By Richard Purinton
The year 2020 is a milestone year for the Washington Island Ferry Line in several ways.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Island transportation company, having been founded in 1940 when Carl and Arni Richter, father and son, purchased assets of the Jepson ferry line. William Jepson’s two wooden-hulled vessels, NORTH SHORE and WELCOME, continued service under the new company.
This year also marks a new ferry addition to the Ferry Line fleet, one like the others already in service that was designed and constructed in Door County. The new ferry MADONNA, like the ARNI J. RICHTER (2003), will have winter ice capabilities, with heavy framing and plating, substantial diesel power, and stainless, ice-class propellers. At 140 ft. x 40 ft. x 10 ft., this ferry becomes the largest in service between Washington Island and Northport Pier, with capacity for 28 automobiles and 150 passengers.
To date, each Washington Island Ferry Line vessel has been a local shipyard product. The quality of work found at the Fincantieri Bay Shipbuilding yard was a primary consideration for once again choosing this local shipyard and its skilled workforce. Seacraft Design naval architecture firm, also of Sturgeon Bay, provided vessel design concepts as well as detailed construction drawings.
Steel plating was first cut in August, and by September framing and hull plating were underway inside Bay Shipbuilding’s largest fabrication building. By early January, the two hull sections were completed, turned upright and joined together. Superstructure was then added, along with mechanical equipment. Painting, piping, wiring and fitting out continued into late spring, followed by sea trials, Coast Guard certification and owner acceptance. Vessel delivery and christening took place prior to the vessel beginning daily service.
The new ferry name MADONNA departs from the other current ferries in that MADONNA is a unique and feminine name. It comes with historical and cultural ties with an Island schooner of the same name, owned and sailed by Norwegian immigrant Ole Christiansen. He transported Island lumber products to ports along the Lake Michigan shoreline, such as Milwaukee. The Aylward shipyard of Milwaukee was the builder in 1871, and Christiansen became her second owner in late 1894, keeping the MADONNA name on her transom. The last year Christiansen sailed the MADONNA was 1914, after which she was abandoned in the shallow mud of Detroit Harbor.
With Door County history and shipbuilding traditions in mind, the new MADONNA will contribute to regular and dependable ferry service for Washington Island residents and travelers, in 2020 and well into the future. (see wisferry.com for more information on ferry service and Washington and Rock Islands)