Sunday, March 23, 2014


An address change:  Since her previous address given earlier, Helene moved to a new facility.  Cards and letters are welcomed, but please, still no phone calls or visits are requested:
Helene Meyer
Rennes Health & Rehab Center
325 East Florida Ave.
Appleton, WI   54911

Notes from April 3, 2014 -  Helene is rapidly improving, and your cards are welcomed!  Send to:
Helene Meyer,  Theda Clark Medical Center
130 Second St., Neenah, WI    54957-2021
*   *   *
Notes - from March 25th:    We're pleased to report that Helene was moved from Theda Clark's ICU, in part because she's doing better, but also because she's being prepared for more surgery next week.  Her breathing tube removed, she then asked the Andersons to request Carol Amadio to call her!  
     Carol, in addition to being her friend, is one of four interim pastors presently sharing duties at Trinity Lutheran Church.   It was in her 'official capacity' that Carol was able to slip her call through the hospital's phone tree and speak with Helene, who, she said, was alert, joked and laughed (medications, perhaps?!).  But in all respects, considering the extent of her injuries, she was very much tuned-in to activities back home, Carol said, including a study class she had planned to join.  Last week, Helene underwent an operation for broken fibulas in both legs.  Her right arm is broken, which will cramp her writing when she gets the urge, and she has a fractured pelvis and a vertebrae.  Her fractured ankle was too swollen to operate on last week.  So, despite tremendous skeletal damage, Helene, bright-eyed lady, is alive, alert, and already she's thinking ahead to coming home.  -  Well-wishers are still requested to withhold communications for now.  Cards may be sent to Helene's island address:  1475 Aznoe Road, Washington Island WI  54246

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Several weekends ago I photographed quilters at Sievers School as they participated in Washington Island's Quilts of Valor Foundation project.  Helene Meyer was one of those quilters.

Just a few days ago news was received that Helene was in a serious auto accident.  She was hospitalized at Theda Clark, and she's now in ICU with serious injuries.  Her legs were broken, and she has severe bruising, and the immediate prognosis is that she will remain hospitalized for some time.  Her single-car accident was said to be "catastrophic" by those who arrived on the accident scene.

How quickly events can change lives.

Since I learned of Helene's accident, the above photo image has been on my mind, even though it was one of perhaps dozens I took over the three-day quilting exercise.  There is something about the sparkle and the pleasant look in her eyes.

Helene's been involved in a variety of Island activities.  Most recently, following the death of her husband, Gene, she helped start an Island lavender business.  As a locally grown product, she saw lavender as one way to contribute to the local economy, as did her friends and business partners, Edgar and Martine Anderson.

The commitment of time and investment of dollars required to establish a new, agricultural-based business might be considered puzzling, given this venture wasn't something Helene had to pursue.  But her passion for the lavender products clearly showed, as did her desire for a closer association with residents and visitors, participating in the community in which she chooses to live.

I came to know Helene better through last year's Island Literary Festival, an event born of her ideas.  The organization and subsequent success of this festival was due largely to Helen's inspiration, and it was fueled by her leadership.  She delegated details and trusted others in the committee decision making.    At the Festival opening, when participants registered and gathered for the first evening at the Red Cup, it was as if participants already knew one another and were gathering after only a short absence.  The mood and atmosphere that Helene helped to establish permeated each of the next two days.

In these many ways, Helene has given of her energy and gifts.  Her struggle now is to live, and to heal.  In this, our prayers and encouraging thoughts will be helpful.

(Please note:  Well wishers have been asked to withhold communications - gifts, phone calls, emails, or flowers - because rest and privacy are needed most.  This same respectful consideration holds true for her friends Edgar and Martine, who provide support in adjacent hospital corridors as she recovers.)

 -  Dick Purinton

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


The entire Washington Island Schools student body, here
led by kindergarten children with teacher Margaret Foss,
filed aboard the Arni J. Richter for a voyage of immigration.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The prospects of opportunity and a new life, a Voyage in Experiential Learning, brought 59 students and 11 staff members onboard the ferry Arni J. Richter yesterday morning.  In their current unit, the Washington Island Navigators (WINS) sought a taste of practical understanding, to expand on classroom studies of what it might have been like to be an early Island settler, in this case, Icelanders who arrived on Washington Island.

Jeannie Hutchins and Mary Andersen
offered early Icelander perspective to
elementary students.

Helping to provide images from an early Icelander's point of view, the positives and the uncertainties about their new home, were portrayals of early Icelandic settlers and one particular family who came from Iceland by way of Winnipeg, Canada.  Jeannie Hutchins spoke about the Lindals, her forbears, who arrived in the early 1920s to work for Mr. Thordarson on Rock Island, then stayed, making Washington Island their home.  Mary Andersen took the part of Gertie Andersen, her husband's, Martin's, grandmother and the first child born to Icelanders on Washington Island. Her children became an integral part of the Washington Island community (and as an aside, she christened the new ferry Eyrarbakki in 1970, the centennial that marked the arrival of the first Icelandic immigrants here).

Howard Scott as Goodmander Gudmundson, and Tony Woodruff, a heavily accented Jon Gislason, related challenges encountered in being the first of their countrymen to join Washington Island's melting pot.

With temperatures in the low-20s and new ice already several inches thick where Friday there had been none, the ferry arrived off Plum Island's southern point around 11 a.m., the voyage half-way point.  Course was then adjusted for Washington Island's Detroit Harbor.  Island students, upper grades and elementary, were cheek-to-jowel in separate, overheated cabins, not unlike immigrants packed into steerage.  They respectfully absorbed the lessons passed along from early Icelanders, names that still resonate in many families today such as Gunnlaugsson, Bjarnarson, Magnusson, and Gudmundsen.

