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with the dollars to acquire mines can, and they’re easy to set,” Desh said.

Tere are two types of mines: buoy-

ant contact mines, which float close to the water’s surface, and mines that rest on the sea bottom, detonating as a result of noise, magnetic influence or water pressure given off from a passing ship.

Minesweepers are constructed with non-ferrous materials, wooden hulls, and a narrow beam to keep them from setting off mines. Furthermore, they are soundproofed, preventing them from detonating mines acoustically or mag- netically.

“With the mines in [the water] you’re basically paralyzed until you can get them out,” Desh said. In order to coun- ter the danger of a set mine, minesweep- ers slowly traverse suspect waters mark- ing safe channels for ships. As they move through a potential minefield, mine- sweepers tow steel cables to sever mines’ tethers. Buoyant mines subsequently surface and are destroyed with gunfire.

To detect moored and sea bottom

mines, the ships use mine-hunting so- nar. Tey destroy identified sea bot- tom mines by sending a loud pounding sound through the water to detonate acoustic mines, or an electrical signal to detonate magnetic mines.

Without minesweepers, naval forces essentially sail blindly into dangerous territory, risking severe damage to a fleet and large numbers of casualties to its crew.

MCM: Te Avenger Class From 1982 to 1994, Peterson Build-

ers constructed 11 MCMs at the Stur- geon Bay shipyard. Te Navy used these vessels during the Iran-Iraq War, and Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf. PBI used new construction tech-

niques on the MCM, which cut the hull weight in half. Because of the hull’s strength, the vessel could be longer than the 136-foot World War II YMS wood- en-hulled minesweeper PBI modeled it after, making it the world’s largest mine- sweeper spanning 224 feet and weighing more than 1,000 tons.

Te first vessel, MCM-1 or USS

Avenger, took the yard two years to build and came with a $99.7 million price tag.

When a contract job came in, the

shipyard’s employees appreciated the work, former electrical engineer and Baileys Harbor resident Marv Langohr said. However, fulfilling naval contracts required more from workers – more time, more responsibility and more patience. Te unique design of a mine- sweeper and the naval requirements it had to meet made building it more dif- ficult than other vessels.

With minesweepers, all equipment on

board had to meet a shock standard “be- cause you don’t want things falling off the walls” should a mine detonate near the ship, Langohr said.

Also, to keep magnetic surfaces at a minimum on the Avenger Class, glass- reinforced plastic sheathing covered oak and fir on the external surfaces of the ship. Te internal mechanisms and components of the vessel were also con- structed with non-magnetic materials to further minimize magnetization on the vessel.

Not only were the MCMs the larg-

est minesweepers in existence, but they also had highly advanced technological equipment on board for both locating and destroying mines.

Eventually, though, the stream of contracts slowed and as the departments finished their work on the MCMs, PBI

started laying people off, with depart- ments falling like dominoes.

As an engineer, Langohr’s depart-

ment finished work on the minesweep- ers before others, and he was soon out of work. His wife, Ann, worked at PBI in the testing department. Where Marv saw the first MCM launch, Ann saw the final launch, after which she, too, was laid off.

Te company built a few research ves-

sels for the Army Corps of Engineers after the MCMs, but the contracts avail- able after that didn’t fit PBI’s facilities. Of the ones that did, Ellsworth Peterson said there “weren’t enough vessels to bid on.”

Te shareholders, largely consisting of

family, had predicted that the contract well would dry up and the end of Peter- son Builders was imminent.

Of retirement age at the time, Peter-

son felt sorry, not just for the countless people out of work, but also for halting the shipbuilding legacy of the Peterson family.

Desh compared the legacy of the leg-

endary shipbuilding company to an ath- lete retiring at the height of his or her career. “Tey left behind a distinguished legacy of building very innovative and high-quality ships,” he said. “But [the loss of PBI] changed the maritime his- tory of the Door Peninsula.”

Despite how the story ended, the company’s contributions to the ship- building industry will not be forgotten, especially with the MCMs still in use today.

“We did quite a bit to improve the capabilities of shipyards,” Ellsworth Pe- terson said. “We were all looked upon as the most capable shipyard for whatever is in the wind.”

Winter 2011/2012 Door County Living 49

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