Thursday, January 12, 2017


This shot may look as though it was tweaked by photo-shopping, but not so.
Tim Graul took this photo at Northport Saturday, Jan. 7, after several days
of high winds added successive layers of frozen spray to the ferry's bow.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

During the past month, we've had a mix:   mild weather; high winds and cold temperatures; a good snow cover of nearly a foot; then rain on top of fresh snow, followed a few hours later by plunging temperatures.   A bit of just about everything.

But, it's cold enough that the harbors and the bay have finally frozen over.  In just a week or so, most of upper Green Bay has seen sheets of ice, and this has changed the ferry operations for the better.  Prior to this week, the absence of ice led to freezing spray and icing on decks, enough so that a week ago only the morning ferry trip was made using the AJR.  The crew went to work trying to remove as much ice as possible, and as the wind subsided a bit, trips were resumed the following morning using the Robert Noble.   By afternoon, with the Island channel becoming choked with ice, the Arni J. Richter resumed operations.  It looks as though this will be the ferry for operations for the next several months.

Joel Gunnlaugsson on deck of Arni J. Richter at Northport Pier.
(Graul photo)

The absence of ice makes it easier, but only when there are moderate winds and temperatures.  Joel Gunnlaugsson is shown in on deck holding a long bar used for knocking away ice, but also for prying open the frozen bow ramp.   Those photos were taken by retired naval architect and designer of the Arni J. Richter, Tim Graul, who happened to take an afternoon ride up the peninsula to our Northport dock, where he found the ferry loaded and ready to depart.

This morning I rode the ferry to check on the work progress at the Northport terminal building.  I decided this might also be a good opportunity to take photos and video along the way.  The ice had built up considerably in the days since Saturday's crossing.  A field of 4-to-6 inch ice slid against the tripod legs Tuesday morning and created an ice shove, according to Erik Foss.  A good photographic opportunity, he suggested, after asking why there haven't been new blogs lately.

I used my iPhone camera to obtain video, which worked quite well.  But because the air temperature was only 14 degrees, it shut down on me shortly after passing the entrance light. As we headed into a stretch of open water on the back side of Plum Island, I headed for the engine room to warm and restart my phone.

The second purpose of my trip, to document the work being done at Northport, commenced when I centered the two fiberglass porta potties in my camera lens, in front of the terminal building.  It was a shot I hoped would get the message across for viewers of this blog, that public toilets in the building were no longer in service (in fact, they are no longer there!).  As I was about to snap this photo, the toilet door on the left opened slightly and a woman peeked out to find my camera trained in her direction.

No, I hadn't intended to take her photo as she exited the toilet, I said.  I was concerned she might get entirely the wrong idea.  While I awkwardly stumbled over my words of apology and took the photo of the pair of toilets with the terminal building in the background, as I had planned, another lady opened the door of the second unit.  Too late!

Yes, they said, the facilities lacked heat, and no, I didn't stick around to find out their names or where they were from (their husbands waited near their car, across the driveway.)

So, if anyone should wonder, these outdoor toilets are in working order (filled with anti-freeze, I assume) and they are placed there for use by the construction workers and the general public.  But my recommendation is that if you're traveling to or from Washington Island, then please consider using the toilets on the ferry when the opportunity presents itself.

As for construction progress, the former Northport restaurant kitchen is now framed in and well along to becoming space for the men's and women's toilets. A utility closest is nearby.   The newly enlarged lobby opens to the Visitor Information Center in two wide openings that will have glass doors.   The finished product is rather hard to feature or appreciate at this point, but workmen are actively remodeling this space so that in several months' time it can be reopened for the busier travel season.  In the meantime, your patience is appreciated.

Back on the Island

Several smaller, but important, projects have been taken on by the ferry crew.  In the office area, Con McDonald is refitting overhead flourescent lighting with LED lighting for energy savings.

Rows of many, small LED lights within a clear, plastic housing replaces the old fixture,
 a filament bulb that was screwed into a socket of the former masthead light housing.

On the Eyrarbakki, Joel is engaged with installing new LED navigational lights, along with a new lighting panel.  As required, the new lights, which look dramatically different from the ones they replace, incandescent bulb style-lighting, will also have a back-up feature, both in power source and in the bulbs themselves, should the primary set for some reason fail.

A century ago or less, many vessels had kerosene lamps behind magnification lenses, eventually changing over to electric navigational lights in brass and glass housing.  Moulded plastic housings eventually replaced the brass or steel housings, and so this step is just the latest in improved equipment. A new pilot house lighting control panel with a solid state board is being installed at the same time.

-  Dick Purinton