Island students proved to be an ideal audience, offering
their full attention in the confines of one of the AJR cabins.
After what may have seemed like an eternity, a voyage of endurance, the ferry at last touched land and the young immigrants came ashore, fleeing to the warmth of their yellow school bus - but not until a group photo commemorated their ordeal.

The low rumble of diesels and constant parting of ice notwithstanding,
upper-level students gave their full attention to Gudmunder
Gudmundson and Jon Gislason, portrayed by Howard Scott
and Tony Woodruff (gesturing).

Around this same time, it might be noted, a St. Patrick's Day parade comprised of adults honoring national Irish heritage marched up Main Road, cheered on by more adult bystanders.  They "made land" at Karly's, where corned beef and cabbage and adult libations awaited, a learning reinforcement with a slightly different flavor.  It can be said that among the Island's earliest European pioneers were the Irish, who along with German immigrants led that parade, followed by Scandinavians.  The first Icelanders arrived in 1870, at a time when others had already staked their claim to land.  A collection of dwellings on the western slope of Washington Harbor was dubbed the "Irish Village."

Island students (59 of them!), school staff, Island Players
and ferry  crew reach destination in time for lunch.
Our thanks to School Administrator Mr. Raymond and the Staff Members of Washington Island School for voyage arrangements that ignored stow-away photographers.

 - Dick Purinton

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Cutter ACACIA assisted ferry C. G. Richter on several occasions over
the years, usually following transit from homeport in Sturgeon Bay.
(photo date unknown, but thought to be from the late 1970s)
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

In the blog posted just before this one, I mentioned the navigation difficulties experienced by both large commercial vessels, and also the Coast Guard icebreakers.

The Acacia and similar buoy tenders of her class had multiple missions.  The age of this class buoy tender also revealed a need for cutters with better ice breaking capabilities, and this led the way to the "Bay" class vessels.  The Mobile Bay stationed in Sturgeon Bay, and the Biscayne Bay assigned to St. Ignace, Michigan, were two of the nine vessels that came off the ways in 1978 and 1979, at a time when commercial ore vessels hoped to ramp up winter operations.  The need for more regular supply of  raw materials at mills was married with a plan to execute year-around navigation (or nearly so) on the Great Lakes.

From reader Jim Legault I received an interesting observation from 1978 when he was crew aboard an ore boat on its last run of the season before layup.

[After I typically post a blog, I'll look at the revolving globe to see the origins of readers as they come online.  One morning, quite early, a red "ping" jumped out from the map.  The city was Merida, in the Yucatan, Mexico.   I knew it was Jim Legault, also up at an early hour.  Jim hadn't visited the Island for several years, and we rarely communicated during that time.  But it turns out he reads my blogs, keeping in touch through whatever I happen to post.]

Below is Jim's email received yesterday, reprinted with his permission.  He's an excellent photographer, and several decades ago he published a book on Great Lakes environmental changes, Reflections On A Tarnished Mirror.  In 1990 I relied on his advice and expertise to put together a photo history book, Over and Back.  Today, Jim uses many of his fine photos for websites he develops to advance eco-tourism marketing efforts in the Yukatan region.

    I have enjoyed your recent blogs about the Coast Guard helicopter mechanical problems, ice conditions, and the Roger Blough stuck in the ice.  The combination unlocked  a few frozen memories of sailing in the first extended sailing season on the Great Lakes in 1977-78. The federal Government agreed to pay the shipping companies for the damages incurred in the experiment. The shipping companies saw it as potential windfall to fix some of their tired old equipment.

I had just finished the work on Reflections in a Tarnished Mirror, was dead broke and needed some quick cash to catch up.  (Sailing turned out to be) a windfall for me, too.

I met the SS Crispin Oglebay in Escanaba about the 12th of January, and after a very slow trip through the Straits of Mackinaw with an ice breaker assist (The Mackinaw), we passed through Lake Huron fairly unobstructed.  After another slow trip in the rivers and Lake St Clair we joined a convoy (6 ships, I think) with ice breaker North Wind leading us into the western end of Lake Erie. Very slow going, but we kept going.  As the convoy approached Cleveland with the last loads of the year, we were stopped dead.

It took almost 9 days to make as many miles, with Cleveland in sight the whole time.  First, all alcohol was consumed [by some crew members], next all the ice cream, and finally, all the sugar, as the alcoholics tried to replace alcohol with sugar.  

For a time we anchored, as wind-rowed ice passed by on the port side driven by easterly strong winds. On our starboard side, solid ice, strong winds, no motion and the lights of Cleveland.  About day six, a Coast Guard helicopter landed midship and delivered milk, prime rib - and no alcohol, but more ice cream and  cigarettes.  The drunks talked about heading out on foot, and it wasn't the whiskey talking.

The reason we were trapped, I found out later, was that the ice was compressed against the Lake Erie shore by the strong winds. It was then a storm of the century arrived that wind shifted and the ice pressure was relieved. We tied up on the Cleveland lake front, the drunks took taxis to the Flats (an area of bars and clubs close by), and then the wind blew almost 100mph and the barometric pressure fell to 28.28 inches (the lowest non tropical atmospheric pressure ever recorded up to that time in the inland US).

