Washington Island:  “Over and Back “ 80 years building a modern Ferry System
I am continually annoyed by famous people being applauded for doing ordinary and often stupid things while ordinary people doing extraordinary things go unrecognized, No better example of this is the building of a modern ferry System for Washington Island over the last 80 years.
Since the 1920's all of the Washington Island Ferries have been built in Sturgeon Bay except the North Shore (built by Burger in Manitowoc (1929) and the Griffin (1946) built by Krause in Kewaunee). All the vessels were designed by Sturgeon Bay Marine Architects and built, repaired and upgraded with the hard work and skilled labor of Sturgeon Bay Shipyard workers. Kahlenberg in Two Rivers has built all the props and shafts as well as air horns for the ferries.
Local and regional marine construction and engineering firms have designed, built, remodeled and repaired the shore facilities and break wall at North Port and on the island.  As vessels and water levels have changed the facilities have needed continual updates to meet the new demands and conditions.
The ferries have been skillfully operated and maintained by the Washington Island Ferry Company Managers and Captains to provide year-round round service.   In fresh water. the steel vessels can serve well in excess of 50 years and have been replaced for reasons of efficiency not safety. Two of the retired boats are now in service to tourists (Voyager on the Chicago River and the CG Richter in Florida).
 , Transportation to Washington Island has evolved from two small wooden vessels limited to winter crossings only in light ice conditions. For months every year people and supplies could only travel over and back in dangerous conditions over the ice, A tragic incident in March of 1935 took the lives of 6 Washington Island Basketball players and their coach when their car broke through the ice returning from a game in Ellison Bay .Now. the two ice breaking ferries are seldom prevented from crossing by ice or wind conditions. The larger vessels, with more overhead clearance, allow for loaded semi-trucks  to easily supply the daily needs of Washington Island or transport fuel and construction equipment and other heavy loads. The combined efforts of the shipbuilding industry and the Washington Island Ferry Company and Captains have transformed life on the Island.
The exhibit documents the construction of the newest ice breaking ferry “Madonna” launched 2020 and the building of a modern ferry system with a photo exhibit and by using two video presentations : the construction of the Madonna and earlier vessels and the development and operation of the ferry system with current and historical photos.
All the collating and digitizing of the photos was by Jim Legault
All Current photos by Jim Legault except by Dick Purinton and others where noted.
The Washington Island Archives and The Washington Island Ferry Line archives, Marine architects Mark Pudlo and Timothy Graul and Bay Shipbuilding Sturgeon Bay were the source of many ferry construction photos.
An important part of this project was to collect, protect and digitize as many historical photos as possible and organize them in a way they will be useful forever.
I am grateful to Dick Purinton for all his help toward this end.

Jim Legault 2023
A condensed version of this exhibit is now on permanent display at the 
Door County Maritime Museum
 in Gills Rock, Wisconsin

The name Madonna comes  from a cargo schooner owned by Capt Ole Christiansen ,a Norwegian immigrant, who  operated the vessel from Washington Island . He was the second owner and operated the schooner built by the Aylward Yard in Milwaukee(1871) from 1894 To 1914. It was left derelict in Detroit Harbor on Washington Island.
The Madonna leaving the port of Sheyboygan,Wis.
The ferry Dock at Gills Rock circa 1940. Northport became the main ferry dock on the mainland in 1994 after the construction of an all-weather break wall made high wind and wave landings possible even in ice conditions.
A tragic loss through the ice March 9th 1935
The six young men left the Island to play in a basketball game on the peninsula, in Ellison Bay, on Saturday, March 9, 1935.  There were also fans who attended the game.    Collectively, fans and players traveled on to Sturgeon Bay and a hotel Saturday evening.  The general plan was that all parties in their several autos would meet up again in Ellison Bay at a set time on Sunday, and then return across the ice together.  For unknown reasons - impatience to get home, perhaps - and at an exact time still not known for certain, the single car carrying the six basketball players departed Gills Rock for the island and in their route across the Door veered from the prescribed, safe track by heading too far east, only to find ice too thin to support their car.

