margaret Young photo)
An avid birder, Margaret said this was her first peregrine falcon sighting on Washington Island.  She also sent along a shot of two eagles perched in a tree in the Bayou area, with one displaying a more complete set of white tail feathers than the other. (I saw these same two birds circle overhead earlier today as I looked out my home window.)

The annual December Washington Island bird count will take place Friday, December 14th, at which time sightings of all birds will be recorded by birders who actively spend their day spotting and counting various birds.  Counts are made in the outdoors as well as from kitchen windows overlooking hedges and feeders, and they will include several days prior to and after this calendar date, as I understand it.  Contact Sandy Peterson if you'd like to participate and contribute your sightings.

Bald eagles in Detroit Harbor. (Margaret Young photo)
More on Low Water 

Water levels were perhaps more serious than I had first believed, as I had expressed in my blog of Monday, November 26th.

I was reminded that our lake level as of Monday was measured at -21" from the Low Water Datum benchmark.   This would mean that, given the -14 ft. LWD charted depth in the Detroit Harbor channel, our operating depth on Monday would have been 12'3".    Since our winter ferry draws slightly over 11 ft. loaded, and more "squat" when power is added, this means roughly one foot of water to play with under keel, hardly enough to feel comfortable when operating the Arni J. Richter in the channel.  The Army Corps predicts perhaps another 5 inches of loss could be measured before we get into mid-January.

It is for that reason the work has been done at the Potato Dock in preparation for its use.  Our crews loaded a heavy semi truck driven by Paul Novak over the bow of the Eyrarbakki on the 27th (Tuesday).   This was a trial run to see if there was sufficient room to swing the truck in line for loading, and also to determine if the height of ramp would prove workable.  This exercise went well.  However, it needs to be said that the stern of the Eyrarbakki was but a few feet from a shoal area.  In order to safely perform this maneuver with the longer hull of the Arni J. Richter once ice is in the vicinity, an area dredged to maneuvering depth (at least -15 ft.), outward 100 feet or more from the pier face will be needed.  

That is why, until dredging is accomplished, we are anticipating the Arni J. will have to load from the side ramp only.   Remember, this is the scenario only when there is ice and the Arni J. Richter is the ferry that must be used.   Warm weather in December and early January could extend the period of operation for both the Eyrarbakki and Washington, allowing more time for this area to be dredged.

In the photo below, Rich Ellefson, Jim Hanson and Con McDonald complete grading after burying an electrical conduit in the dock.  When connected, this line will bring electrical power to the hydraulic lift mechanism at the adjustable ramp, as well as power for lighting and other uses.  The pier in general and the approaches to this ramp were graded and graveled during the past four days, creating a smoother surface for autos.

There is no getting around the fact this pier will be used during the coming winter. The question becomes, how soon will that shift take place, and when the move is made from the normal ferry landings near the terminal building, what loading options will be available?

-  Dick Purinton

Monday, November 26, 2012


EYRARBAKKI headed toward Northport Friday afternoon, Nov. 23rd,
with lake freighter on the horizon.
Jim Rose photo.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

We received our first snowfall of the season Saturday night, a couple of inches.  It was the first measurable snowfall since early last March, according to the Channel 5 meteorologist.   A cold air mass followed on the low pressure cell that produced strong westerly winds Friday and Saturday.

Friday's trips became more difficult as seas in the Door approached 8-10 feet, short and steep.  The day's last round trip was cancelled as a result.  Shown above is a photo taken by ticket seller Jim Rose from the Northport dock, around 3 pm.   This is what Jim wrote:

     The gales of November are not just part of the lyrics to a song, but were a real occurrence on Friday, November 23rd.  The Washington Island Ferry Line provided service all day, but was forced to cancel just the last trip of the day.  Winds at Northport were recorded as high as 32 knots, with 44 knot gusts, on that day.  In terms of miles per hour, that is about 35 and 50 mph.  Info from the Northport NOAA weather station may be accessed on line at:
Photos show the spray over the breakwall, and the Eyrarbakki heading toward Northport, with Pilot Island in the background, and a lake freighter off in the distance. 

The high winds depleted water from the shallows of Detroit Harbor once again, with a measurement Saturday morning indicating we reached a new low, even if it is temporary record.   Water levels in Detroit Harbor are now at their lowest point, with several weeks before the time in early January when the annual low is often recorded.