Here in the Yucatan the wind is warm (and from above, a slow moving ceiling fan).
I`ve been busy here doing photos for a project studying an endemic species of Hummingbird  (Mexican Sheartail, Doricha Eliza ) with a research University in Merida. They live only here in Yucatan in a narrow strip along the gulf coast, and there are a few in the State of Veracruz. The project was Funded by Nat. Geo. and there will at least be a few photos in a photo gallery on their website and they are likely use some of the video I shot in some way. 
Give my best to Mary Jo and the family. My sharpie is pretty close to launch-ready, so hopefully I will have a chance to spend a little time on the Island this summer.

Your blog is the only regular connection I maintain with Door County. I enjoy it. Thanks. 

These websites show examples of his photography in an area teeming with fish and wildlife.         A new website dedicated to birding in Rio Lagartos .        Website for Rio Lagartos Adventures (Diego Nunez)   

Jim added this information on the super-low recorded during that January storm he referred to in his email:

The Great Blizzard of 1978, also known as the Cleveland Superbomb,[1] was a historic winter storm that struck the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes from Wednesday, January 25 through Friday, January 27, 1978. The 28.28 inches (958 millibars) barometric pressure measurement recorded in Cleveland, Ohiowas the lowest non-tropical atmospheric pressure ever recorded in the mainland United States until theUpper Midwest Storm of October 26, 2010 (28.20" measured at 5:13PM CDT at Bigfork Municipal Airport, Bigfork, MN). The lowest central pressure for the 1978 blizzard was 28.05" (953 mb) measured in southern Ontario a few hours after the aforementioned record in Cleveland.[2] On rare occasions, extra-tropical cyclones with central pressures below 28 inches of mercury or about 95 kPa (950 mb) have been recorded in Wiscasset, Maine (27.9") and Newfoundland (27.76").[3]

 -  Dick Purinton 

Friday, March 14, 2014


Early morning ferry, Wednesday, March 12, followed
track from previous day to open water.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Wednesday morning the crossing was quite good, but man, I got cold!

The temperature was +5 degrees, but the wind was 30+ mph, and it felt as though it circulated up one pant leg and down the other.   Warmer clothing would have been smarter, but I was on a mission to Sister Bay where I would speak in front of a group, and coveralls didn't seem right.  Standing outside my truck taking photos of the boarding, then underway out the channel, then outdoors again at Northport, took the warmth out of me.  And that was before I visited cousin Steve's farm on Old Stage Road, where with shovels we pried up frozen corn cobs from a crib to feed deer that roamed in our island neighborhood, and before we loaded a dozen hay bales Steve tossed down from his barn's loft, for daughter Evy's horses.

A warm-up at Al Johnson's never felt so good.

Have I become sissified these past 12 months, working from the comfort of our home, venturing outdoors only for mail or an occasional trek on snowshoes?  I credit the many people whose work requires they be outdoors for extended periods of time, including our ferry crews.

The compliment of vehicles on the
ferry Wednesday included two empty trucks and
the Bethel Church passenger bus.
The crossing itself Wednesday morning was excellent.  Solid bay ice held to the west of Plum Island and in its lee our route smooth and easy, despite the brisk NNW.   We were quickly into open water after first passing through the previous days' track for a mile or so.

That same morning, several miles north of Washington Harbor I was told, the Roger Blough had been stuck for nearly 24 hours in ice.  It was escorted by a Coast Guard cutter as the two made slow, and then no progress.  The cutter Mackinaw arrived to assist, and eventually the Blough made it rhough the Rock Island Passage and beyond, into the partially-open lake.  This event occurred just days after the suggested curtailment or postponement of lake freighter operations came from the Ninth Coast Guard District that anticipated such heavy ice conditions.  (See previous blog.)

I spoke this afternoon with Randy Holm, Rock Island State Park Ranger, to find out what was happening on Rock Island.  He makes a few trips over to Rock each week he says, by snowmobile, to check on buildings, and campers.

"Campers?" I asked, surprised there were people interested in winter camping, much less on Rock Island.  Three groups have camped there so far, according to Holm.  He's generally notified in advance - and he tries to leven their experience with useful information, such as low wind chill predictions, pending snow storms, and snow depth.  Last weekend about 45 snowmobilers gathered in the shelter house on Rock Island, during a pleasant afternoon group outing from Washington Island.

Randy's partner, Melody, he said, recently slipped on a patch of ice in their drive while getting out of their truck, and she struck her head sharply against the running board.  Bruised, and now with stitches in her head, Randy suggested she consider safer activities than birding and photography.  We hope this won't slow her down for long, as she's often captured great bird photos.

Oldy, moldy -

Contemplating this winter's snow and ice cover (although it is raining this Friday afternoon as I write) made me think back to several occasions when I've snowmobiled to Plum Island.  In even the coldest of winters we've observed, the Door Passage and even the waters near Plum Island in the Back Door can remain open.   For that reason, crossing the ice in the area of the Door is never recommended.

But, there are always exceptions to a general recommendation.  In 1979, when the ferry C. G. Ricther's gear went out, coupled with a long stretch of cold weather and heavy bay ice, I snowmobiled with Nathan Gunnlaugsson to Northport.  Our first trip was a sort of test run from Washington Island to determine ice thickness.  At that time, solid ice spread from the Bay well beyond Pilot Island to the lake itself, and this ice never moved in the ensuing weeks.  We chose to cut across Plum Island, from the Coast Guard life saving station to the Rear Range Light, as much for the novelty as anything.  Crystal clear ice in the Door was a bit unnerving, but trapped bubbles indicated that it was 10 or more inches thick, and this ice cover continued to build in the ensuing days.  For 19 days, in fact well into March, no ferry runs were possible.

