Thursday, December 31, 2015


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

We're down to counting the hours, now, some of us, to the end of the year 2015.

What's notable today?   For one thing, winter appears to have finally arrived, with a grand entrance of stormy weather.  First there were the high winds as Christmas Eve morning arrived.  This got everyone's attention.  Then, we entered back into a week of mild and calm air before the next one hit this past Monday afternoon, lasting well into the early morning of December 29.

Even higher winds than the Christmas Eve storm were sustained, over a good 12-hour period.  This most recent storm caused large windows facing the NE to flex during the highest gusts, and the winds were accompanied by moisture:  sleet, then snow.

My guess at snow levels, as I plowed and shoveled what had been clear pavement and green grass on Sunday, was a wind-drifted ten inches or so of snow.  Very hard to judge, and I guess the exact amount doesn't matter that much.   Other northeastern Wisconsin locations reported snowfall in excess of one foot.  This was a good start to getting snow cover before the temperatures drop even more.

Certain things happen when heavy snow and lower temperatures occur around open water.   Here, near the shallows at the end of Main Road, 'snow ice' began building southward during the storm, extending to the end of Snake Island.  This ice is still not safe enough to walk on, and and there are open pockets here and there.  It may not even stay, but break up, leave, and then refreeze, depending on winds and temperatures over the next few weeks.   But it's a start toward winter for those itching to ice fish, or travel over the ice by foot, skis or snowmobile, as winter gets its into its groove.

At the Island Ferry Dock, the gusting winds over open harbor waters blew spray across the piers and onto nearby objects, and it also made for slick walking.  The ferries moored in Detroit Harbor once again had their lines about to slide over the top of mooring posts.   The high water levels we're now experiencing, plus the deepened channel from dredging, allows for more sea action within the harbor near the docks.  This is one drawback apparent when there are such extremes in conditions as we experienced during in the last two storms.   Ice in the bay, and in the harbor, which we expect to see before too long, will serve to dampen such wave motion.

The photo below was taken by Paula Hedeen of Northport from her home Tuesday evening, and its a reminder of the contrasts that occur this time of year from one day to the next, with variations not only in weather, but also in the beauty of the landscape or seascape.

Ferry Washington returning home evening of December 29,
passing astern of cement carrier St. Mary's Challenger.

This blog marks the 299th that will be archived here on this website since 2010, for the benefit of those who have time on their hands and enjoy retracing steps and memories.  I should mention that, since updating my software, I seem to have lost the file and the touch for creating a Blog Notification Group.   Please consider becoming a follower, and I think then you'll have automatic notification of new postings.   Tell me if this does not work for you, and I will try something different.

Have a Happy New Year in 2016!

 - Dick Purinton

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Con McDonald, Hoyt Purinton and Joel Gunnlaugsson rehang
a tire where a mooring pipe (foreground) gave way earlier
this morning.  

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The 'Santa's Sleigh' carrying a timely shipment of UPS and FEDEX and U. S. Mail will make its appearance today, after all.

High winds during the night of the 23rd and into Christmas Eve day caused cancellation of the two morning ferries, and with it, passengers and freight anticipated to be ferried to the Island Thursday morning.

That delay in festivities will be resolved soon, when the afternoon ferries bring in the mail and freight packages delivered daily by UPS and FEDEX,  and more importantly, groceries and staples for Mann's Store.

I returned from a run to the grocery store for some salad greens. They were not to be found, because most such items were no longer in stock, purchased by those who plan ahead!   However, Jeff Mann suggested I come back around 3:30, after their grocery truck arrives and their shelves are once again stocked.  The Mann's Store truck is one of a number of vehicles backlogged from the morning's trip cancellations, until wind and seas settle down, allowing for resumed ferry crossing.

