Wednesday, May 22, 2019


New ferry details discussed:  Ferry Line and Fincantieri principals
( L to R)  Todd Thayse, Rich Ellefson, Justin Slater,
Steve Propsom and Hoyt Purinton.

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

The big news of this past week has been the announcement of a new ferry for Washington Island, to be named MADONNA.  Measuring 124 x 40 x 10'8', and with a pair of 800 hp CAT diesels, stainless ice class wheels, heavy framing...this vessel has winter capabilities.  That is not to say it will be THE winter ferry, for there is already one, very capable ferry vessel for that purpose, the Arni J. Richter, which at 104-ft. LOA, can maneuver well in confined areas of ice, wind and current.  The MADONNA will be a back-up, and as her capabilities become better known, may take over in certain times of the winter as need arises.

Gathered to witness the signing of the new ferry
contract were:  Justin Slater, Hoyt Purinton,
Todd Thayse, Rich Ellefson, Steve Propsom 

and Ryan Hoernke.

A question already asked several times:  Will you sell one of the other ferries?

The answer is "No."  There is need for additional vehicle capacity, above our present capacity, that this new ferry will bring.  The Eyrarbakki, oldest of the fleet (50 years in 2020), is still a very useful and able vessel, and the cost to build new, or to rebuild an older vessel, as we've found out through research and comparisons, is significant.  So, while the machinery, and even the basic layout, may beg for updating at some future date, we'll continue to operate the Eyrarbakki as she is presently, with upgrades when and where necessary.   But to consider selling this or any of the other ferries is not in the picture at the present.

Now, on to other things!

 Eyrarbakki on a sunny afternoon.

How many of you are thinking of going to Iceland in June 2020 as a part of the Washington Island 150th Celebration Delegation?

Please raise your hands by way of letting us know through the email site      Bill Schott and I will tally up the rough numbers to gauge the level of serious interest to date.

There are several reasons for learning how many of you, and who exactly, may be interested in
such a trip.  For instance, there is one traveler who would like a travel companion.  Knowing in advance who might be traveling will aid in this individual's search.

During the past several months we've determined that the approximate dates of intended
celebration in Eyrarbakki, Iceland, have been confirmed by our Icelandic counterparts.

Those dates will be: June 9/10 in Eyrarbakki, Iceland;     October 6/7 for our Icelandic guests to visit Washington Island.    Two days have been set aside, for further refinement as we close in on those dates and expand upon the celebration itinerary information.  

You will certainly want to broaden your Iceland experiences apart from planned IcelandicCelebration2020 activities, such as touring the magnificent countryside, and visiting historical and cultural attractions found there.   As we approach Late Spring in 2020, I should think that either one large group or several smaller groups may be formed to organize additional tour options.  But the main event, the planned celebration in Eyrarbakki, we think will be a highlight of experiences for Washington Island-connected travelers.

Thorlakshavn harbor offers protection to fishing vessels and is the primary
port forferries departing for Westman Islands in non-summer months.
 Located approximately 15 miles southwest of Eyrarbakki.

You need not commit at this time to going, but we'd like an indication of who is seriously considering traveling at this time.  And, we would suggest that by September / October of this year you will have begun to firm up your Icelandic lodging and flight plans.   Remember, if you don't wish to make your lodging or tour arrangements, the website "Hey, Iceland!" is one to look at.  The folks there will take good care of you in making such arrangements.

Looking like a movie set for an industrial plant, this is a "backlot view" of the
 most modern geothermal 
power plants that provides Reykjavik
and suburban areas with
 hot water and electric energy produced
from steam piped
 from underground sources, powering steam
turbines.   This proved to be an extremely

interesting stop, unexpected and enjoyed by all ages in our group.
So, now that you've given it a bit more thought, raise your hands in the air and let us know if you'll be among those folks with Icelandic / Washington Island ties who will help make history as a part of the 2020 Celebration.