The Cutter Acacia nosed up to the Northport dock (prior to the break wall, 
of course) and Coasties formed a grocery brigade, passing stores from the 
Shannon delivery truck to the ship's deck. Once groceries, passengers and the
 reduction gear replacement part (a piece that weighed in at #400) were loaded, the cutter 
headed for the Potato Dock, where the process was reversed.   This time, 
however,passengers walked an improvised gangplank and the 
ship's crane swung the cargo to shore.  This was the last time the
 Acacia was seen for several weeks, as she worked her 
regular assignment keeping ore boat traffic moving.

First, repairs had to be made.  The cutter Acacia, home-ported then in Sturgeon Bay, made an emergency run to bring across the weekly allotment of groceries for Mann's Store, and also the Twin Disc transmission part, which had been flown from New Orleans to O'Hare Airport, and then was picked up by Arni and Mary Richter.  We had no idea then, that even after repairs were accomplished, we would not be able to get under way again for some time due to heavy ice in and beyond the Door.

From L to R:  Bill Schutz, Bill Jorgenson, Mark Dewey, Rich Ellefson, 
Kevin Kruegerand Hoyt Purinton.  (I was the photographer)

Kenny Koyen drove his Dodge Power Wagon to Northport daily, picking up bulk freight for Island businesses.   We made daily runs with snowmobiles, too, towing sleds for the U. S. Mail and United Parcels, and whatever other freight we could manage.  On one run, as I recall, Nathan and I picked up Bob Rainsford and Ruth Wilcox, and their suitcases, passengers for the return run.  Most islanders stayed put, but for those who chose to travel, their first leg was by snowmobile, and then a friend's borrowed car at Northport.  A few arranged flights to or from the Island Airport.

Then (in 1995, I believe it was) a group of six from the Ferry Line, plus Kevin Krueger, made a late afternoon trip over the ice to Plum Island.  Daily, we'd watched a hole in the otherwise icy crossing near the Plum Island green can #1 as it closed up, getting smaller and smaller each day. Finally, it froze over solid.

I was convinced it would be safe going to Plum Island from Willow Point, near the Rutledge home on Green Bay Road.  We headed west for half a mile or so, and then came ashore close to the lagoon and away from the long, shallow reef, and we had no problems.  We rode single file in deep snow to the range lights, took a few photos, and then headed back to Washington Island, taking a tour along the west shore where Jack Hagen, among others, fished through the ice.

The strongest memory from that trip?  Bill Jorgenson riding his dad's (Walt's) Polaris, a snowmobile without padded seat, just a plywood board!  Bill taught us the meaning of "tough sledding."

Another form of tough sledding -

In the recent Peninsula Pulse we received in today's mail, Steve Grutzmacher, who professes to love numbers and statistics, reprinted three years of Door County township and village income.   The numbers he used, taken from public tax records, were in columns headed "Adjusted Gross Income" (for the townships) and the Adjusted Gross Income (for taxpaying individuals), which is more or less a per-household figure.

The figures were quite astounding.  Washington Island was listed in 2011 as averaging $32,240 per household, and 2012,  $37,700.   Although those two years' figures are somewhat comparable, in the other year cited, 2007, which may be considered "pre-recession," the figure was $73,155.  (This seems like an anomaly, a printing error.)   Among Door County's 14 townships, in 2011 and 2012 Washington Island placed dead last.

It is no secret that winters bring hard times, when many are scrambling to make ends meet.  Summers, for all our tourism and economic well-being, are too short to make up the difference.  When home starts lag, as they have for a number of years, ancillary businesses suffer, too.  People are resourceful, but the reality is that making maple syrup, cutting wood and plowing snow keep one busy, and maybe help stave off bill collection for a bit, but there is a tendency to go into the hole deeply during long winters.

No answers are readily apparent, other than, let's get on with summer and put some positive $$ back into those bank accounts.  I might add that this is true for a larger business, like the Ferry Line, just as it is for a mom and pop operation.  Earlier springs have generally brought with them more travelers, and folks who open their seasonal homes, less so when there are still snow banks in the woods.

Noxious Weed tamed, slightly -

If you somehow thought I might be commenting here on the prospect for medical marijuana in Wisconsin in this column, I have no desire to do so!

Instead, this is meant to further broaden Nikki Weed's apology via public forum.  She wrote this letter, we'd like to think, in heartfelt response to the many letters written when she dissed Washington Island and its people in her earlier Roundel, BMW owner club magazine, column.

A copy of Weed's response was tacked to the bulletin board at Mann's Store, and Hoyt took a cell phone photo of it, which is how I received this information.

Also published by Roundel,  just above Weed's apology, was Kerrie McDonald's well-written letter to Weed.  This also appeared, I am told, on Kerrie's Facebook page along with photos she's taken of Islanders.  Here is the text of Kerrie's letter:

"People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for"
Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird

Ms. Weed,

I read your scathing column about Washington Island and, having grown up there, I can confidently say that you have sorely misjudged and misrepresented us.  Our community relies on tourism and your column is an offensive disservice to that industry.  

I hope that you will visit again but, until then, here is a glimpse of the people you so fiercely and unabashedly criticize.  The beautiful woman in photo 1 is the wife of ferry captain Joel.  The laughing children in photo 2 belong to ferry manager Rich.  The smiling deckhand in photo 3 is my brother Conrad.  The pictures surrounding them contain just a few of the many beautiful and intelligent people that make up the Island community.  

