Friday, September 20, 2019


Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -


Whether measuring tonnage, life-time benefits, production per round trip, vehicle capacity, icebreaking capabilities, etc., it isn't hard to say which should come out on top:  the ferry, of course!

In the Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin, an online contest now underway (at madeinwisconsin), the Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding product entry, a 124-ft. ice breaking ferry for Washington Island Ferry Line, is matched against the GLK Foods LLC packaged pickle product, "Oh Snap! Dilly Pickles."

Vote today, and vote often!  (Daily voting is encouraged.)

Out of a field of 150 Wisconsin product entries, the new Fincantieri ferry for Washington Island emerged as #7 in the popular vote.  In the ensuing round of voting which is now in progress, one entrant is matched product-for-procuct against another.  This bracket match-up pits the ferry vs.  pickle bites.

Each bracket winner will be announced Monday at noon, and by Tuesday morning new pairings featuring the Elite Eight will be posted online, and a new week of voting starts all over again.  By Oct 8, as elimination voting continues, the winner will be announced.  What will the prize be?  Product recognition by the public will certainly be a side-benefit.   Perhaps a plaque for the shipbuilder, Fincantieri?  The prize remains to be seen, but from the point of product usefulness and community pride...this Door County product made for daily use in Door County...should motivate us to vote for our local shipbuilder and the ferry product that will become the Madonna.

Adding to the local, Door County, Wisconsin picture of support for the new ferry project is Seacraft Design, a firm that provides blueprints and engineering support necessary for construction of a ferry product that meets, or exceeds, federal standards for a vehicle/passenger ferry.

Of course, many materials and products are sourced that make up a ferry of this size and complexity. We can say with pride that Caterpillar diesels will be provided by FABCO of Green Bay, Wisconsin. The transmissions, or reduction gears, will be provided by Twin Disc of Racine, Wisconsin.  Northern Lights generators will be supplied through distributor Burger Boat Company of Manitowoc.  Stainless propellers and shafts are on order from Kahlenberg Bros. of Two Rivers, Wisconsin.  And so on.  Many, many products and services contribute to the overall vessel that will be the ferry Madonna, a product capable of carrying people, vehicles and cargo across Death's Door waters, in all seasons of the year, for decades to come.

Naval Architect Mark Pudlo, principal at Seacraft Design, working
structural details for new ferry.  Engineering calculations and design
solutions must follow
 approved shipbuilding practice, with
materials and construction methods meeting U.S. Coast Guard
Seacraft plans and blueprints must
be readily understood
 and provide detailed guidance to  
Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding workforce.  As an architect with
Tim Graul Marine Design for many years, Mark helped in

design or modifications for each Washington Island ferry
at some point in his career.

Construction progress of the new Washington Island Ferry Madonna continues on schedule, with framing and main deck erected in an inverted position on a jig.  Bulkheads, flat bar and angle stiffeners provide definition to the hull plates.  Nearly all shipbuilding thus far on the ferry is within Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding's largest shed, out of the weather and adjacent to the computerized burning machine. Skilled tradesmen, welders and fitters in particular, assemble marked pieces in an orderly, rapid fashion.

Earlier this week shipyard representatives visited Washington Island to examine finish work on the ferry Arni J. Richter, built at the Bay Shipbuilding yard sixteen years ago, in order to determine how best to accomplish several of the later task requirements, such as painting and wiring.  Modern paint methods require specific temperature ranges for application, with critical timing between coatings for best bonding results.  It's also imperative that as much welding is completed as possible, in order to avoid burning of and disturbance of the coating.

First bulkhead being set (bulkhead #9).  Bulkheads are key components that not only
strengthen the ship but divide it into several watertight compartments, key to vessel flotation
should shell plating be penetrated or compartments become flooded, for any reason.
(Steve Propsom, Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding photo taken Friday, Sept. 20)

In the photos below, taken by Steve Propsom, Fincantieri Ship Building's Project Supervisor, the machine shop holds completed rudder stocks with Thordon bearings, and propeller shaft stern tubes. These parts await installation at a later date when hull construction is well along.  Another shot shows the ferry deck's underside, and the beginning of fuel tank fabrication.  The fuel tank, which will hold just under 10,000 gallons of fuel, will have enough capacity to accept a tanker load of fuel with a cushion of 2,000 gallons.  In another photo, welders and fitters assemble deck plating with stiffeners.

The process continues - regardless of the contest - with two workshifts advancing the process.
    -  Dick Purinton

Journeyman Welder, 1st Shift, Bill Bowman, operates a welding
machine, sub-arcing a frame together.  (Jim Legault photo)

Friday, September 6, 2019


So, what are we looking at?  Inside the fabrication building, largest on the
Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding property, a construction jig is set and ready to receive
cut plates that will make up the new ferry's structure.

Detroit Harbor -

The ferry Madonna project is now underway, and plates recently cut are stacked and await assembly on the jig in the background of the above photo.

An automated welding machine with capabilities of multiple welding passes is fastening flat bar stiffners to large plates, bulkheads that will define below-decks compartments, giving them structural strength and definition.  Madonna Project Supervisor Steve Propsom took the photos shown here on Sept. 4th to document the production process.

An automated machine, IMG, simultaneously welds
stiffener bars to the flat plate, providing strength,
eliminating flexing.  (All photos by Steve Propsom,
Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding of Sturgeon Bay)
 Plates are marked as they're cut, enabling easy and positive identification in the assembly process.
Hull curvature can be seen on the far edge of the plate being welded.

The 124-ft. x 40 -ft. ferry is scheduled to be completed and delivered by June 1, 2020, for placement in service shortly thereafter.


Followers of the Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding construction project will be able to add their support for the "Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin."  This competition is sponsored by the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and Johnson Financial Group.

Entrants must first qualify for the contest voting.  Fincantieri recently received word that their submission of the Madonna project qualified them for the first round of voting, open from September 9-15.   You can cast your vote online during that time period at:         

If the first round of voting proves successful, then join in a second round of voting that will narrow the sixteen finalists to eight, and so on, until a winner is determined.   Below is the competition time table:

August 12-30           Nominations accepted.    (Successful!)
September 9-15        Popular Vote to determine the field of 16 finalists
September 16           Announce the Top 16
September 17-22      First Round of the Bracket    
September 23           Announce the Top 8
September 24-29      Second Round of the Bracket
September 30           Announce Top 4
October 1-8              Final Round of Voting
October 8                 Winner Announced

Not only is this ferry project a unique contest entrant, given it's size and complexity, it carries with it significant historical and cultural meaning for Wisconsin, for Door County, and for Washington Island, and for the thousands of people who visit or live here, and who will in the future rely on the finished ferry product to transport them, their vehicles and essential goods, across Death's Door waters.   

We hope enthusiasm for this project carries well beyond Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding and Washington Island Ferry Line, and SeaCraft Design, to be joined and supported by thousands of members of the general public.  Keep the above dates in mind, and please spread the word!  


 - Dick Purinton