This puts the channel depth now at something like 13 feet, or only two feet of water beneath the Arni J. Richter's keel in a loaded condition.  This is one reason the Arni J. Richter won't be used until ice enroute makes it our only choice.   This morning our crew made a dry run using the side ramp of the AJR at the Potato Dock to determine if levels will work for autos and short trucks.  A shoal area about 50 feet north of and parallel to the pier must be dredged before we dare place the ferry bow-in to shore. (And the stern ramp is already too low for loading.)  Dredging arrangements are being made, and the WDNR expedited our permit application for this project.   We hope to have our marine contractor here within a few weeks to begin work.

Crew members made adjustments to the Potato Dock pier following
a trial run using the side ramp.   In foreground Rich Ellefson
smooths gravel.  At midships, Jim Hanson cuts a piece of steel.
Near the stern, Ken Berggren and Con McDonald adjust the
height of a tire.  (Purinton photo)
 As long as its feasible we'll use the Eyrarbakki, which draws less water.  But this ferry can't tolerate ice navigation.   It could well be that side loading, the only way to load the former winter ferry, C. G. Richter, will once again become a regular winter feature.  Both numbers and size of vehicles that can be carried would be affected.

Among the impacts to be realized by shifting to the Potato Dock and the use of side loading:  Trucks over 30 feet in length could not be carried due to their length.   There would be no possibility, with side loading, to load or unload a vehicle such as long as a semi.

In preparation for the very real prospect that ferry operations could well shift to the Potato Dock for part, or most, of this coming winter, operating guidelines are being developed to meet passenger, vehicle and freight logistics from that location.

In the final photos (also by Jim Rose) heavy and oversize equipment is featured.  We transported the Gersek Construction gravel crushing equipment from the island days prior to the opening weekend of hunting (approximately Nov. 15-16).  The crusher represents one of the heaviest, most concentrated loads we carry, at approximately 100,000 lbs.  

Crusher/screening plant backing from the AJR foredeck.  (Jim Rose photo)
The only way this unit could be loaded was to drive the tractor beneath the Arni J. Richter's wheelhouse, entering over the bow, where the greatest freeboard, or height above water, is found.  At Northport, the rig was then backed from the foredeck to the dock.  This ramp that was installed a few years ago at the end of the Northport pier has a lower height and an incline more gradual than any of the others.   A long conveyor was also ferried to Northport on the Eyrarbakki deck.

These loads represented two extremes of concentrated weight and dimension.   Their transport was at the limits of what is currently possible, given water levels.

Elevator takes up deck space, and then some.
(Jim Rose photo)

-  Dick Purinton

Friday, November 16, 2012


Paula's view across Porte des Morts Tuesday evening.
Washington Island and Northport -

Paula Hedeen, a Northport neighbor who lives a short distance to the west of that mainland ferry dock, has a vigilant eye, an excellent camera and lens, and stays up late enough in the evening to observe and capture northern lights.   With the expanse of water and Washington Island lights in the background, Plum Island's red rear range light, and the distant glow of Escanaba's lights some 30 miles in the distance, its a scene very few have a chance to observe.

In the progression of photos an isolated white light begins west of Washington Island, getting slightly larger over time.    It turned out to be an ore carrier on a southerly course from Escanaba, and without time to set her camera back on the tripod Paula was able to photograph the ship and the northern lights.  Very nicely done!

She's been generous enough to share a few of her photos in this blog.

Although it's closed for the season now, several of her northern lights enlargements taken a year ago were displayed on the wall behind the customer counter.   Paula's work is not exhibited in a gallery, but if anyone wishes to obtain one of her northern lights prints or cards,  I would be happy to relay your wishes to her.

-  Dick Purinton

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Karfi hauled hikers, day visitors, overnight
campers and their gear to Rock Island State Park
each summer since 1967.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -


Washington Island Ferry Line, Inc. president Hoyt Purinton announced the purchase of the Karfi from Jeff Cornell of Washington Island in the late afternoon, Wednesday, November 14, 2012.

The Karfi is a 36-foot steel vessel built in Escanaba in 1967 to ferry campers, hikers and day visitors between Jackson Harbor, Washington Island, and Rock Island State Park.  During each of the past 46 summers the Karfi was operated by members of the Cornell family.
The Karfi was originally constructed for Jim Cornell, a former Washington Island commercial fisherman.  At age 67, in 1981, Jim sold the Karfi operation to his son, Jack, who then operated it for the next 20 years.  In 2002, Jack sold the vessel to his son, Jeff Cornell.   Jeff had crewed for both his grandfather Jim and his father as a youngster, starting at age 12. 

Jeff operated Washington Island Ferry Line vessels as a captain from 1989 through 1999.  He then operated the WDNR fisheries research vessel Barney Devine for several years prior to purchasing the Karfi.  He will rejoin Washington Island Ferry Line in the spring of 2013 as ferry captain on the Northport ferry route.

