Thursday, June 27, 2013


Worker on Badger fantail assists 
truck's driver by manipulating
rear unit with remot
e to 
guide turbine tower section.
Manitowoc to Ludington, Boyne City, Petosky and  home...

This past weekend, Island dentist Tom Wilson and I took what is becoming our annual weekend jaunt to Michigan.  We decided rather than touring the Upper Peninsula, this might be a good time to ride the mighty SS Badger across the lake.

Having written about the Badger in this blog column earlier this spring, and knowing her days could be numbered regarding its coal-fired steam engine propulsion, this would be one of those "do it now before it's too late" experiences.

We were not disappointed, in part because of the company we met along the way, and also the treatment while on board that allowed us to see normally off-limits areas of the vessel, courtesy of Captain Jeffery Curtis.

A new direction to engineer the Badger's management of coal ash by-product while underway came as a complete surprise to me when I asked Captain Curtis about the Badger's future.

With its current two-year EPA permit to continue operations using traditional coal-fired boilers, the practice of sluicing coal ash by-product overboard as the ship is underway must be remedied.  Dumping anything "foreign" into lake waters goes against most parameters (although major cities are exempted from dumping millions of gallons of sewage annually).  Ash dumping has been a major contention of Badger detractors, even though the coal ash analysis results have proven them to be largely inert and quite harmless to the environment.  Nevertheless, ship management practices, in order to continue operations into the future, will require a new and different solution acceptable to EPA discharge mandates within that 2-year time frame.  Like others, I had assumed the Badger's new direction might be toward the use of natural gas, rather than coal.  Natural gas, I had believed, would allow the continued use the existing steam plant machinery with small modifications.

Mixed traffic on the Badger's main vehicle deck ranged
from Harley Davidsons to 100-ft.+ tractor trailer unite.
This revelation came, however, when we were told by the Badger's captain that onboard containment of the coal ash was the route currently being explored.  This would mean storage of perhaps several tons of ash from a day's running time, until the vessel moored in the evening and the ash could be off-loaded to waiting trucks or tankers.  The ashes are hot when discharged from the fire box and need to be cooled, stored, and then removed by pumps or an enclosed conveyor from the ship.

We began to see the sense in doing it this way because a minimum of re-engineering would need to be done to the power plant itself.  Coast Guard approvals for such a solution are another matter, but those approvals might more easily be obtained than pursuit of new and more flammable natural gas fuel.  Natural gas has great benefits as a clean and relatively cheap fuel, but regulatory approval still seems a distance in the future.  (See attached footnote regarding natural gas future aboard U. S. domestic shipping.)

Away we go

We were excited to board the Badger, along with Ed Graf of Washington Island whom we coincidentally met in the ticket office lobby after we drove up to the Manitowoc queue.   Besides autos and motorcycles, tower sections for wind turbines that were mounted on long, extended semi trailers waited to be backed on.   These units had an extra set of independently operated steering axles to support and guide the over-sized turbine loads.

Capt. Jeffery Curtis and Ed Graf,
 with Tom Wilson, in engine room.
Of course, that is the beauty of using the Badger service as a short-cut across the lake.  Those turbine tower pieces were manufactured just a few blocks up the street, at the old Mirro Aluminum plant, and they're so big they are nearly impossible to maneuver through or around Chicago.  The Badger, however, loads them effortlessly.  We read where approximately 300 towers are being shipped to a lower Michigan wind farm via the Badger.  It makes a great deal of sense to keep such a ship operating when there is such a variety of vehicles and customer demand for midwest cross-lake shipping.  Loading those trucks took a few extra minutes, but when unloading at Ludington, drivers pulled their rigs off the vessel with ease along with other traffic.

Our ferry trip went smoothly and quickly, and half-way across, rain clouds were replaced by sunshine.   We then drove north to Boyne City to my youngest son Thor's home where we spent two evenings.  Saturday morning we attended the Bay Harbor auto and boat show.  I'm not an expert in such events, but the cars and boats displayed were magnificent, high-end examples of manufacturing and restoration.

Thor inspects Morgan trunk detail at Bay Harbor auto show.