It seems to me that you came to Washington Island looking and listening for all the wrong things.  Life is more than BMW's and "reasonable good looks".  
Island people understand that and I hope that one day you will too.

Kerrie McDonald

The following is Weed's response: 

Posted at Mann's Store...
Nikki Weed replies:  As a former resident of Wisconsin, I apologize.  My mother and I drove up to Door County and had nothing but high hopes and dreams for what we would find on the island.  However, I did not plan ahead, and found many of the sights we wanted to see closed. Rather than take the opportunity to discover the natural beauty that is in abundance on Washington Island, I brooded about my mistake - and compounded that mistake when I wrote my column.  I meant no disrespect to Washington Island or its residents;  I can see now that what I meant to be an account of my own inner demons and foibles could be seen instead as an attack on a place and its way of life, and I am sincerely sorry. - NW

Apology accepted.

Now, if you'd care to bring a BMW car club to Washington Island some day, and infuse our local economy, we'd be happy to oblige you with information, a tour, and activities that might provide positive memories.

-  Dick Purinton

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Birds, like this lone duck in an opening over a small spring, have had
 a hard time of it with this winter's extended cold, and ice that restricts
their ability to feed.  Their survival rate should improve rapidly in the
coming days and weeks.  Dozens of duck have expired - even along Island
roadways - in the recent weeks, weakened by cold and the inability
to dive for food.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

After our first 50-degree day of the year yesterday, it seems like winter may finally be ebbing.  Inland locations, even around northern Wisconsin, reported temperatures in the 60s, and in a few cases, 70 degrees.

But, there is lots of snow and ice yet to be melted, and already there are concerns in certain cities and towns of impending flooding due to frozen culverts and streams that jam up with broken ice, backing up an abnormally brisk spring runoff from field and wood.

The Great Lakes commercial navigation season is typically back to a regular pace by now, but that's during the years when there's been scant ice to contend with in shipping lanes.  Although some of the vessels wintered at Bay Shipbuilding already fired up and broke out for their first loads, running the more-or-less navigable route between the Escanaba ore docks and the mills south of Chicago, the U. S. Coast Guard's Ninth District issued a friendly suggestion in a letter of March 7th addressed to the American Great Lakes Ports Association.  We received a copy courtesy of the Port of Green Bay's information release.

Rear Admiral F. M. Midgette, Commander, Ninth Coast Guard District, warned of challenges ahead in his letter addressing shipping concerns and the resumption of Great Lakes shipping.  Available ice breaking assets will include all nine Coast Guard icebreakers ready for deployment, plus one additional icebreaking tug, for a compliment of six of the Bay-Class tugs.   Ninth District anticipates the Canadian Coast Guard will bring an additional icebreaker into the  Great Lakes.

ADM Midgette's letter warned:

   "Breakout will be long and difficult.  Transits in current ice conditions are slow and arduous.  Just this week, a vessel under icebreaker escort took over a week to transit St. Mary's River.  Another vessel required an escort all the way across Lake Erie.  The USCGC HOLLYHOCK encountered ice conditions in the St. Marys River and Straits of Mackinac beyond its capability.  And we expect conditions in Lake Superior that could exceed USCGC MACKINAW's capability.  According to the U. S. National Weather Service, temperatures are expected to remain below normal through March."

His letter ended with this request, due to ice conditions, which I believe is a message unprecedented in recent times:

   "I understand some industry stockpiles are low, and shippers are anxious to resume cargo operations.  In spite of that, we anticipate ice conditions worse that what caused some of you to lay up early in January.  Consequently, I urge you to consider delaying sail dates and curtailing early operations where possible until ice conditions improve."   

If memory serves, following a very cold winter in 1979, numerous lakers came in to the yards for structural repairs due to ice damage.   These are massive vessels, but their steel shell and structure weren't designed for repeated encounters with heavy ice.  There appears now to be more ice breaking vessels available to assist than in previous years, but broken fields of thick ice, wind-driven, can still challenge with unusually deep, dense ice at times.

Our ferry crews operated daily along the edges of heaviest bay ice this winter, with nary a hitch, but that, too, can quickly change as larger fields break into ever smaller pieces and jam up, or stream through, the Door passage.

On the nature trail

Deep snow and colder temperatures have been ideal for snowshoeing this winter, and we've managed to create several interesting loops in the surrounding area.

Some would suggest that snowshoes shouldn't be necessary when the wearer's boot size is 15, but that's a tread-worn joke that doesn't begin to describe the difficulty of tromping in snow several feet deep!   Even with snowshoes, and poles for added stability, this activity can be a challenge.  The reward, however, is a good workout that offers pleasant observations of the outdoor world.

Above the small islands, the bright, red growth of white birches stood against a deep blue sky.  In the topmost branches, scarlet dots of cardinals added further accent.

In the late afternoon hours, my treks have been accompanied by an owl's hooting from deeper in the swampy woods.   Deer tracks show the deer taking the easiest possible trails, sometimes old snowshoe tracks, then jumping from one point to another in belly-deep snow when necessary.  Their activity under cedars shows many more prints where the snow is generally not so deep and food is available on overhead branches, for those deer that can reach.

One afternoon, winding through the woods on my snowshoes, I happened to spot at eye level the bulging bark of a large cedar, what I think may be the start of a super-burl.   The tree itself is about 16 inches in diameter and nearly 35 feet tall, and by my estimation it appears healthy.  How rapidly its bark will continue to expand like a tumorous growth, and whether the tree becomes weakened by this abnormality, will be interesting to follow over time.  I've not generally noticed cedar burls, although they seem to be quite common with other tree species.