Cornell said that although he enjoys piloting the Karfi’s daily trips to Rock Island, he’s also looking forward to a greater variety of routes and challenges.  As one of several Ferry Line captains, he’ll be able to schedule a summer’s day off now and then, too, something he couldn’t easily do as the sole owner-operator once the Karfi's season schedule began.   However, Cornell may still pilot the Karfi at least part of the time for the Ferry Line. 

School group of campers about to disembark at
Jackson Harbor's State Park dock.

Are changes anticipated for the Rock Island State Park route now that the Karfi is no longer a Cornell family operation?

“Limited changes, if any,”  Ferry Line's president Hoyt Purinton said.

“Despite its number of seasons, the Karfi has been well maintained and is in immaculate condition.  We intend to operate the Karfi to Rock Island with the same standards for public safety and spotless vessel condition as did the Cornells, with a schedule similar to that of past years.   One new consideration may be to offer a combination ticket for both the Washington Island and Rock Island ferries, a convenient, single transaction that would also be a savings for the customer.

“The Ferry Line is looking forward to serving Rock Island State Park visitors,” Purinton said.  “Many people return every summer to hike, camp, or visit the Thordarson boathouse or the Pottawatomie Lighthouse.   As an island park, it’s one of our state’s most unique parks.  We believe there are many people who, for various reasons, have never visited Rock Island, and we’d like to reach those people and encourage them to visit.  

“At the same time, we’re also pleased to welcome back Jeff Cornell as a Ferry Line captain.  He’s familiar with our operations, and he'll fit in well.  Starting in early spring of 2013, Jeff will pilot Washington Island ferries in summer as well as winter.”                

-  Dick Purinton

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Although this photo was taken on a Washington Island Memorial Day, a
parade of pipers, Legionnaires and members of the public led
by a color guard, tomorrow's tribute is similar, but to honor all veterans.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

For the past several weeks I've been collecting photos of Island veterans.  Some of those photos had been in the upstairs of the Legion Hall for years, but most were recently dug from photo albums or taken down from wall frames for image scanning.

Chuck and Jewell Lee Grandy have collaborated with me on this project.  They've contacted many veterans or their families, and they've also sifted through the Island Archives, searching for photos of men and women in uniform.  I think we now have well over 100 individuals represented.

As it happens, many photos were lost or misplaced and can't be found, or there were none taken of an individual to begin with.  If possible, we want photos showing the veteran in their military uniform, posed in dress uniform, or in their work uniform, or both.  They provide an interesting contrast, the young soldier or sailor compared to the image of someone we're currently familiar with now, who may be in their 60s, 70s or 80s.

Despite our best efforts (and an admittedly late start without public announcement), this Power Point project-in-the-works, despite being incomplete, will be shown on screen during this year's Veterans Day program:   Monday morning, 10:30 a.m., at the Trueblood Performing Arts Center.  Because the photos to be seen will represent only a fraction of the many veterans with a Washington Island connection, this project will continue.

As more photos come in - either emailed in digital format or as physical photos that we can scan - we'll add to this file.  Eventually, this file of photos, accompanied by names, branch of service and perhaps key enlistment dates, will be donated to the Island Archives.  Family members and researchers in future generations might find those photos to be a useful connection with their island past.

John Gay, who is a veteran and an Island summer resident, has conducted numerous interviews with island veterans during these past several years. John volunteered to participate in a Library of Congress project designed to capture the stories of as many veterans as possible.   John records his interview with each veteran using a prescribed template of questions, and then the audio record is transcribed by others.  As you can imagine, each interview takes time, including scheduling an appointment with a willing veteran.  Later, there is a follow-up to review the transcribed interview for accuracy.  These photo images recently obtained in our project will add to John's efforts, because for many veterans', especially those persons no longer living, photos might well be the only information available about their military service.  (One completed binder will go to the Library of Congress, and a second binder will go to the Island Archives.)

During the course of this photo project, I had the chance to visit with a number of veterans, and in one meeting in the Ferry Office a week ago I was introduced to Mike Kumnick of Colorado.  Mike is a Viet Nam veteran whose parents, Fred and Lou Kumnick retired to Washington Island in the 1980s.  Fred was an active American Legion member and for a time served as Post Commander.  Although Mike and I might have met briefly, years ago, it was through this blog that Mike kept in touch with the Island.

Published here is a photo of Mike's father, Fred Kumnick, U. S. Army, WWII.