Swells from the WSW were strong, created by winds in excess of 40 mph reported during the night. A wicked sea found its way into Detroit Harbor, snapping ferry mooning lines and breaking off three mooring pipes.  The Washington, moored against the south side of the main dock, was the most vulnerable.    By 11:30, when the photo above was taken, most repairs had already been made, and the Washington was moved around to the end, ready for loading for a1:00pm departure.

Travelers waiting for a ferry to the Island were asked to be patient and to wait a bit on the Northport side of the crossing until trips resumed.  According to Janet Hanlin, who answered innumerable calls at the front desk of the Ferry Office, communications with the mainland weren't good, as the power was out for a period of time in certain peninsula locations.  

Joseph Block, rounding the sea buoy east of Pilot Island,
heading south against the lake seas.  The southern tip
of Detroit Island is at right, and view is looking across the
East Channel from the Sand Dunes Park, around noon today.

Earlier, around 10:00am, we watched from home with binoculars the white, breaking seas of the East Channel.  Several miles out in the lake, two vessels inched their way south through lake swells,  toward Porte des Morts and the relatively easier going to be encountered in the Bay of Green Bay.  The conning tower and mast of a tug could be seen, rolling its way toward the passage, seas breaking occasionally along its port side.

By 11:45, the ore carrier Joseph Block, which had been anchored, loaded, in the shelter of Washington Harbor, was observed heading eastbound through the Door toward a down-lake destination.  The Block reported dragging anchor as the wind came around westerly, prompting it to get underway.
Toward evening at our home, we're expecting a house full of relatives, young and old, and a few of whom we expect to arrive on one of the afternoon ferries.  Although we have no snow, a disappointment for some, air temperatures are still in the 30s, fine for most folks.  By nightfall, Christmas Eve will be observed once again across the land, as anticipated.

-   Dick Purinton

Sunday, December 20, 2015


A Christmas-time scene at the Ferry Dock, 1994.  L to R:
Arni Foss (who now sails as a Captain for the Interlake Fleet on the
Dorothy Ann/Pathfinder); Jon Gunnlaugson (deceased);  Mark Dewey
(Scottsdale, AZ);  Dave Johnson (retired); Erik Foss (Ferry Captain, active);
Bill Schutz (Office Manager, active); and Al Thiele (retired).


After pestering from Erik Foss to put out another blog, and then another, it so happens we've featured him several times in recent posts, and now once again.

The crew that posed that day by the old Ferry Line office had their photo taken in a setting of fresh snow covering the roof, garland and ground.

Arni and Erik are two of four Island brothers.   Dave (not shown) sails as an Engineer for Interlake.  With the dumping of foreign steel and lessened demand by U. S. mills, a number of Great Lakes freighters are tying up early this season, rather than running into January or early February as has become customary in recent decades.   Arni and Dave are home now, enjoying the Christmas holidays with their families.  Kirby, the fourth and oldest brother, who is retired from his career with the Wisconsin DNR in park management, is a Town of Washington Supervisor and farmer.

With unexpected warm weather, the past two days having been an exception, there is hardly any ice in the shallows of the harbors, and none to speak of around the bay of Green Bay.   Three days ago the NOAA water temperature map for Lake Michigan reported a large section of warm water that extended from mid-lake to the shoreline near Traverse City, Michigan, a substantial warm pool of water with water temps between 46 and 48 degrees F.  This wasn't only a warm topmost layer, but apparently a consistent temperature top-to-bottom.  (Hoyt noted this wasn't too far off summertime temperatures.)   Quite extraordinary to see such temperatures in early winter, and its a sure sign that even if the lake temperatures cooled dramatically starting tomorrow (which isn't in the forecast), we should not see floating or solid ice for several more weeks, at minimum.  Such a warm winter start would have made for relatively easy, late season sailing for the lakers, especially those occasions when they transit the narrows, shallows,  and sometimes ice-choked currents of the St. Mary's River while on their typical upper lake runs.