Send an email to and give us your name(s).  With your permission, we will begin a list of participant names and email addresses.

Ask questions.  Provide suggestions.  If you think others might appreciate your experience, knowledge, research and comments, then let us know those things, too.

-  Dick Purinton

Tuesday, May 14, 2019


Several winters ago, the approach to Northport Pier's south ramp was
extended.   Work is presently underway to install new ramp sections
to provide an easier grade for vehicles boarding and exiting ferries.

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

In addition to extensive pier modifications to meet the challenges of Lake Michigan's high water levels, on top of typical spring tasks of fitting out, painting and dressing up of each ferry before the summer season begins in earnest, Hoyt Purinton and Rich Ellefson, Ferry Line President and Vice President, respectively, have been busy pursuing a major Company goal:  planning a new ferry.

Monday morning, May 13, a contract agreement to build a new auto / passenger ferry was signed with officials of Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding (formerly Manitowoc Bay Shipbuilding) in Sturgeon Bay.  This new ferry will be christened MADONNA and will measure 124 x 40 x 10-8.  With heavy structural members and shell plating, this ferry will be capable of winter ice work.  Its dimensions will provide a platform for up to 24 autos in the summer, when demand for capacity is greatest.   Upper deck, outdoor seating and a climate-controlled mezzanine deck cabin will provide accommodation for up to 150 passengers.  Restrooms will be located on both the Main Deck and the Mezzanine Deck.

The Sturgeon Bay shipyard, which also constructed the Eyrarbakki (1970) and the Arni J. Richter (2003) will place the order for steel, and the Ferry Line will finalize an order for a pair of (owner-furnished) CAT-C32 diesels with Twin Disc transmissions.   All vessel construction will take place indoors, within the yard's large fabrication shed.  A late-spring launch is anticipated, to be followed by finish work, fitting out, sea trials and U. S. Coast Guard approvals, with an estimated delivery date of the new ferry for late May 2020.

Profile drawing of ferry MADONNA by Seacraft Design, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.

A vessel's name can be of lasting importance, and so the choice ought to be made with care!  Following is a brief background behind selection of the name MADONNA  for this newest ferry.

                   MADONNA - New Washington Island Ferry 

Schooner Madonna was owned and sailed by Ole Christiansen, and many
Island men, including Ole's sons, were crew, from 1895 through the 1914
season. It was then abandoned in Detroit Harbor.

A new ferry vessel will soon be added to the Washington Island Ferry Line fleet.   A contract has been signed with Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, Inc. of Sturgeon Bay, with delivery scheduled for late May 2020.  When placed in service, this ferry at 124’ loa x 40’ beam x 10’-8” draft will become the largest, with the most deck capacity, of any vessel in the Ferry Line fleet.

Prior to being placed in service, she will be christened Madonna, a name taken from the schooner that frequently sailed from Washington Island harbors over 100 years ago.  The name has significant historical and cultural connections.  

“In choosing the name Madonna, Mary Jo and I wish to recognize the Island’s maritime ties with the schooner Madonna,” Richard Purinton, Ferry Line CEO, announced.  

Two views of Ole Christiansen's Madonna, aground 
and abandoned in Detroit Harbor.  Ole's home was 
nearby, at the south end of Main Road, today the 
Hanlin residence. 
Kirsten and Ole Christiansen and their 
horse "Frank." Photo from Over and Back (1990), 
furnished then by Esther Waal, Christensen daughter.
MADONNA, sailing career ended.  Taken by a Koken
family photographer from perspective of the
Kalmbach/Koken property (Circa 1915-1920).

Madonna departs from past ferry christenings in that it is a feminine name.  Increased recognition and emphasis on respect for women makes this name—Italian for “my lady”—fitting and just.  It is impossible as well to consider the nameMadonna without its direct reference to the Mother of Jesus and her image as venerated by Christians, scholars and artists over the centuries.   She will become a great addition to the Ferry Line fleet.”  