In order to make our file more complete, please consider allowing Chuck Grandy, or myself at the Ferry Line office, to scan your military photo, or one of an Island veteran in your family.  The scanning process takes about five minutes, and you keep the original.

-  Dick Purinton

Note:  About one week ago I had difficulty with my password to access this blog site, and with no clue to overcome this, I waited for help.  Coincidentally, in an unrelated error of movement my irresponsible forefinger, I eliminated my entire photo file in one "Poof."    My hope for help rested in Chris Haertig, who with his expecting wife Megan, had left for Sturgeon Bay in anticipation of their second child.  They have since become parents to Gideon Joseph.  When Chris returned, he restored my photos from the trash and fixed my password problem, which put me happily back in business.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Island CTA representatives off on a lark last Wednesday:   Jim Rose,
Christy Davidson, Bill Nauta,  Dick Purinton, Mary Andersen,
(in front) Carol Stayton and Ann Rose.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The sun was trying hard to shine Wednesday morning when the above photo was taken in front of the Visitor Center.  By noon clouds had filled in and rain began to fall.  We've seen lots of clouds and rain recently, with much cooler temperatures.   Still, we're happy to receive the moisture, and it comes without hurricane-force winds experienced in the northeast.

The purpose of Wednesday's adventures was to familiarize ourselves with businesses and attractions in Door County, to be better Tourism Ambassadors by absorbing "ongoing education." This also leads into the annual CTA re-certification.  The CTA moniker means "Certified Tourism Ambassador." When a visitor center at Norhtport was developed two years, the Ferry Line and the Island Chamber of Commerce decided training might be a good thing, through instilling a consistent and professional manner in which we can apply our knowledge of Door County when serving visitors.  Members of the group shown above work in the Northport Visitor Center, but two are also Ferry Line ticket sales people.   Each of them makes thousands of contacts with visitors in a few months' time.  (There were also several others who were unable to make the trip with us.)

The Tourism Ambassador program, a national program, was brought to Door County by the Door County Visitor Bureau.   Short, four-hour classes are designed to give workers in the local tourism industry a framework for behavior and attitude when serving customers.  An important benefit, in my opinion, comes from the added emphasis on being well-versed, not only in Washington Island information, but for other parts of Door County.   And if the many other Door County CTAs are equally well-rounded, they will be knowledgeable in northern Door and Washington Island information, too.   This concept recognizes the need to be supportive of the Door County Tourism as a whole, large and small businesses and attractions.

Bob Purman gave a short course in the production of
hard cider at his Ellison Bay facility.
Our first stop Wednesday was at Bob and Yannique Purman's ISLAND ORCHARD brand hard cider production plant and tasting room.  Apple varieties known to be superior for making hard cider are grown on Washington Island, then crushed by the Seaquist Orchard press.   Juice is then made into hard cider, currently four different cider products, with at least a six-month fermentation period.  All but a few cases of this year's harvest were left at the plant, but more juice was expected the following day, along with a shipment of yeast.  Hard cider is a labor of love for the Purman's.  While their product has met with solid success thus far in a limited market, their initial investments in land, orchard, equipment, buildings, machinery and in the labor to produce the hard cider product has yet to be offset by revenues.   Their product is an excellent one, our taste testing told us, and it highlights Door County and Washington Island.  Besides it provides additional income for local labor (including Dan Nerenhausen's crew who tends the orchard, helps pick apples, etc.)

Stop #2 was Evergreen School, and we were hosted by its imaginative and creative owner, Karin Overbeck. The visual experience is so unexpected for the first-time visitor that it is impossible to properly describe it here in one, short paragraph.

Our group posed with Karin Overbeck (red vest)in one of her many garden areas on the Evergreen School grounds, 
on County TT east of Sturgeon Bay. 
Karin's combination of artwork and plantings is more than
can be aptly described here in a paragraph.

Our third major stop was the Door County Historical Museum, a gem of a museum right under our nose, so-to-speak.

How many times have we driven past the limestone building on the corner of 4th and Michigan in Sturgeon Bay without noticing it, on our way to the post office, Younkers or the bank?

Its a terrific place to spend an hour or two (closed now for the season except for one special Christmas date in December) with no entry fees.  This facility and is funded by the taxpayers of Door County and through donations, so we ought to take advantage of it more often.  My last Door county Museum visit, I admit, was in 1979 when I borrowed the wooden ship's wheel from the original steam ferry Robert Noble.  That was when Otis Trodahl was museum curator and before a major museum remodeling took place!  They are ready for another expansion today, Maggie Weir and Ann Jinkins, informed us, with more visitors and a few large donors being the major roadblocks.

-  Dick Purinton