See more detail and additional Lake Michigan information

Generally speaking, mild December weather doesn't mean a lack of wind altogether, and so we still anticipate weather patterns with strong winds, such as Christmas Eve may bring a few days from now.   Best advice to Christmas ferry travelers?  Plan ahead and travel early to avoid possible difficulties with sailing delays or cancellations.    Ferry reservations become effective tomorrow, Monday, Dec. 21st.

Another Foss photo

On Thursday, I greeted Rev. James Reiff as he stepped off the ferry Washington for a brief Island visit.  Jim was Trinity Lutheran Church pastor from 1981 to 1985, and this was one of only a couple of Island visits since his tenure here decades ago.  My invitation for this visit had to do with the Stavkirke 20th anniversary year since its dedication, and with the instrumental involvement Jim had in getting that idea off the ground.

We drove to the Stavkirke where I took several photos and Jim refreshed his memories.  While we visited, Erik Foss dropped in.  Erik was one of Jim Reiff's confirmands back in the early 1980s.   When details came reluctantly to mind for Jim Reiff, Erik was able to complete a name or date quite easily, prompting further memories of the project.  This sort of recall isn't surprising for one who frequently displays the Foss family trait of a steel trap mind where local or maritime history is concerned.

Erik Foss with former Trinity Pastor Jim Reiff.

Needing to warm up from the chilly air, we walked over to the church itself and met Trinity's current Pastor Alan Schaffmeyer, Church Secretary Joan Hansen, and other familiar faces, before making a quick swing through the nave.   Hanging above the pews there is a beautiful model of the Island freighting schooner, Madonna, hailing port of Detroit Harbor on its transom.

This model was dedicated as a memorial to the young Kelly Jess, son of Karen and Butch Jess, and Jim Reiff was instrumental in obtaining the model, a symbol very typical in Scandinavian churches, Jim said, and something often positively commented about by visitors.

Some years later another sailing ship model, a Mackinac schooner made by carpenter John Herschberger as a memorial to his wife Patty's sister, Deborah, was hung in the knave of the Stavkirke.

With background information from Jim Reiff, and with details provided by others closely associated with the planning, construction and use of the Island Stavkirke, my goal is to assemble photos and supporting information into booklet form, to be available for the 2016 summer tourism season.

-  Dick Purinton

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Erik Foss turns 50 today!
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

The years go by quickly, especially when you're busy.

Erik Foss turns 50 today, a fact I had overlooked until his son, Christian, told me.  Where was his dad?  He was at work.  "He likes to work on his birthday," according to Christian.  Maybe working is intended to help this day pass more quickly, and not be reminded of the additional year.

During a "survival exercise" on the Arni J. Richter in 2004,
Erik helped adjust life vests on sons Doug and Christian.
Both boys have worked as crew during their summers in
recent years.

When looking at today's Ferry Line crew, there are many faces familiar to the public since their mid-teens.  Erik is one of those who rode in the pilot house and threw the mooring line to the spile as well as anyone, when he was still in junior high.  Official records kept for continuous employment show that Erik comes in a close second to Capt. Bill Jorgensen, who (like Erik) worked for the Ferry Line several summers before joining permanently in April of 1987.   There are many trips under the belt of these two captains, with Bill holding the unofficial record of having the most crossings of the Door, of anyone, with his long work record and many trips on the ferries each year.

It's fun to look back on the years as told in photos, so here are a selection of photos showing Erik, Bill, Joel Gunnlaugsson, Jeff Cornell and Rich Ellefson.  

I'm sorry I'm not able to date each photo with accuracy.  Time has a way of wiping out memory of the year without a date having been recorded.  Perhaps the people in the photos remember.

- Dick Purinton

Bill Jorgensen at helm of Voyageur,
around 1980-81.
Bill with son, Dale, in
wheelhouse of C.G. Richter.
(Year unknown)
Captain Rich Ellefson (year unknown),
now Ferry Line vice president and operations manager.
Captain Joel Gunnlaugsson (then summer crew 1993).   
Krista and Joel, before marriage, children, Town
government, County Board, etc. (1996)

Captain Jeff Cornell (year unknown) who operates
both Karfi to Rock Island and ferries to

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

With The Holiday Season Upon Us!