And maybe, I'm thinking, I only noticed this one because my eye level was a good 18 inches above the usual height with the help of the snowpack.

-  Dick Purinton

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Eight quilt tops were completed Saturday, March 8,
over a several day period at a Sievers School classroom.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Approximately 20 women participated in this year's Quilts of Valor effort held in one of the Sievers School of Fiber Arts classrooms this past week on Jackson Harbor Road.  Pairs of quilters selected their  fabric choices, cut and sewed, and arranged their fabric pieces in the "Thank You Star" block pattern theme that has been chosen for this year's Quilts of Valor Foundation (QoVF) quilts.

Nancy Thiele and Deb Anderson partnered to sew 
block patterns.
Each quilt top, along with its one-piece corresponding backing, will be sent to a long-arm quilter.  These skilled people have the proper quilt frames and larger machines to accomplish through-stitching that combines the multi-layers into one. This process also adds batting, the filler that gives each quilt loft, and ultimately, warmth for the user.

Anne Delwiche and Peg Nikolai confer on quilt details.

Once the expansive quilt surfaces have been stitched, quilts are then returned to Washington Island for finishing, which includes the binding along edges and label with names of the volunteers that states it was a QoVF product.  Each quilt will be folded and stuffed into a cover resembling a pillowcase, ready for presentation to a veteran of military service, which is the end-goal behind the QoVF program.  Many steps, many hours, many hands - in addition to the emotional investment - are behind each presented quilt.

Jill Jorgenson and Linda Henning made quilt cases
and cut pieces that will be used for backings.
This year, in addition to the organizational skills and quilting leadership of Marianne Fons, a nationally recognized quilter from Iowa, and Ellen Graf, an Island quilting instructor (these two women also pre-planned this event,  including behind-the-scenes fundraising, purchase of material and supplies, and team logistics) two guest quilters were on hand.

Karen Demaree, who is Wisconsin's Coordinator for the Quilts of Valor Foundation, and friend Sue Kahre-Stradford, both from Platteville, Wisconsin, offered perspective on the QoVF volunteerism in Wisconsin, as it relates to the national organization. It's been the general intention of QoVF to do as much through volunteerism as possible, drawing on a broad spectrum of quilters whose work will then be worthy of presentation to a military veteran, one way of personalizing a thank-you for their service.

This block was sewn by a long-arm quilter using a
star pattern, detail that shows how one section of

the completed quilt might look.

Marianne Fons, Karen Demaree and Ellen Graf
hold QoVF poster at conclusion of Island
quilting event.
Within the next month or two in the United States, the 100,000th quilt made by QoVF quilters will be presented.  (Since there are also some quilts made but not recorded, this number remains a symbolic milestone, but never-the-less, the volume of quilts produced and the handiwork behind them is significant.)

Each Island quilter received this pin
marking the upcoming milestone in quilts presented
to U.S. military veterans.
I was asked by Ellen Graf to record the Washington Island QoVF project during the past few days, and the photos on this posting are but a few to show the colors, patterns, participants and progression during the approximately 3 1/2 day project.

-   Dick Purinton

Monday, March 3, 2014


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The photos above and left make it seem as though the task to remove the U. S. Coast Guard Air Rescue Helicopter from its position on an east side beach was rather easy.

In fact, it took Maintenance Chief John Lee and his crew of five men most of the day, working in temperatures that never went above 12 degrees, to remove rotor blades, dig out the aircraft, slide it to an open area, winch it aboard their trailer, and secure the load for the highway.  A second trailer from Yacht Works in Sister Bay was also on hand, as was Tom Jordan's excavator to lift the aircraft, but the final decision was made to use the Coast Guard trailer brought from Traverse City, at least for the first leg of the trip to a yacht storage shed in Sister Bay.

By 3:45 p.m., the trucks, trailers and crew started down the temporary road plowed parallel to the beach, from in front of the home of Jim and Janet Wilson to the end of Lake View Road, a distance of just over 1/2 mile.  

Dismantling blades, securing the aircraft prior to removal from beach.
The location where the helo set down early Sunday morning happens to be a wide, flat stretch of beach, features not always found along the island's shoreline.  And, as providence would have it, this  location was also in close proximation to the only beach access road along the entire eastern shore of Washington Island, easing substantially one major obstacle to removing the aircraft by trailer from the beach.

Chief John Lee (second from left) and his salvage crew, ready to depart the
beach with helicopter secured to trailer.

Chief Lee isn't new to this particular routine.  He extricated this same aircraft just six weeks earlier from a farmer's field in lower Michigan.  Then, too, the pilot and crew had experienced "flight control problems," according to a news report, similar to the crew's experience in yesterday's cross-lake flight from the Traverse City Air Station.

This helicopter model (Eurocraft AS365 Dauphin) has been utilized by the Coast Guard since the early 1980s, and has been a serviceable workhorse during this time.  But, as Chief Lee noted, there are parts no longer stocked on the shelf or easily procured.

Such flight control problems, manifested now on several occasions, surely weigh on the minds of the Coast Guard command, and may serve to hasten the effort to renew the fleet.  In 2010, according to one news release, the Traverse City Air Station Commander requested replacement Jayhawk helicopters, newer aircraft with more power and longer range.  But, apparently, the cost, time of procurement, training, parts…all were a part of the challenge to effect change.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard's air and ground crews, not to mention the occasional citizen whose life may one day depend on such machinery, would certainly prefer the use of the safest and most robust aircraft available.  Days for aging "Dolphin" helos like #6578 may be numbered, with safety compromised if deployment of this aircraft continues to be extended.

