The battle between ships and mariners and the elements has intrigued me since I was young boy watching on the Ludington waterfront from my parents’ and grandparents’ automobiles as one or more of the several Ludington carferries still operating at the time fought their way through strong ice or fierce waves en route to and from Wisconsin. I never lost that fascination. When I became a journalist and photojournalist for the Ludington Daily News in 1970, I loved keeping an eye out for photo opportunities involving Lake Michigan boat and ship traffic. The carferries were my favorite muse, not only because I loved watching them but because the big ships were a vital segment of the local economy, and most of our readers had ties to them or at least enjoyed seeing them in action through my newspaper photographs. The big black ships with white trim also lent themselves perfectly to black and white photography, especially during the winter. Of the tens of thousands of carferry images I have made over the years, this one is my favorite black and white carferry photograph. On January 27, 1977, the 35-knot westerly winds of an arctic storm had driven ice shoreward and packed it tight like a giant trash compacter at the Ludington harbor entrance. The powerful, coal-fired steamships with extra-strong hulls for ice breaking could usually bulldoze their way through the ice, but this ice was packed 25-foot deep, leaving the City of Midland (right) nowhere to displace it as the ship attempted to steam that morning to Wisconsin with its load of railroad freight cars. The Midland ground to a halt just outside the harbor entrance. Several hours later, another C&O carferry, Spartan (left) became stuck while attempting to steam out past the Midland and break a path to open water. She ground to a halt just beyond the lighthouse. The ships fought the ice for hours, with assistance from the tugboat Mary Page Hannah. I took a lot of shots (too many, some might say) trying to capture peak moments. As evening approached, the two ships were now facing bow to bow with the lighthouse between them. While the Rule of Thirds is one of the age-old guidelines for composition, I looked at this scene and said to myself, what are the odds of these two great ships being so symmetrically positioned with a lighthouse between them? This was a time to break the rules if I ever saw one. To make the image even more symmetrical and three-dimensional, I backed up my camera position to include more of the two shadowy ice mounds. A lot of perseverance, thought and work went in to making this image. I gave it my best shot and was rewarded with one of my best shots ever. It doesn’t always work out that way, but, even with a good shot in the bank, I have long stood fast at changing scenes waiting for the big money shot.

In Winters Grip


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