One main reason for attending, other than the anticipated pleasure it would bring to our eyes, was the trunk Thor built through the Van Dam Woodcraft boat shop, then fitted into the rear lid by an area custom auto shop.  After Thor finished the woodworking part of this trunk, Louis Vuitton fabric was added for contrast.  We didn't stay long enough to observe the awarding of prizes, but it appeared the judges were going to have a difficult time choosing a top model when each and every entry was so beautifully maintained, restored and polished to the extreme.

Slot in center of trunk has red LED connected to brakes.
That was the essence of our weekend getaway.  Our return took us over the Mackinac bridge into the U. P.   Despite the sometimes gloomy weather pattern that had hung like a blanket at times over upper Lake Michigan, we're now energized for what the rest of our summer may bring.

Notes on Natural Gas as a commercial vessel fuel:

Almost every maritime magazine today has an article or a news item related to impending vessel conversions to natural gas as a propulsion fuel.

For years, as we understand it, Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) carriers have used the boil-off natural gas from their storage tanks to help fuel their engines as they cross the oceans.  European vessels seem to be somewhat ahead of U. S. domestic vessels in the application of natural gas as ship fuel, but one definite advantage that may help U. S. shippers over time is the increasing supply and distribution of relatively cheap, clean natural gas that is now coming on line.

The Pacific Maritime magazine recently ran a column by Louis Lemos ( June 2013):  Using LNG as Fuel.  Lemos wrote about both the positives and the limitations of LNG.  Lemos, now retired, has extensive credentials, including the British Merchant Navy and the U. S. Merchant Marine as a Chief Engineer, U. S. Navy certified Ship Superintendent, and as a Commissioned Inspector of Boilers and Pressure Vessels.

The tanks that hold the liquid gas, Lemos states, must be heavily insulated to maintain a constant temperature of minus 165 Celsius.  This is to "not only preserve the ultra-low temperature of the LNG tanks, but also to protect the ship structures from the effects of cryogenic temperatures of the LNG."  He then estimates that required ship storage space for such tanks could be as much as 250 percent greater than that required for tanks of corresponding diesel fuel capacity.

Such shipboard tanks are designed and regulated as pressure vessels, with construction rules similar to those of steam boilers and compressed air storage tanks.   Codes are being rewritten today to address such storage and safe shipboard practice by Class Societies, quasi-government bodies that help administer and regulate vessel standards, with guidelines often based on international agreements.  The Class Societies have been expending time and resources for research and technical solutions, and for cost effective methods to improve the safety and efficiency of LNG-powered main propulsion machinery, according to Lemos.

This article contains much more information on LNG applications aboard vessels, and it shows that the possibilities are within reach, but that we're not yet there.  The lack of a ready LNG solution today, along with perhaps staggering refit costs, may have convinced the Badger's management to look to a more expeditious and realistic solution.  -  Dick Purinton

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Archivist Janet Berggren (L) and volunteer Kirby Foss (R) assisted
Jonas Thor and his wife, Anna, at the Island Archives.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Jonas and Anna Thor of Reykjavik, Iceland, recently visited Washington Island for one week as our guests.  The Thors have traveled here before. Jonas led three tours of Icelanders as they traced the route of Icelandic immigration in the midwest.   On those tours, Hannes Andersen was their step-on Island guide, imparting local knowledge of settlement here.  Hannes himself had visited Iceland several times, and he maintained contact with cousins there.

I began email correspondence with Jonas Thor in the late spring of 2012, when he planned another tour of Washington Island (although that tour didn't materialize).  At one point in our exchanges, I referred to letters in Mary Jo’s possession that had been mailed to her great-grandfather, Arni Gudmundsen, between the years 1880 and 1930.   Jonas offered to translate them.  This “exchange” of old letters for translation is ongoing, and we both realized there could be more such letters on Washington Island, in attics or trunks, that would describe in fair detail the life and times of those who lived then in Iceland, as the family members corresponded  back-and-forth with one another over the years.

Icelandic immigration is a topic of longstanding interest of Jonas Thor’s.   He taught for ten years at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, wrote several books about Icelanders as they settled across North America, and more recently, through his historian's background he helps set up tours, both for tourists in Iceland, and for Icelanders who visit North America or Europe.