Time in the air for the "Dolphin" is something like 2 1/2 hours on a full tank, after which the aircraft requires refueling.  A flight to Washington Island from Traverse City, as an example, would take approximately one hour.  With one hour for the return flight, that leaves only 30 minutes on station, unless the aircraft is refueled.

View from the Wilson home toward the open lake.

Welcoming hosts:  the Wilsons

 When the crew of #6578 landed in front of their home around 7:50 Sunday morning, Janet was already up, and after the helicopter landed she soon saw one of the men coming toward their house.  Jim, still sleeping, had incorporated the whirr of the blades into his dream, believing he was again aboard Eagle III, the medivac helicopter that took him on an emergency flight to a Green Bay hospital in July of 2012.  It took him time to determine where he was and what the activity was all about.  It wasn't long before Jim joined Janet and the four men in their living room, sensing their relief for a safe landing.  It was at least an hour, Jim said, before he realized he wasn't yet dressed.

Janet and Jim Wilson gaze out their living room
deck window toward the helicopter.  
The activities of the past 30 hours in front of the Wilson home are now over.   The safe emergency landing - a precautionary landing - becomes a good story that might add push for the Coast Guard to renew this aging aircraft.

-  Dick Purinton

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Flight crew with Air Rescue Helo 6578 on beach in front of Wilson home.
Hog Island is visible in background, above tail section.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

U. S. Coast Guard Rescue Helicopter 6578 landed safely on the snow along the eastern shore of Washington Island this morning, in what was termed a "precautionary emergency landing" by aircraft commander LT. Chris Breuer.

The MH-65C "Dolphin" helicopter with four crew aboard had taken off from the U. S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City around 7:50 a.m. EST.   As their aircraft flew over Lake Michigan and approached within approximately ten miles of Wisconsin's shoreline, intending to fly over Washington Island enroute to a search and rescue assignment (SAR) near Ashland, Wisconsin, a "flight control issue" arose.   A decision was then made to land along the flat, broad portion of beach just south of Hog Island and the Percy Johnson County Park, an area separated from the trees along shore and the open lake waters by ice banks and snow covered rocks.

According to LT. Breuer, flying further inland wasn't a prudent risk.  It would have been a flight path over trees for another several miles, extending their air time in an effort to reach open fields, or perhaps the Island Airport.   While he couldn't speculate on the nature of the mechanical issues encountered, other than to verify that it was not a fuel related problem, such landings, while not routine, are occasionally made, always with safety of both crew and aircraft foremost in mind.

With landing wheels now deep in snow and the aircraft unable to be flown, the most likely resolution to repairing the helo will be to lift it by crane to a flatbed truck, and transport it back to their air station, rather than perform on-the-spot repairs.  Engineering tech support at the Traverse City airbase will determine just when and how the helo extrication might be accomplished.   When this is sorted out, likely by early afternoon today (Sunday), Breuer's crew will be airlifted back to their base.  A "salvage" detail will then likely take over to ready the plane for lifting and transport, first by ferry, and then via highway back to a facility where it can be properly repaired.

Air crew secured rotors in preparation for their anticipated departure later today.

The helo crew includes:  Aircraft Commander LT Chris Breuer;  Co-pilot Jim Okorn;  Flight Mechanic Matt Lussier; and Rescue Swimmer Tom McArthur.   The crew had responded to a call around 5 a.m., an "uncorrelated Mayday" reported from the Ashland area, which, according to Breuer, could be almost anything, including an ice fisherman or snowmobiler needing assistance.  It was unlikely, he said, due to the heavy ice conditions in that area, that this call would have come from a vessel in distress.

According to Breuer, his aircraft had been used earlier last evening by a nighttime crew, before his crew responded to the Ashland call.  They were in the air some 50 minutes, he said, before putting down in front of the Jim and Janet Wilson home around 7:45 a.m. CST.

"Did you head for the widest stretch of flat beach, or the nearest home with smoke curling from the chimney?" I joked, noting the warm, comfortable surroundings of the Wilson home.  Safe landing was foremost on their minds, I was assured, with the nearby hospitality of the Wilsons an added bonus.

By the time I arrived to interview the crew, around 9:45 a. m., the Wilsons had just departed for Sunday morning worship service, leaving their lakeshore home in the hands of the air crew, plus the Island's two policemen, Gary Schulz and Tyler McGrane.   The morning was fresh, with bright sunshine, temperatures slightly below zero, with very little wind.  Circumstances could certainly have been more extenuating, the crew noted, than along this shoreline, a location where a century or more ago crews of sail schooners sometimes found themselves wrecked.

Aircraft Commander LT Chris Breuer
While LT Breuer was occupied with phone and email traffic, coordinating plans going forward, he also kindly answered my questions.  Crew members' families had been provided notice of their status, each man noted.  After a quick couple of photos taken in front of the fireplace, scenes that might depict their situation as just a bit too comfortable, considering the circumstances behind the forced landing, the crew donned their boots and winter gear and waded through the snow to secure the helo in preparation for their anticipated departure for home base.
L to R:  Pilot LT Chris Breuer, Rescue Swimmer Tom McArthur,
Co-pilot Jim Okorn, (and seated) Flight Mechanic Matt Lussier. 

