Draft ferry schedule includes more sailings, but leaves some communities with large service gaps

The Alaska Marine Highway System ferry Columbia passes through Wrangell Narrows headed south from Petersburg in Southeast Alaska, June 15. 2012. (Skip Gray/KTOO)

This winter’s Alaska Marine Highway schedule has ferries running for more weeks than last year but still leaves some communities with large service gaps. The draft schedule for October through April, released by the state Department of Transportation on Tuesday, is up for comment through Aug. 26.

The Southwest region will see more sailings than last year but no service in January and February. Prince William Sound will be without service in October and November but will see calls from the Aurora between December and April.

Small communities in the northern panhandle, including Hoonah, Gustavus, Tenakee and Pelican may also spend most of January and February without ferry service. The Tazlina is scheduled to take over those routes for the first two months of the year while the LeConte is out for maintenance, but that’s only if the Transportation Department has enough crew available to run the vessel.

But they’re hopeful, says ferry system spokesman Sam Dapcevich.

“It says crew pending on our operating plan, but you know, we have a very heavy recruitment effort going on,” he said. “We’re going to shuffle things around so that we can run the Tazlina in place of the LeConte during that two month time period where Leconte is in overhaul.”

Two of the state’s largest ferries will be out of service for most of the winter for overhauls.

The Matanuska, serving the mainline route through Southeast, won’t run at all. But the 418-foot flagship Columbia will be back online in November for the first time since it was sidelined to save money in 2019. That means there won’t be a gap in mainline service for the region, which hasn’t been the case the last three years.

“The Columbia is going to be ready to go in November, and it will run the entire winter schedule all the way through April 30,” said Dapcevich.

This image shows the Alaska Marine Highway routes through Southeast. (AK DOT)

The Kennicott is slated to fill in for the Matanuska in October, running from the Lower 48 to Prince Rupert through Southeast. Then it’ll go in for service for nearly six months.

“It goes into overhaul Nov. 1, and it doesn’t come back out until April 20,” Dapcevich said. “So that’s longer than usual for not having cross-Gulf service.”

There are no port calls to Prince Rupert after October on the draft schedule.

Another of the fleet’s largest vessels, the Tustumena, will sail in the Southwest region except during a two-month overhaul in January and February.

The newer ferry Hubbard will be out all winter getting crew quarters built. It was previously scheduled to start service this year, but officials say the project is being held up by supply chain issues.

The only ferry expected to run the full seven-month winter season is the Lituya. The smallest ferry in the fleet, it runs between Ketchikan and Metlakatla.

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Angela Denning is a reporter at KFSK in Petersburg.