The original schooner Madonna (76 GT) was built in 1871 by the Aylward shipyard of Milwaukee.  She measured nearly 80 feet length overall, with a 24-ft. beam and 6-ft. draft, centerboard up.  She was a frequent sight in Island harbors, loading sawn lumber, cordwood and Island agricultural products, such as potatoes.  Her cargoes were transported to major ports along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Her captain, and Madonna’s second owner, was Ole Christiansen (b.1861 - d.1937) who emigrated from Norway at the age of 20 with his wife and one child.  Ole became an Island resident and an entrepreneur.  

An example of the enterprise of Ole Christiansen and his schooner can be found in one Door County Advocate entry of 1895:

   The schooner Madonna just came off the stocks last July, after a thorough rebuild, but still Capt. Christianson (sp.) is finding something to do on her this spring in getting her ready to battle with the wind and waves.  The Madonna is the packet that was entitled to carry the broom last season out of this place.  From the first of August till the middle of November she made trips to Sheboygan, Milwaukee and Chicago, most of them during the heavy weather prevailing last fall and cleared for the owner about $300.  This is a grand record in comparison to the rest of the fleet, some making from eight to fifteen trips only during the whole season of ’94 and consequently coming out behind financially.  As the Capt. thinks of getting a square sail and raffle next season for his ship we would advise him to rub her bottom well before starting with some non-combustible stuff, as the terrific friction might ignite the planks, and—well—be careful, Ole. 

Christiansen built a pier on Jackson Harbor’s NE rim from which he shipped timber products.  Later, Ole maintained a small shipyard with marine railway where he hauled vessels.  He also repaired vessels and motors. His shipyard was adjacent to the structure known today as the “Standard Oil” pier.  Ole's family home was near the south end of Main Road where he established a sawmill and a machine shop.   A small rowboat moored to a nearby dock on Detroit Harbor provided him with access to his own Madonna, as well as other vessels requiring his services.

It was in Detroit Harbor’s shallows, late in the year 1914, that Madonna was abandoned and stripped of useful hardware, her sailing days over.   Over the subsequent 43 years the derelict Madonna deteriorated, until in1958 above-water remains were burned. 

This model was commissioned and then dedicated in Trinity Lutheran
Church during the tenure of Rev. James Reiff.

A six-foot long model of the Madonna by model maker Donald Gospodarek of Institute, commissioned for Trinity Lutheran Church, was dedicated in August of 1981 and then suspended from the church nave.  Such practice of displaying a vessel model was common in Scandinavian churches, for intercession and blessings on those who sail and those who depend on maritime commerce for trade and transportation.  It was also a memorial to Kelly Jess, young son of Karen and Butch Jess, who died of cancer a short time earlier.  The model continues to honor the Island’s maritime past.

A plaque mounted  on the north wall of the church reads:   

The schooner “Madonna” is dedicated to the glory of God; the memory of Kelly R. Jess, and in grateful appreciation for the lives of all Island seafarers, past, present and future.

   The “Madonna” was built by the Aylward Shipbuilding Company of Milwaukee in 1871. A sturdy vessel, “Madonna” was 72 feet long at the water line, and weighed 76 tons (gross).  Her beam was 24 feet, with a 6-foot draft (with the centerboard up).

   The “Madonna” was owned and operated by Norwegian immigrant Ole Christiansen and tramped around the Great Lakes carrying cargoes of opportunity such as fruit, pulp wood, fish, dry goods and salt.  Gallant to the end, “Madonna” finally sank in Detroit Harbor in 1915.

  The model of the “Madonna” was constructed by noted Great Lakes Model Ship Builder Donald Gospodarek of Door County. This splendid remembrance of God’s love for his people was generously donated by:

                                               The Orville Jess Family
                                           Dr. and Mrs. Joseph D. Weldon
                                           Professor and Mrs. Martin Marty
 End -  Dick Purinton, ferrycabinnews blog   

Wednesday, May 1, 2019


May 2nd - Lake Michigan's level nearly overtops bulkhead at ferry dock.
Extensions to mooring pipes and raised fenders--work
accomplished in the past year, now prove essential.
essential under such conditions.