Others, when they returned later that Sunday, had no idea the players were missing until it was discovered that none of the group had yet reported home.  That was in the early afternoon of Sunday, the 10th.   Searching was initiated.   Car tracks in the snow leading from the Gills Rock shore were followed over the ice, eventually leading searchers to an open hole.  An airplane plane from Escanaba was also alerted, but by the time it arrived over the area, the scene of the car's disappearance with the six players was already known. Dick Purinton from his Ferry Cabin News Blog 
The hull plating being finalized. The hull is built in two sections that are temporarily connected. The lifting capacity of the gantry required that the sections be approximately 100 tons. When the hull work is completed the hull is split. The overhang of the hull is designed to accommodate more deck space for vehicles.
Bow section ready to be placed on the transporter. The overhead crane can lift and move the 100 ton sections. Special lifting points are welded to the hull especially for the moving and rolling.
State of the art equipment at Fincantieri
From the Marine architect’s plan a cutting plan is developed. Cutting is done on a CNC cutting table. The result is a kit made of all the flat sections of the vessels. Plates that need to be shaped to a curve are cut flat and then shaped on a CNC press brake to the computer plan. All pieces are then blasted and primed  before assembly.
The Panel Line
The panel line combines plates with a continuous  one side welding process and places and welds stiffeners and angle according to plan. The panels are then ready to be added.
Automated Saw
A CNC saw measures and cuts flat bar,angle  and beams to length for addition on the panel line and use elsewhere.
The USCG along with Bayship representatives during one of the many inspections necessary for certification.
The cabin structure was built simultaneously as the hull was being constructed. It was added after the hull pieces were connected.
Work progressing on the engine room. Engine beds ,Generator supports , machinery supports and welded piping are being installed. The section will be painted before rolling and connecting to the bow section. The supports in the foreground are part of the jig the hull was built on. The jig is slightly concave and gives the proper camber to the deck when turned up right
Detail: Starboard  skeg and shaft tube
Kahlenberg of Two Rivers has had a long relationship with the Washington Island Ferry Line. All of the propellers, propeller shafts and most of the air horns have been Kahlenberg products. Two of the earliest Ferries , the Northshore and the Griffin were powered with Kahlenberg Diesels.
The stern section being lifted from the hydraulic transporter. Construction in two parts was necessary because of the lifting limit of the overhead crane, Each section weighed approx. 100 tons.
Engine room section 
The completed stern section being placed on blocks. When connected to the bow section it is ready for placement of engines. All machinery bases and welded  piping are complete waiting for installation of the equipment.
Bow section ready to be rolled and connected to the stern
The cabin structure being placed on the deck with a crane. Once the structure is in place the boat can be moved back indoors to complete. A larger hydraulic transport was brought in from Fincanteri’s Marinette shipyard to move the boat inside and to the floating dry dock for launch.
Official Number
ON 1303582
Year Built
Seacraft Design,Mark Pudlo Sturgeon Bay, WI
Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding, Sturgeon Bay, WI
124’ x 40’ x 10’8” (15’ overhead clearance on main car deck)
10 mph service speed, 13 mph max.
2 x EPA Tier 3 Caterpillar C32 @800 hp ea. (Fabick CAT, Green Bay, WI)
60” 4 blade Kahlenberg Industries stainless steel (Two Rivers, WI)
Fuel Capacity
9,500 gallons
Gears/Marine Transmissions
Twin Disc MG-540 3.9:1 ratio (Racine, WI)
2 x 30 kw Northern Lights
Outdoor Seating
Hi Tec Fabrication (Sturgeon Bay, WI)
Cool Systems
R.W. Fernstrum Gridcooler keel coolers (Menominee, MI)
Kahlenberg Industries (Two Rivers, WI)
149 passengers, 28 standard autos
Named after a historic schooner built in 1871 that served the community for many years by carrying goods and materials to and from Detroit Harbor Washington Island and various Lake Michigan ports.
Steve Propsom Photo-   The hull was built upside down on a jig beginning with the stiffened deck plates. Here the frames and longitudinal stiffeners are being placed and welded with the hull plating to follow. All of the flat plating is cut on a CNC burning table to a computer generated burning plan. All plates are blasted  and prime painted to prevent rusting during construction.  On a panel line plates are welded together and stiffeners and angle are welded to the plates. An automated saw cuts angle, flat bar and other shapes to the computer plan. The first plate was cut August 12th 2019.
 Propulsion is 2 -Tier 3 Caterpillar C32 @ 800hp ea( supplied  by Fabick,Green Bay
Generators 2 Northen Lights 30 KW  supplied  by Burger Boat    
Pilot House
The Madonna breaking ice in the first season of winter service 2021 (Dick Purinton photo)
Capt. Joel Gunnlaugsson
Rich Elleson-Captain and fleet engineer oversaw the construction of the Madonna for the Washington Island Ferry Co.
Hoyt Purinton ,WIFL president, Rich Elleson, Fleet Engineer (WIFL project manager, Steve Propsom ,Madonna project Manager, Mark Pudlo and Nate Smith (Marine Architects at Seacraft Design Sturgeon Bay) The design discussions started nearly a year before construction began
Cutting the first plate  for the Madonna  August 12th 2019
Official Number
Year Built
Peterson Builders, Sturgeon Bay, WI
Tim Graul- Marine Architect,Sturgeon Bay
100’ x 37’ x 9’
Gross Tonnage
82 Tons
2 CAT C18, 487 hp ea. at 1800 rpm
149 Passengers, 21 Autos
Named for the flagship of a squadron of three U.S. vessels which anchored in the northern island harbor (now Washington Harbor), and later secured a foothold in Green Bay following the War of 1812.