The Coast Guard regularly assigns helicopter crews to assess ice conditions for commercial shipping, operations called "ice reconnaissance." This is one reason why, periodically through the winter, Islanders can see or hear helicopters flying overhead.  Great Lakes shipping has been slowed greatly by this winter's ice conditions, but vessels that still operate - or that will begin their 2014 season soon - rely on both satellite reports and the Coast Guard's eyes to assess navigation conditions.   And, there are also the several Coast Guard ice breakers and the administrative commands at the various Coast Guard Sectors of Operation that use such ice updates to advantage.

Islanders, ferry operators and commercial fishermen, or any citizen with extraordinary medical need, may also find comfort in the fact that four such helicopters are assigned to the Traverse City Air Station. These aircraft generally have much quicker response time than a vessel, weather permitting, should there be a need for flight rescue assistance.

-  Dick Purinton

Saturday, March 1, 2014


From L to R:  Atlas, Aidan, Zander, Birthday Boy Thor, Magnus, 
Boyne City, Michigan -

No one says I have to put out a blog, but after a fashion, I sense pressure from afar and guilt that comes from not producing.  Guilt (and Thor's 34th Birthday) breaks another gap of nearly two weeks without blog communication.

Boyne City is where Thor works and lives, and aside from the large Boyne Hill ski establishment, there really isn't suitable nearby lodging that will hold twelve people and allow for indoor activities.  We opted instead, three families plus Thor, to occupy a rental home.  It was a great decision in terms of room to spread out.  I will add that our first day in Boyne City, following an uneventful drive into the eastern UP, saw gale force winds with blizzard conditions that prompted MDOT to close the Mackinac Bridge for one day.  Snow continued the next day, Saturday, and the day after that, too.

The amount of snow cover in that region, due to almost daily lake effect snows, I estimated to be nearly three times the accumulation of Washington Island.  Each bright winter day here, when we look out over the East Channel and see banks of dark clouds, snow is being produced on the eastern shore of the lake.  For that same reason, overcast skies are quite common there in winter, too.

Our main reason for the get-away was to celebrate Thor's birthday.   Although there was swimming, sledding, plenty of eating, and a mad piƱata bash, the four boys spent a great deal of time crowded together on a couch playing Minecraft.   I know very little about this game, despite having it explained to me several times, and despite the fact I was convinced months ago to load it on my iPad so they could use it.   This game can be played individually, or as a group.  During this outing, their devices were connected while they quietly and politely assisted one another in building virtual scenes.

We toured the Van Dam boat building shop Saturday afternoon (except for Magnus, who fell asleep in the warm truck, and Kirsten, his mom, stayed with him).   Two new construction projects were on the floor, and this was a chance for the boys to ask questions and see the craftsmanship of Thor and his co-workers.   At one point, Thor demonstrated use of a small block plane, one of his safer woodworking tools.  He let each of the boys try their hand at planing a strip of mahogany.

When it came to his turn, Zander hefted the plane and made this observation:  "This thing is heavy enough to kill a chicken!"

We're still not sure how that connection was made, but we agreed it was probably true.

We're back home now, for the rest of the winter.

-  Dick Purinton

Note:  For a great web tour of Van Dam Wood Craft products past and present, and production details, go to:


If there was a run on bread and milk prompted by the storm, the
stampede had ended by late afternoon.  Not many cars
were out on the roads at this point.   Snow let up by
early evening, and Town crews cleaned up
roads by daybreak.  

Erik Foss, at the aft controls, maneuvers the AJR to the shore ramp.  
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Winter is still here, in case we were thinking spring was around the corner.  A wave of cold air blanketed the Upper Midwest for over one week straight.  Then, yesterday's snowfall came along, far more intense than the several inches that were predicted for our area.

By my unofficial, boot-top measurements I'd say we got twelve inches of light, fluffy snow in about 9 hours.   Outside air temperatures were in the lower teens.   The lake seemed to add moisture to Door County's precipitation, although the television weather radar didn't pick it up.   Large flakes fell from noon to around 9 p.m. Friday, one of the more intense snowfalls of recent years.  Wind gusts sprang up in late afternoon sweeping new, light snow into obliterating clouds of white.

Anticipating the arrival of the afternoon ferry at the island dock, I waited in calm conditions with two cameras tucked inside by my jacket.  During this 45 minutes time, while I waited and photographed, nearly an inch of snow covered my cap and shoulders.

Here are a few more photos taken yesterday afternoon.

Lars Goodlet drove from his home near Washington Harbor
to the Island Post Office
to pick up his mail prior to the 4 p.m. closing.
Thursday, winter records were set for the number of days with recorded below zero temperatures for several northern Wisconsin communities.   But, cold temperatures aside, Thursday had proven to be bright and beautiful.  N-NW wind carried out much of the ice from the passage, leaving open water stretching a good mile west into the Bay.   It also cleared channel ice from inside the entrance light.  The  20-inch ice I had walked on Thursday to get this photo (below) floated out over night.

Thursday the sky was blue, the temperature near zero.  I stood on
approximately 20 inches of clear ice.  This ice comes and goes,
as the ferry's wake will break it up and northerly winds
take it from the harbor, from time to time.
Recent high winds, according to satellite imagery and Great Lakes reports, set up wave action that broke up much of Lake Michigan's open lake ice cover.  The bay of Green Bay, however, remains solidly frozen in place.  Break up of this ice, now estimated to be over two feet in thickness (with added snow ice on top) may cause havoc with ferry crossings when it loosens and streams out the Door passage.  But, that activity, over a period of time, now seems to be weeks away.

We're expecting another four to five days of low-digit cold before temperatures once again approach high 20s and low 30s, which is closer to normal temperature for this time of year.               -  Dick Purinton