Friday, June 26, 2020


Fortunately many good photographers were on hand
when the Arni J. Richter was christened at the Island
dock May23, 2003.  This one was taken by Bruce McKay
and captured the Island Festival Chorus, led by Dan Hansen, 
 and the Festival Orchestra, led by Stephen Colburn.
Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

We've covered considerable ground reminiscing about Washington Island Ferry Line christenings.  Our previous blog (June 23) brought us to the ferry Washington's christening in June 1989.

The Washington design was much different than any previous WIFL ferries by incorporating a large upper deck, and a "sun deck" above that, supported by both the side curtain structure and the pedestal - or trunk - located at the vessel centerline.  Fore and aft stairways offered access to upper deck spaces, including the pilot house that was elevated several feet above the passenger deck for best pilot visibility.  As with any design, kinks needed to be worked out.  Those that could not, or would not, accept modification became something we've gotten used to over time.

As an example, the 100-ft. auto deck length allows a rather easy five vehicles per lane, with four lanes, for a total of 20 vehicles.  If there are a good number of small cars, that totalcould be increased to 21 autos without too much strain.   However, those lanes squeezed alongside the center trunk tended to be narrow.  When loading large or bulky vehicles, two cannot be parked side-by-side.  Large campers, straight trucks, or semis would automatically reduce vehicle capacity in those lanes.   For semi trucks it is often a tricky maneuver to get the truck's last set of wheels as far outboard as possible, so that rear sets of wheels will track through the ramp opening during the unloading process.  Overhead dimensions were meant to accommodate standard semi trailer heights, but we soon found out that many newer over-the-road trucks pushed 70 feet in length and occasionally exceeded 13'-6" in height.  Sprinkler heads located on the main deck overhead have often been raked by those high trucks, requiring replacement.

But overall, this ferry proved to be a great addition to the fleet.

Ferry Arni J. Richter

After the one-time experiment with a center pedestal design on the Washington, in 2002 we began considering a new ferry design that reverted back to a main deck superstructure, this one tucked as tightly to starboard as possible.   This enclosure included a main deck passenger cabin, a unisex head, fore and aft stairs, an engine room access - all within that starboard structure.  While there would be two car slots forward and to starboard, the remainder of the vehicle deck had ample width for three lanes, 104 ft.  x 10-ft. width, each lane.  Vehicle loads could now consistently reach 18 units, even when a couple of straight trucks, boats on trailers, or campers boarded the ferry.

A most important feature of the new Arni J. Richter was its intended use in winter. Adequate cabin and pilot house heat (also AC), insulation and tight windows, helped support that.  Main propulsion would require ample horsepower, with stout framing, heavy propeller shafts, and stainless, ice-class propellers. Heavy rudders followed behind them.

Naming the 2003 ferry for its owner and president of many years was a foregone conclusion.  Arni Richter and his father, Carl, had purchased two wooden ferries in 1940 from William Jepson.  Over 60 years later, Arni was still intimately involved with the company, and he offered many suggestions in design and detail (some taken, some not!).  We had the extensive background and expertise of the Tim Graul Marine Design team, and that helped in designing a vessel we needed, one we intended to operate for many decades in these waters, for four seasons of the year.  Tim and his staff had already engineered many modifications on each of our existing ferries. This new ice breaker would receive their input of experienced ideas.  (Mark Pudlo, naval architect, would later purchase TGMD when Tim Graul retired, and continue his services under Seacraft Design, in Sturgeon Bay.)

The christening ceremony was held at the Island ferry dock May 24, 2003, after the boat had been delivered to WIFL, and it was attended by a largest crowd of any christening ceremony to date, some especially invited, but most just Island people who "showed up" to witness the event.  The series of photos below capture a good part of that day's crowd.

Someone photographed the crowd during the AJR
May christening.  How many people can you
identify in the photos? (unknown photographer)
The Island Festival Choir, led by Dan Hansen, sang, and members of the Island Music Festival orchestra accompanied them, besides playing several other numbers.  Island school children had been invited earlier to participate in a coloring contest.  An original poem about the new ferry Arni J. Richter was read by Bill and Liz Jorgenson's son, Dale.

After nearly an hour of remarks, music and testimonials on the new ferry's future, Arni stepped to the side gate and smashed the bottle to christen his own vessel.  (A second swing of the bottle was required to do the job!)

Arni J. Richter christens the Arni J. Richter.
(photo by Bruce McKay)
For these past 17 years, the ferries Eyrarbakki, Robert Noble, Washington and Arni J. Richter have been essential in carrying people, vehicles and cargo on a daily basis across the Door.  During the latter years of that time span summer traffic gradually increased, with long lines building at Northport in the mid-day, and the same on the island side in late afternoon.

Our WIFL Board of Directors, after considering several remodeling options, decided to build a new ferry.  Seacraft Design was chosen to provide the engineering and blueprints, and Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding was selected to build the new ferry.  It would be named Madonna, for delivery in late May, 2020.  That date is now extended into late June, and possibly July, due to parts needed to satisfactorily complete the hydraulic steering system.

The christening ceremony is now scheduled for June 29 at the Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding yard.  Only a small number of guests will be invited due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns.

More on this event in a few days.

-  Dick Purinton

1 comment:

Jason Carr said...

I remember the Arni J Richter christening. Bill and I were on the Robert Noble, but we did catch the last part of it. Had the greatest conversation with Arni that day.