My point of view and locomotion changed following surgery 12/14.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Hard to get in the mood for the coming Holiday Season when it's raining cats and dogs outside, temperatures hover in the upper 30s, and memories of last year's Christmas presents are still fresh in my mind!

Today, in fact, is the anniversary of my Holy Christmas! "double-knee" replacement surgery, and a memory of when I still looked forward with great anticipation to having a respected surgeon saw each of my leg bones in two (and each in two places), then grind, hammer and glue pieces back together, with titanium and plastic as spacers.

To say that I'm now totally "good to go" would be a stretch, but in fact we're bold enough to think a few weeks of hiking the trails of Sedona, Arizona, this February might be a panacea to winter's long days.   And, I'm itching, longing to strap on my dusty cross country skis and slide over some of the Island's most beautiful, wooded trails.   None of those activities would have been possible to partake - without considerable pain and difficulty - several years ago.   So, these notions are progress.

I've been asked by many friends, mostly persons who roughly match my age (within a decade or so,  margin of error), "What's it like?"   These friends too, have been plagued with knee problems and are likewise driven to consider modern medical joint solutions.

Let me offer some advice, as I'm always happy to do, in the interest of short-circuiting my answer for what can be both an exhilarating and debilitating experience.

First, I purposely chose to know as little about what was going on when under anesthetic as possible.  I avoided asking too many questions, refrained from knowing the intimate details of the sawing, pounding, glueing, sewing and stapling.  Instead, I chose my physician carefully for his track record, the hospital setting for the same reasons, and then I put my faith behind their successful production numbers.

Now, I would say that it would be smart, in retrospect, to be a bit more involved in the process than I was in order to ensure best results.    For instance, as the illustration above indicates, there are choices in whether or not you wish to have joints that are intended primarily for forward motion (think bowling, jogging) or the qualities of reverse (tennis, rappelling down mountainsides, politics) where back-pedaling is most useful.   Manufacturers cast small imprints in the artificial joints, a tiny "F" for primarily forward motion, and an "R" for primarily reverse motion.  An indifferent surgeon may not bother to check, in which case you could get one of each.   Choice should be made by you, prior to lying on the gurney and receiving anesthetic, or you may get whatever the soup of the day happens to be.  In my case, today I find it far less stressful walking in reverse.

The next piece of advice I would give is to ask for gradually lessened dosages of medication.   Let's be honest:  you can try to mask pain with narcotics, but a by-product of this application of meds to cover up what is basically a brutal operation is that your system comes to an unexpected stop… joined with nausea, depression and an unrealistic view of the world of hospitals, rehab centers and an invalid's life, while your bones mend.

I chose to remove myself from those nasty pills only after I realized I wasn't who I thought I was.

I began to examine my behavior, why I no longer cared to use the bathroom, and the downturn in my activity levels, while my appetite waned.  And, I knew this wasn't characteristically me!    The photo below (taken one week into the opioid regimen) illustrates my experiments measuring my intake with output.    (Apple juice in glass; used apple juice in the decanter.  The toast was a tray garnish I could not eat.)

One week following surgery, as a patient in a DePere rehab
facility, regularly taking opioids.   I had achieved a sort of
physical balance, but the rest of me was still out of whack.

But, for each person, such experiences might be entirely different.   I've talked with several people who not only weathered the experience but were overjoyed with the advantages of one knee replacement, and they willingly returned to the operating table to repeat that experience on knee #2.  

My hat's off to them.  But I say (and did say), "Do it and get it over with!"

So, as I prepare this blog and consider the personal encouragement I can give others,  I'm also thankful for the advent of modern medicine that has given me increased mobility, the objective of my efforts.   Maybe, one day, with practice, I'll be able to jump and run again in forward, as I do now in reverse.

-  Dick Purinton