Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding workers gathered in the yard fabrication
shop Monday to witness first plate cutting for the Madonna project,
along with representatives from USCG Sturgeon Bay Marine Safety Office, 
Seacraft Design of Sturgeon Bay, and 
Washington Island Ferry Line.
(photo by Jim Legault)

- Detroit Harbor

A button was pushed at 9 a.m. Monday, August 12 by the Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding operator to begin the first cutting of steel components for the new Washington Island Ferry, Madonna.

First pieces to be cut were three bulkheads out of 1/4" plate stock, components that will eventually fit below the main deck and help provide structural rigidity to the hull.

On hand for the occasion were Ferry Line Vice President Rich Ellefson, President Hoyt Purinton, along with Mary Jo and Richard Purinton, CEO.  Mark Pudlo, Naval Architect and principal for Seacraft Design, was also on hand, as was Sarah Reid, project inspector for the U. S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office, and associated Fincantieri workers and supervisors.

Fincantieri's burn machine is computer controlled and
makes cuts in seeming random fashion...but actually,
the cuts are made in sequence to lessen heat on any
particular portion of the steel sheet.  Pieces being cut
were for three forward bulkheads of 1/4 " steel.

Several noteworthy points were met on this occasion.  It will be the fourth ferry project for Washington Island with Steve Propsom's involvement.  Steve is the Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding Sr. Project Manager for New Construction.  He was also involved with Robert Noble (1979) and Washington (1989) while at Peterson Builders, Inc., and with the building of the Arni J. Richter at Bay Ship in 2003.   Now Steve's daughter, Stephanie, continues in her family's shipbuilding tradition as the fourth generation to do so.  She is Assistant Counsel to the General Counsel for Fincantieri Shipbuilding, LLC.  Having a good understanding of the shipbuilding process, Stephanie was responsible for language in the new ferry contract.   Not to be overlooked, Hoyt Purinton also represents a fourth generation in the Richter family to head the Washington Island Ferry Line.

Stephanie and Steve Propsom, father-daughter management for
Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, also represent the third and fourth generation
of Propsom involvement in local shipbuilding..
Although the Madonna project officially began with a contract signing in mid-May, construction now begins in earnest.  After several more weeks of burning steel plate into shapes and sizes, guided by drawings from naval architecture firm Seacraft Design, assembly will begin.  But as of now, the large fabrication building assembly space is taken up with barge sections in final stages of completion. That project, when it sails, will haul ore and other bulk materials for the Van Ekenvort Towing Company as the Erie Trader.  The 500-foot mid-body is already assembled and in the graving dock, awaiting the bow and stern before being floated out for finish work.

A second cutting ceremony took place,
this time a cake in the Fincantieri conference room,
with Mary Jo Purinton doing the honors.
Actual steel assembly for the new ferry Madonna will likely begin in September and then will  continue without break until completion.  A late May 2020 delivery is anticipated.  

For more information on the naming of the new ferry, Madonna, please see blog posted on May 14th of this year.

-  Dick Purinton

Friday, August 2, 2019

Rock Island: Diploma frame with a story

Thordarson's honorary Master of Arts diploma is framed by what appears
to be a story carved in wood by Halldor Einarsson.

- Detroit Harbor, Washington Island

We recently traveled to Northern Europe and began a two-week journey by ship in Stockholm, ending in Oslo.  In between we visited various ports, most of them along the Baltic seacoast.  Our cruise was advertised "On the Trail of Vikings," which for me was an important interest.

One of our Viking Sun presenters spoke about Old Norse and of Futhark, the ancient runes and literature of the Viking era.  I introduced myself to Dr. William Whobrey afterwards.  We met later in the afternoon, and then I showed him several Rock Island photos from my iPad.  I explained the significance of Thordarson, and also the man I believe had carved the oak frame surrounding Thordarson's diploma.  Although it hangs in full view to the right of the large fireplace in the Thordarson boat house on Rock Island,  I'd never paid particular attention to its detail.  At least, not until it was pointed out to me by Icelandic guest Jonas Asgrimsson in June 2018.

I interpreted the carved symbols on the frame as follows:

The child in the cradle at the bottom center (Thordarson) begins life under a shining sun.  He then embarks on two routes (in bare feet) toward achievement of his life's meaning ("X"), at top center.

His life's journey in one direction (to the left) signifies his growth through books, learning from the ideas of others.  The candle above a bookshelf shows both a humble beginning and enlightenment.  Thordarson, in fact, was largely self-taught.

This child prodigy advances in life, accumulating knowledge, and eventually he's recognized as  learned, the mortar board and tassel in the upper left hand corner of the frame symbolizing achievement.

As he advances in life, and prospers, too, his footprints reveal wooden sandals, not bare feet.  And once he receives his diploma - a recognized achievement learning - imprints are made by leather soles with heels, toward his ultimate life meaning at "X."

Do you know what this is?  Would it be a medieval crest
worn by a guild master?  Or something similar?

But, Thordarson's growth benefitted equally from hands-on experimentation as much as from books.

He tinkered, invented and manufactured.  He proved his ideas in the physical world and soon masters electricity (he holds the bolt of lightning in his fist).  Then he works his way upward in a poor man's footwear, wooden shoes, toward further achievement.  

At the upper right hand corner is a symbol that I believe is the equivalent of a Middle Ages guild hat or stole, sign of having achieved prominence by doing.

We know that Thordarson won several medals through his exhibits at the World's Fair in St. Louis, and at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition in San Fransisco.  He was noted for such achievements.

I have not been able to positively identify the particular symbol of the upper right corner.  Nor have I obtained a positive answer from anyone, so far.   If you have insight into what this symbol is, please let me know!

The carving details and the cleverness of the story as revealed in the elements, I am convinced, were the work of Icelandic wood carver Halldor Einarsson.  He, of course, was responsible for the Norse-mythology carvings that embellish Thordarson's furniture, and I believe, the runic symbols over the fire place hearth.  But for whatever reasons, this diploma frame has escaped previous attention.

And now, moving on to a further question, one that I was able to receive help with from Dr. William Whobrey.  Upon my return home, I emailed him an improved photo of the baby in the cradle, with tiny rune characters carved into the footboard.  What could those runes tell us?

He responded:

      "It's taken quite a bit of work, but I think I've deciphered and translated the saying on the cradle.  The runes are from the Younger Futhark, which has quite a bit of variation.  Here is the transcription:


"In Icelandic, this means something like: "The food of wise men is often misunderstood by others."   That's rather prosaic, but perhaps you can imagine a more poetic version.  I hope this solves the mystery of the cradle's proverb.  All the best."

I then forwarded this to friends Almar Grimsson and Lydur Palsson in Iceland for their input.

Almar wrote back with a suggestion to change two letters, so that it would read in Icelandic:


Lydur, Museum Director in Eyrarbakki, wrote:  "Matinn af monnum vitrum misskilionn oft af hinum" is not everyday talk here in Iceland!

So, dear readers, any thoughts?

I think the proverb aptly applies to Thordarson, the "wise man."  He was fed, and grew, by doing and by reading, along paths not always understood by others.   Too simple an explanation?

Here is a color photo of the frame, one that better shows the tiny footprints carved by Einarsson.

- Dick Purinton