The tour company with which he is associated is Icelandic Farm Holidays, a cooperative of rural farm owners who provide lodging and meals for their guests.  These farms - like our B & Bs - are found at various locations rimming the coastline of Iceland.  There, tourism has been on the rise, with many visitors from European nations, but also from Japan and China.  Tours for Icelanders who travel abroad are with historical connections in mind, but they may also be simply traveler holidays.

Thor is eager to learn more about Washington Island’s Icelandic settlers:  family names; family stories; the location of individual family home sites; and even the whereabouts of individual Icelandic settler burial plots.  These sorts of things, he says, are of great interest to Icelanders, knowing where family members dispersed to and their history upon arrival in the new continent.  From our talks, it appears 
that Jonas already knows more than many of us do about our Island's early history.

Arni Gudmundsen (immigrated from
Iceland in 1873), wife Haldora,
 daughters Gudney Anna, Johanna Andrea,
Margaret Sigridur (mother of
Arni Richter.) Year unknown. 
It comes as no surprise, then, that in addition to speaking on this same topic at the Archives program Sunday afternoon, June 9th, Thor also spent a great deal of time at the Island Archives.  For a start, Archivist Janet Berggren provided Thor with an Index of Washington Island Icelandic immigrant family names. 

The Washington Island Archives intends to assist him in his research by encouraging Islanders to bring in Icelandic settler family photos, and letters sent to them by Icelandic relatives that need to be translated.  Because this topic is a big one, Thor has narrowed his interest for correspondence and photos to ones that date roughly 1870 - 1914, an era when over 16,000 Icelanders (equivalent to about 20% of the population) left Iceland for North America.  

Archives staff will scan old letters and family photos (with the owner retaining the originals), and then forward them by email to Jonas Thor.  In this way, both Icelandic files and the Island Archives will have copies. 

If this process can be streamlined and continued, Jonas Thor’s dream may be realized:  to eventually organize such available information on a website, so that interested people everywhere can benefit from those connections.

(Note:   I have a number of booklets that describe the various tour offerings of the Icelandic Farm Holidays company.  Ask me for one when you see me, if you’d like a copy. Otherwise, on the web go to:  )

-  Dick Purinton

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Muskrat heading home from grocery store.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

With water levels up a bit, wildlife seem to have responded in a positive manner.   Bass have made nests in the warm shallows, and from the Bayou pier we can see half a dozen or more fish of size guarding eggs among the fanned, white stones.  On one of my trips to watch what was going on there, I found a muskrat on the pier munching green grass shoots.  Finally, it left the pier for home with grass bunched in its mouth.  We're not certain how many of these muskrats there are, but with high water they've got more territory to build homes, find food and raise young.

Aidan and Magnus have been with us on several occasions, too, watching for turtles and birds. Canada geese, despite the nearly continual presence of aggressive mute swans, have successfully raised young in the area marsh grasses.  We counted 20 goslings in a flotilla this morning, accompanied and guarded by their parents.

One sight that's fascinating, but still a bit hard to watch, is the hunting and eating of snakes by the great blue heron.  Last week Mary Jo observed a heron as it caught, then managed to down a large, fat water snake.  Part of the process in subduing the snake enough to get its head down its gullet first requires gumming it near the head repeatedly, then dropping it back into the water momentarily to get a new grip with its long beak.  Eventually, head-first, the snake disappears down the bird's esophagus as the heron tilts its head backward.  To aid in swallowing, it may take a sip of water, much as we would after eating a dry cracker.

Well, this noon we watched that process once more with a slightly smaller snake as the heron's lunch.  It was close enough for me to capture with a small telephoto, including the bulge in its neck as the still writhing snake went down the chute.  Some powerful stomach acids must then do the rest of the work, we assume.  Not more than a minute after eating one two-footer, the heron slowly walked forward and caught another snake, this one a bit smaller, and if we missed any technique the first time around, it was on display even more plainly with the second snake.

For one who doesn't much care for snakes, or at least so many in an area where we often go wading - even though they are harmless - this heron and its brethren are seen by my wife as heroes in keeping a balance, maybe even tipping it toward the heron a bit.  I can't say I enjoy those brown water snakes, either.  On the pier at Rock Island last week, four or five good-sized snakes were wrapped together on the top of the pier, mating or enjoying the warm concrete...or whatever it is snakes do in community.

Here, then, are some of the great blue heron photos taken today.   -  Dick Purinton