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Yet another dirty, windy day.  Winds continue from the ENE, currently spitting moisture in gusts of 30 mph or more.  Not a good day to rake, garden, golf or participate in outdoor activities, including a short dash from house to car, from car to grocery, or from car to post office.

Of course, there are workers who must be outdoors and perform their duties through the day, and they include the ferry crews.

Spring, if it will ever come, has been reluctant to show itself.  Temperatures have consistently been in the low 30s to mid 40s, and we've even seen flakes of snow on occasion.  But we're not alone here on the island.  Snow accumulation occurred in past weeks throughout Wisconsin, south and north.   I stopped one day at Home Depot in Green Bay, and I couldn't help but smile at the line of mowers covered in snow.  Rushing the season, I wondered?

Home Depot in Green Bay in early April

Looking down the waterfront, in particuar at the Island ferry landings, the rise in water level is inescapable.  Nearing the high water marks  recorded in the late 1980s, and with ferry decks considerably above the level of our docks, changes have to be made for ease and safety in loading.

In order to provide means of proper adjustment, steps were recently taken to raise the main ramp located at the end of the Island pier.

Contractor Mike Kahr, in coordination with Ferry Line crewmen, removed that ramp section and installed hinge beams to which the inboard end of the ramp is connected.  Concrete adds (a temporary measure, we hope) slope to meet the new ramp height.  Such changes are time-consuming, add to operational costs, but hopes are that this solution will serve our purpose, and that even more extreme future measures will not be necessary.  Who can predict if this high water mark will be the maximum?

Work will continue to provide the public with greater ease and safety in boarding, with the avoidance of extreme slopes on ferry ramps at Northport.  That plan will call for removal of the short ramp located on the pier's south side, and in its place sections of the ramp formerly located on end of that pier will be installed.  Those two 20 x 20 ramp sections will be joined strengthened for a longer approach on the south side.  New piling foundations will be required to hold this structure in place.   (Previously, for the past 35 years or so, electric screw jacks were used to adjust the south ramp angle.)

All such work, it is anticipated, will be completed prior to the busiest traffic season, when increased passenger and vehicle traffic demands usage of multiple landing points.

Jon Mann, Jed and Rich 
Ellefson and Hoyt Purinton shovel and level
cement from Martin Andersen's truck.

Sunday morning pour - Saturday's 20 x 20 pad was enlarged
with another, sloped section.  Location of pour
was complicated by two ferry ramps in close
 proximity to one another.

Jon Mann clears chute as Martin
Andersen, driver, prepares to reposition

In addition to such waterfront projects, an upgrade in Island terminal restroom flooring and partitions, a new water cooler with water bottle fill option and new carpeting, have been installed in late March, early April.  Not something one often notes as a highlight when traveling, but the results should make for a more pleasant experience overall.

What else goes on here in spring, you ask?

I've recently completed several carvings that I call "medallions," intended for application to the interior of the Stavkirke.   Initially inspired by a Norwegian pendant worn by Connie Sena, I expanded that design to a 12-inch diameter line drawing.  As this carving neared completion in early April, I found other pleasing designs of either Celtic or "Viking" origin.  (Such designs are, for the most part, culturally interchangeable, artistic motifs that were incorporated in ancient jewelry, weaponry, stone and wood.)  Included here are the examples thus far completed, installed in the Stavkirke.

Bottom design taken from Connie Sena's
Norwegian pendant.

With the activity of wood carving plus other repeated physical motions, I developed, temporarily, I hope, signs of bursitis in my right elbow, and later, finger joints. Better now, I can type on this computer, and I've even taken up the carving tools once again.  Summer, sunshine (but probably not raking) lie ahead, and I look forward to working outdoors once again.

-  Dick Purinton