Official Number
Year Built
Bay Ship Building, Sturgeon Bay, WI
87’ x 36’ x 8’
Gross Tonnage
95.7 Tons
2 Cummins NTA 855, 350 hp ea. at 1800 rpm
149 Passengers, 18 Autos
Named after a village on the southern coast of Iceland, port of emigration for many Icelanders who came to Washington Island in the late 1800s.
Ferry dock in Detroit Harbor on Washington Island
Ferry dock in Detroit Harbor on Washington Island
The piled stone breakwater at Northport was built in 1994.It was a long awaited improvement that made landings in high wind and waves possible. With this improvement, Northport became the main landing for the ferry on the peninsula .
The break water arms also divert and stop wind driven ice flows from interfering with winter landings. Winter trips became easier with cancelled trips very rare.
Official Number
Year Built
Peterson Builders, Sturgeon Bay, WI
90’ x 36’ x 8’
Gross Tonnage
97 Tons
2 CAT C18, 454 hp ea. at 1800 rpm
149 Passengers, 19 Autos
Named after a 25-year-old man who survived icy Death’s Door waters in December of 1864. A few years later, Noble became owner and operator of the first ferry in Door County, operating in Sturgeon Bay until a bridge was eventually constructed in 1870.

Official Number
Year Built
Bay Ship Building, Sturgeon Bay, WI
Tim Graul  Marine Architect
104’ x 38’ x 10’
Gross Tonnage
92 Tons
2 CAT 3508B, 1000 hp each at 1600 rpm
149 Passengers, 18 Autos

North Port Dock
The Arni Richter leaving Northport
(Names of USCG Licensed WIFL Captains and the decade in which they began service as captain)

Lucien Boshka
Carl Richter
Arni Richter
Dave Lucke
Elmer Mosak
Victor Cornell
Nathan Gunnlaugsson
Everett Gunnlaugsson
David Johnson
Alvin Cornell
John Herschberger
John Hanlin
Tim Jutilla
Dick Purinton
Eddie Gunnlaugsson
David Johnson Jr.
Bill Jorgenson
Eric Bonow
Erik Foss
Jon Gunnlaugsson
Kurt Meyer
Chuck Sena
Arni Foss
Kurt Meyer Jr.
Fred Henning
Jeff Cornell
Gordon Steiner
Mark Dewey
Rich Elleson
Hoyt Purinton
Joel Gunnlaugsson
Larry Goodlet
Gil Truax
James Kenyon Jr.
Don Whyte
Don Chastan
Ruth Cherz
Fred Hankwitz
Tully Ellefson
Pete Nikolai
Con McDonald
Dave Heath
Derek Heath
Jake Dahlke
Jon Sowl
Kraig Krueger
Service to Rock Island State Park from Jackson Harbor is also operated by the Washington Island Ferry Co.
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